Just Torch It: Puritanism in Game of Thrones

You watch Game of Thrones and perhaps enjoy the gore, the controversial nudity, the layered plot and the large, forever-being-killed-off cast, but do you pay attention to the GoT religions? Do you ever wonder which ones are modeled on our own? There is one religious group, the Lord of Light, whose fascination with fire and faith in their god, R’hllor, encourages them to kill anyone and any religion that stands in their way. Does this sound familiar to you?

Image result for walking on fire
A natural purifier, fire can destroy dissenters or bring one closer to their pyromaniac God. Google Images.

The early European settlers in America were Puritans and this religious group–besides their demands that one be unhumorous, unsmiling, and altogether a real Debbie Downer–was similar to the followers of the Lord of Light in that both believed theirs to be the only true religion. This meant that they viewed the universe as black and white, “us vs them,” and it is this nature of duality that connects these two religions inextricably. The eternal war that wages on in the Faith of the Lord of Light pits R’hllor–the god of light, love, and life–against the Great Other–the deity of darkness, cold, and death. This war is mirrored by the eternal battle of good and evil–salvation or damnation–in the Puritan religion. Both religions also have prophetic saviors–the Lord of Light has Azor Azhai, Puritans have Jesus Christ–who are human yet have divine ability which will aid them in destroying evil–the Great Other for the former and eternal damnation in the latter. Every aspect of these religions has two stark choices and both Puritans and the followers of R’hllor are led to believe that their course of action is clear; destroy anyone in their way.

For proof of the ruthless nature of the earnest, single-minded Puritans, I turn to one leader in that era of colonial America, clergyman Jonathan Edwards, whose sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, perfectly portray the combative stance held by Puritans. He states that,“[nonbelievers] deserve to be cast into hell” (6) simply because they do not believe in the Puritan God. In saying that, “justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins”(6), Edwards states that it would be moral if nonbelievers–whether they be the attendants of Edwards’ sermon or the Native Americans present in America–were destroyed, that is, killed. This sermon demonstrates the “us vs them” mindset that Puritans wholeheartedly believed in and which allowed for the abuse and genocide of whole tribes of natives. Edwards, speaking for the Puritans, views “the glowing Flames” of fire as “the wrath of God”(12) and thus, there is nothing positive said about these flames as fire is punishment for sinners. This differs from the views of R’hllor’s followers in that this GoT religious group views fire as purifying and regenerative.

The character of Melisandre, a charismatic priestess not unlike Edwards, believes Stannis Baratheon to be “the Lord’s chosen” who was “born amidst salt and smoke,” to quote season 2, episode 4. This reveals two things: that the Lord of Light speaks through fire–that is, this God is felt through flames yet is ultimately left to be interpreted by humans–and that fire is renewing and cleansing. The Puritans believe in the concept of Irresistible Grace, that is, the belief that God alone “has the power to change the disposition of the soul” just as followers of R’hllor believe in the idea that regeneration–renouncing your former god(s) in order to commit to a new faith–is brought on entirely by God’s will, that is,  God as fire. To the Puritans, fire was cleansing in a whole, separate manner; it cleansed the Earth of nonbelievers. Melisandre is said to have “powers granted to her by some divine force” and this relates to the Puritan belief that its followers are a chosen people, a group apart from the rest of the damned world. 

Puritanism required its believers to renounce their past faith and be “born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new…”(14) this is what conversion to Puritanism would do. There is a scene in season 2 of GoT where Stannis Baratheon, in a show of his newfound allegiance with the Lord of Light, joins in setting fire to seven effigies–representing the seven aspects of God–thus renouncing his former religion, the Faith of Seven. It is necessary in both Puritanism and the faith of the Lord of Light to cleanse yourself of your past, be it through fire or by living–as Edwards says–according to the divine law.Just as Melisandre sets out to destroy the belief in the Seven, the Puritans set out to destroy the religions of the Native Americans. There is a binary view of religion in both these examples; Puritans felt that you must either believe in the Christian God or burn in Hell for all eternity; the Faith of the Lord of Light believed–and these are Melisandre’s words in season 5, episode 1–that “We all must choose…light or we choose darkness…we choose good or we choose evil…we choose the true god or the false”; it is the intolerance that both these religious groups exhibit which lead me to believe that one was influenced by the other–the fictional by the actual. For example, Edwards says that “it is no Security to wicked Men…that there are no visible Means of Death at hand”(8)–that your current state is no guarantee for the next– and this method of intimidation is similarly portrayed by Melisandre when she states that “Death is coming for everyone and everything.” It is these shared scare tactics that aid these leaders in recruiting followers for their religion and leaving the impression that they are not to be messed with–and surely not reasoned with. 

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The sigil of the Lord of Light, not nearly as terrifying as its followers.



Sources: The Norton Anthology: American Literature, Vol. A


5 thoughts on “Just Torch It: Puritanism in Game of Thrones

  1. First of all, your intro and the pictures are captivating (and well placed– especially the first one!). Overall the read was enjoyable and informative. Your group’s entire post explained and compared the “black and whiteness” of the the Lord of Light religion and Puritanism clearly and articulately. My one critique is that you could have checked and edited just a bit more, especially in the last paragraph– “Lord of Light” instead of “Lord of Lord” and the hyperlink on “words” took me to a blank page. But besides technical stuff, you made good comparisons and made them fun to read. Good job!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This post was very captivating. The way you guys drew on characteristics of both Puritanism and The Lord of The Light, that showed the two comparing more than contrasting was great. I like how you compared Melisandre and Jonathan Edwards because both seem to be be extremists when it comes to their respective religions (using fear as a tactic and spreading the message that death will come to those who do not follow their religion). Both Puritanism and The faith in The Lord of The Light believe that there are two spectrums, there is good and there is bad, and of course they deem themselves as “the good” in their worlds. I also loved how you mentioned that fire was portrayed as a cleansing tool in both religions. Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

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