(Warning: The following contains giant, hulking plot SPOILERS for Game of Thrones Season Six, all the way up to Episode Seven. Proceed with whatever level of caution your friendly neighborhood Three-Eyed Raven suggests is wise...)
Now, Game of Thrones' epic, extra-long season finale may be edging ever closer to our screens, but before it arrives to leave us pining for the show for yet another year, there's a whole lot of narrative business to attend to. We do, after all, have two more episodes left to go before that finale. Just what we'll see in those episodes remains very much up in the air - but if the most recent episode of the show is any sort of indicator, they may well feature some distinctly controversial content.
Game of Thrones Has Had A LOT Of Controversial Things To Say About Religion So Far This This Season
Take the most recent episode alone, for instance. We saw a kindly, Ian McShane-played Septon suggest that it didn't matter what you believed in, since the Gods might all be "the same fucking thing" - and then watched as that same Septon was brutally murdered in the course of trying to do the right thing...by a deeply religious group of supposedly well-meaning rebels. Meanwhile, in King's Landing, the increasingly manipulative 'High Sparrow' took a step back from the limelight, but there was still room for the cruel Septa Unella to come across as overbearing and humorless, and for the seemingly newly devout Margaery to reveal herself to in fact be feigning piety in order to save herself from torture.
Or, in other words? It sure doesn't seem like the creators of the Game of Thrones universe are big fans of organized religion.
Why Does That Matter, Though?
Well, in many ways, it really doesn't. Cable TV shows offering up a complex, critical view of religion, and of those who use it for their own ends, is nothing new - and Game of Thrones thankfully doesn't seem to be attempting to turn any of its central faiths into an allegory for a real world one. In fact, in a fictional world as full of awful, awful people as Game of Thrones is, it would arguably be a little disconcerting if most of the religious figures we saw weren't scheming, power-hungry a-holes. After all, that's a pretty accurate description of 90% of the show's characters, no matter their job title.
That being said, though, it's still worth noting the extent to which Game of Thrones has pushed religion to the forefront over the past season or two - and that such a move to the show's front lines can absolutely be taken as the opening up of a great internal debate within Game of Thrones' creative borders.
The big question, then?
Just What Is Game of Thrones Trying To Say About Religion?
Well, with a couple of seasons' worth of plot twists left to go, it's tough to say just what the show's ultimate conclusion regarding religion is set to be - but from our vantage point near the end of Season Six, we can perhaps already gather a few clues.
For one thing, it certainly seems that organized religion is going to be in for something of a skewering, with the Red God R'hllor's representatives - led by Melisandre - coming off as more demonic power-brokers than the sort of priest you'd want to invite round for tea. What's more, with establishment forces within The Faith of the Seven having long been depicted as corrupt and immoral, and the newly arisen 'High Sparrow' seeming increasingly duplicitous and politically motivated, it seems unlikely that Westeros' leading faith is going to come across any better.
If organized religion looks set to be dismissed by the show as a means for the power-hungry to achieve their aims, however, could we then see those of less organized faith prosper - as a sort of veiled suggestion that it's not belief that is wrong-headed, but rather those who seek to define and manipulate it that are? Well, perhaps - and that's certainly what Ian McShane's 'good' Septon seemed to be suggesting - but that then raises the question of his subsequent death. Should we take that as a hint that going it alone - and questioning the nature of organized religion - is too dangerous, or that those who killed him (followers of R'hllor's ever-so-organized fire) are in fact the truly dangerous ones? Is finding faith - no matter what kind - what's truly important, or would Westeros' heroes and villains be better off rejecting religion altogether and opting for an outwardly pious atheism (as many of them already seem to have done)?
These questions, and more...may or may not be answered over the next few seasons.
Whatever else happens, though, one thing is for sure:
Game of Thrones Has Already Raised More Debate About Religion Than Most Theology Courses
Which, assuming it hasn't caused you any offence, is surely a good thing. After all, whether you believe in a deity (or deities) or not, and whether you subscribe to organized religion or don't, debating the nature of belief and faith remains one of the most interesting pursuits out there.
Which makes it all the more intriguing that Game of Thrones seems to have adopted such a debate within several of its central plot-lines, and looks set to keep it there for the foreseeable future.