American Puritans & Game of Thrones

Melisandre the Puritan

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The successful show Game of Thrones has been the topic of conversation amongst all different types of people. Through close analysis of the content of the show, there are parallels that can be made to the Puritan culture. In Game of Thrones, the Lord of Light, also known as R’hllor, and its followers resemble the Puritan beliefs and customs such as living a life in covenant with God in purity. Of course, one can’t forget to add the but only those who are predestined clause. A thorough look into Melisandre who claims to be R’hllor’s priestess and the other followers, reveals that there are similarities in how the Puritans and those associated with R’hllor respond to women specifically regarding childbirth, sacrifice for the sake of purification, and affect (or lack thereof).

Melisandre, also known as The Red Woman, is ironically known as the one who knows the R’hllor and performs miracles. In the show, Melisandre gave birth to a creature that was the very embodiment of sin. The demon baby, named Shadow, was born to commit murder and later assinates the brother of Stannis Baratheon, the King in this particular kingdom, in order to clear the way for Stannis to claim the Iron Throne for himself. This situation resembles a core belief that the Puritans lived by. Puritanism has seven main beliefs. From these seven, there is one that states that all [c]hildren are born with and imbued with this original sin and Melisandre’s baby proved just that. Although her role in the religion provided a good service to the people which were “prophecies” from their Lord, Stannis Baratheon ironically states in Season 2 Episode 4 that “A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad the good”. This solidifies the comparison between the Puritans and the followers of R’hllor. Behaviors cannot undo the human condition only a higher calling like predestination can.

Sacrifice is also addressed in both the Puritan culture and Game of Thrones. The sacrifice of Shireen, Stannis the King’s daughter, in Season 5 Episode 9, is gruesome and shamefully familiar. The Puritans sacrificed “unclean” people or labeled them as “witches” to justify the sacrifice in order to cleanse the townspeople of unrighteousness by their standards. Shireen was blemished — symbolically in her physical features and literally in that her deformity comes from a curse that was cast on her bloodline. She needed to be sacrificed in order to get the bad blood out of the royal line. This sacrifice to R’hllor would ensure more success in the wars to come. The Puritans also made sacrifices of accused witches and other “blemished” members of society so that they could receive blessings from God being that the blemishes or the sins of the people were taken care of.

A similarity between the Puritans and R’hllor’s followers is their portrayal of affect. In the Puritan religion, it is seen as a sin to take part in any kind of dancing, laughing or smiling. During the witch trials, these acts were a symbol of witchcraft and/or demon possession. An example of this behavior, exhibited by the Puritans, is found in Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Within the footnotes of this piece it states, “…we are told that Edwards read his sermon in a level voice…in spite of his calm, ‘there was such a breathing of distress, and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence, that he might be heard.’” His sermon triggered his audience to begin bawling and with little emotion which was eerie. This can be related to the Game of Thrones series because the Red Woman, who has a great amount of control over the king, convinces him to violently sacrifice Shireen. While this sacrifice is underway, the mother is clearly distressed, but the Red Woman shows no emotion while she lights Shireen on fire. Lack of affect in times of distress is found amongst Puritans and the R’hllor’s followers.

Perhaps the characterization of R’hllor and its followers was based on Puritanism. There are striking resemblances than cannot be ignored. Another reason why Game of Thrones is so captivating.

Photo Sources: Melisandre watching Shireen’s sacrifice.  Shadow’s birth. Shireen’s sacrifice.
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7 thoughts on “Melisandre the Puritan

  1. I agree. Melisandre seems to have the same kind of uncompromising view on human behavior as binarily sinful or not. She pretty much tells Davos that Onion Knight that an onion half-rotted is a rotten onion, implying that something is either 100% pure or it’s evil/unclean/sinful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post! I like how you center the connections you make around women, children, and childbirth–that gives this post a unifying theme and makes your argument (in addition to all the links to more evidence or references) really strong. Well done! Also, the rotating images at the top of the post are really neat!

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  3. The comparison you made between Melisandre’s devotion to this Lord of Light and the Puritan’s to god is really enlightening(No pun intended). As someone who watched the show, after reading your post I can see the comparisons clearly now. I like how you touched on the fact that Melisandre justifies her actions by claiming she is only but a servant of the Lord of light, and she is only passing down what the lord wishes. Furthermore I really like the connection you made with Shireen’s sacrifice, its crazy how both in real life, and in the show sacrificing someone you deem unclean is believed to reward you after, that the idea this person is gone results in a better situation.

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  4. You use very specific moments from the show to prove your point and write about them in a way that is accessible to people who haven’t watched the show or read the books (such as myself). The choice to analyze the two religions in terms of women was interesting and done well. The point made about children being sinful and Melisandre’s baby was very strong and the quote tied in incredibly well. This post really illuminates all the troubling aspects of both religions. Great job!

    On a side note, I think the sentence “…symbolically in her physical features and literally in that her deformity comes from a curse that was cast on her bloodline”, should read “literally in her physical features and symbolically in…her deformity…”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved the comparison of people without a doubt being born with sin in Puritanism and in the faith of the Lord of the Light. No amount of good behavior or good deeds completed can change the fact that we are all born as sinners (according to these two religions). I also liked how you incorporated the act of sacrifice amongst both groups (the sacrifice of Shireen in GoT, and the sacrifices of witches in the Puritan society), which is something I haven’t seen mentioned yet. It’s funny how these acts of sacrifice, actively killing people, aren’t seen as acts of sin. The slideshow at the top was great, I’m a very visual person so the more images the better! Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The connection between the Red Woman and Puritanism is spot on. Connecting the ideas of childbirth connected to original sin and lack of affect like Christina pointed out was something I never considered. By honing in the Red Woman as a symbol of sorts for the Lord of Light made seeing the comparisons to the two faiths clearer as you cite specific examples that have made me rethink Game of Thrones, an already mind boggling but addicting show.

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  7. I really liked how you focused in on a specific aspect of both religions using Melisandre as a prime example! I felt like this post went a lot more in depth because of that. I found the statement about affect very interesting. I remember during the sacrifice of the queen’s firstborn, the queen did show an extreme lack of affect (if I’m remembering correctly). I also did not think of the relation to the birth of Melisandre’s “child” and the idea of birth in Calvinism. This is a very interesting point. Overall, I think this was an amazing post with many insightful comparisons.

    Liked by 1 person

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