Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in Game of Thrones (Helen Sloan/HBO)
Catholic references in the series abound. They might provide clues about how it’s likely to end.
Winter may be over, but much of America is eagerly awaiting chilly temperatures in our favorite fictional city, King’s Landing.
Tonight, we’ll get what we’ve been waiting for, as Game of Thrones returns, after an almost two-year hiatus, for its eighth and final season. It is, no doubt, a coincidence that Game returns on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for Catholics. But it is hard to deny that Catholic imagery and symbolism are deeply embedded in the series. And these Catholic references might provide important clues as to where the showrunners are headed and how America’s favorite fantasy series is likely to end.
Let’s start with the most obvious parallel: Jon Snow as Christ figure. Not only does the Bastard of Winterfell bear a striking resemblance to Jesus, he also happens to own a pet Dire Wolf named Ghost (as in Holy Ghost).
Like the Christian savior, Jon was born under mysterious circumstances and quickly scurried away by his foster father to avoid the murderous impulses of a vengeful King. Betrayed by supposed friends (Judas, in Jesus’ case, Olly in Jon’s), both are murdered for teaching people to “love one another” (even the “Wildlings”). Observant viewers may have noticed the wooden cross bearing the word “traitor” it at the site where Jon is stabbed in Season 5. And, of course, several days after their murders, both Jesus and Jon rise again in fulfillment of a prophecy.
What clues does this Christ allegory provide as to Jon’s fate in Season 8? Many GoT fans hope that Jon will be the savior of the Seven Kingdoms and end up on the Iron Throne. But, while a savior he may be, his survival is less likely. More likely, it is time for Jon to leave us and ascend into heaven (and take his seat at the right hand of the father who raised him, Ned Stark).
Jon’s obvious foil is Jamie Lannister, who begins the series as the character everyone loves to hate. Where Jon is a dark, brooding, long-suffering outsider, Jamie is a blond, entitled, pretty boy at the very epicenter of power. Where Jon is loving and kind, Jamie is cruel and selfish. Both skilled swordsmen, Jon joins the Night’s Watch and “takes the black,” while Jamie is a member of the Kingsguard, known for their white cloaks. As members of the Night’s Watch and the Kingsguard, respectively, Jon and Jamie takes vows of celibacy, renounce all property and titles, and promise to serve for life. Each rises to the level of Lord Commander.
But in Season 3, when Jamie loses his hand and confesses his sins (at least some of them) to Brienne of Tarith, he begins to change. Jamie’s journey on the road to redemption culminates in Season 7, when Ser Bronn of the Blackwater pushes him into the water to save him from death by dragon. Jamie emerges, at the beginning of the next episode, having been “baptized” anew and gasping for life. When last we see Ser Jamie, he is leaving King’s Landing to fight for the living.
What will become of the Kingslayer in the final season? Good money has it that he will become a Queenslayer, killing his twin sister (and paramour) Cersei, the living embodiment of his evil side. In so doing, Jamie will redeem himself in the eyes of the realm, reinforcing the Catholic teaching that even the greatest sinners can be worthy of forgiveness.
Jon’s Christ allegory and Jamie’s redemption story are the most obvious Catholic themes in Game of Thrones, but there are many others. The phrase Valar morghulis, for example, is a Braavosi greeting frequently used on the show. In the “Common Tongue,” it means “All men must die.” Valar dohaeris, the customary response, means “All men must serve.”
These phrases call to mind the Catholic practice of memento mori, Latin for “remember your death.” As part of this practice, which dates from medieval times, some Catholics keep small clay skulls or other symbols of death as a reminder of life’s fleeting nature. The intent is not to be morbid but rather to inspire reflection and acceptance. As Saint Ambrose noted, death is “due to us all.” It is life’s only certainty and part of our common humanity. Memento mori teaches us to treat each day not only as a gift from God but as an opportunity to serve others in the hope of achieving salvation.
So, what does the trailer for Season 8 of Game of Thrones tell us about death? Arya Stark says that death has “many faces” and that she looks “forward to seeing this one.” And while fans have long wondered who will survive the long night and rule Westeros, perhaps the answer was there all along: Valar morghulis. All men must die.
Something to think about during Holy Week — because Easter is coming.