There’s been a lot of plot threads and characters that have fallen by the wayside as Game of Thrones moved from a leisurely adaptation of written novels to a crib sheet full of plot points and outcomes, but one theme that has been at least somewhat present even in this final season is the mystery of the various religions of Westeros and Essos and the role they played in the end. Of the four main religions we started out with, two of them were present and accounted for right up to the end. The fact that the show didn’t openly acknowledge this fact feels very sinister in retrospect.
When the show opens the Iron Throne has a symbiotic relationship with the New Gods or The Seven, the religion of most of the south of Westeros that was brought to the continent by The Andals. In the North there are still families who worship the Old Gods as represented by the faces carved into weirwood trees in each castle’s godswood. Over in the Iron Islands they follow the Drowned God, and there are some priests of R’hllor floating around seeking converts as well. Cersei blew up the Sept, taking out most of the top religious officials of The Seven along with it. Aside from a few “what is dead may never die” we haven’t seen much from The Drowned God at all. But The Old Gods and R’hllor are still very much present and accounted for; The Old Gods in the form of Bran’s greenseer abilities as the new Three Eyed Raven, and as the origin of the White Walkers who were destroyed by Arya and R’hllor through Melisandre up through the Battle of Winterfell. But now Bran, or the Three-Eyed Raven since he keeps reminding us that he’s NOT Bran, has been made King of six kingdoms of Westeros and I don’t think anyone’s really thought that all the way through. Even after both the young women closest to him made sure to NOT stick around to be his subjects, which seems like a pretty big hint that all is not right with that choice.
On the surface, the Old Gods seem like a gentle, friendly nature-based religion but the existence of the White Walkers should indicate that their history is more complex than just sitting under some trees in quiet contemplation. In A Dance with Dragons one of Bran’s visions shows that people used to be sacrificed to the Weirwoods. To gain the power to see through the Weirwoods Bran has to eat a paste that’s described as “weirwood sap” but many readers suspect may have been made from the body of Jojen Reed. The previous Three-Eyed Raven, previously known in life as Brynden Rivers, is over 125 years old by the time Bran meets him. If he dies in the books as he does on the show, devoured by the wights, then he doesn’t even die of natural causes. And he was older than Bran was when he became the Three-Eyed Raven, over 75 years old. With Bran becoming the Three-Eyed Raven as a teenager, who knows how long he’ll live? That lovely council that Tyrion assembled to pick the new King? None of them will be alive by the time Bran’s body expires. Their children might not be alive. All Westeros will know is King Bran the Broken. He’ll get to make the rules. So Tyrion gets to make the choices for the first few years. Who cares? The Three Eyed Raven is playing the long game.
One of the things the show hasn’t touched on yet, but which might be featured in one of the prospective spin-off series, is the history of the First Men and the Children of the Forest before the Andals came to Westeros. The Andals slaughtered most of the Children, and raised their own religion of The Seven to be the faith of the land. Most weirwoods outside the North were cut down, and the remaining Children were forced beyond The Wall. The show has implied that this is when they created the Night King as a defender, who eventually turned on them. The people of the North still have some blood of the First Men in their veins, as do the Wildlings, but most of the South is either Andals or the Rhoynar as you get all the way down into Dorne. Bran, full of the same magic that flowed through the Children, is now the ruler of The Andals. The first thing he does as King is put serial fuck-up Tyrion Lannister in charge of the actual business of governing and the second is he tries to figure out where Drogon is. Why does he want to know where Drogon is? Well, if you were waging a war against the Andals wouldn’t it be handy to be able to mind-control a dragon? One of the things Bran kept repeating through this season is that whatever happened in the past was fine because “it brought you here where you’re supposed to be.” While it’s been clear that Bran can see the future, it’s not been clear that anything he sees can be changed. Otherwise why not warn Jon that Daenerys will burn King’s Landing? Unless he feels no compunction to save the people of King’s Landing, since they’re Andals. Was all of this predetermined or did the Three-Eyed Raven actively choose to push for events that would elevate him to a position of power?
The bit that I can’t work out is how the intersection of R’hllor and the Old Gods work. On the one hand, R’hllor seemed invested in destroying the Night King who was made through the magic of the Old Gods. On the other, the living avatar of the Old Gods and the remaining Children wanted them destroyed also. But here I’m probably thinking about all of this much MUCH harder than anyone writing the last two seasons of the show ever did. I very much look forward into digging into this more when/if we get more books, since the publicly available chapters of Winds of Winter already contain some hints about the mythological directions we’re heading in.