On 'Game of Thrones,' Is Anyone on God's Side?

Each character vying for power tries to prove he's the divinely inspired ruler.

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HBO

"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick... a shadow on the wall."

- Lord Varys

At first glance, Varys' riddle in last night's standout episode of Game of Thrones, "What is Dead May Never Die," is about the clash of kings that forms the central arc of the series' second season: which man will take the iron throne, and how he'll manage to do it. But as Westeros' kings proclaim their inherent and incontestable right to the throne, Varys' riddle raises a further question: If a king's power is nothing more than a trick, what does it say about the power of the gods he claims are on his side? As Cersei noted in Game of Thrones' second-season premiere, there's a king in every corner (four, by my count, with Balon Greyjoy lurking on the fringes). But "What Is Dead May Never Die" points to the larger, darker implication of Westeros' ongoing clash of kings: There's a god in every corner as well.

Rulers have long recognized the value of asserting divine right to the throne (for a real-world example, look to the long reign of the Tudors in England, among many, many others). There's a reason that Brienne insists Catelyn kneel before King Renly as if in prayer, or that each and every one of Game of Thrones' kings insists on being addressed by his followers as "your grace"—a term which literally means "virtue coming from God." In Westeros, it's not enough for a king to be elevated by his people Westeros; he has to be elevated by the will of God.

The real trick is deciding which God to pick.

If the clash of kings is also a clash of gods, there are several kings who are already at risk for divine retribution. With all the human drama of Ned Stark's death in Game of Thrones' first season, it's easy to frget the blasphemy of Joffrey's execution order: He refused to grant forgiveness to Ned at the Great Sept of Baelor, the holy seat of Westeros' primary religion, and permanently tainted its steps with Ned's innocent blood. Stannis committed an even greater blasphemy against the Faith of the Seven in Game of Thrones'second-season premiere when he burned his island's religious statues and swore loyalty to Melisandre's "Lord of Light." Even Renly—who says he wants to "pray awhile alone" so he can slip away for a tryst with Ser Loras—treats religion, like war, as a game.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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