'Game of Thrones': George R.R. Martin Explains Religious Inspiration for the Sparrows

Game of Thrones readers and viewers with a decent knowledge of history can probably recognize a lot of parallels between the Seven Kingdoms and real-life historical events. The Wall, for example, was inspired by Hadrian's Wall, a great defensive structure built during the Roman rule of Great Britain whose reported purpose was partly to defend the Romans from the native 'barbarians.'

While George R.R. Martin's fantasy book series draws on many aspects of history, the author has said that he was particularly influenced by the Wars of the Roses - a struggle for the throne of England that took place in the late medieval period. With the introduction of the Sparrows, a religious movement within the Faith of the Seven led by the shrewd High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Game of Thrones season five has seen another piece of real-world history fall into place.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Martin went into detail about how the Sparrows and their swift rise to power in King's Landing was inspired by the Protestant Reformation of Catholic Europe in the 16th century, which led to the devastating Thirty Years' War. Martin describes his Sparrows as a version of the medieval Catholic Church, with an added fantasy twist.

"If you look at the history of the church in the Middle Ages, you had periods where you had very worldly and corrupt popes and bishops. People who were not spiritual, but were politicians. They were playing their own version of the game of thrones, and they were in bed with the kings and the lords. But you also had periods of religious revival or reform—the greatest of them being the Protestant Reformation, which led to the splitting of the church—where there were two or three rival popes each denouncing the other as legitimate. That’s what you’re seeing here in Westeros.

"The two previous High Septons we’ve seen, the first was very corrupt in his own way, and he was torn apart by the mob during the food riots [in season 2]. The one Tyrion appoints in his stead is less corrupt but is ineffectual and doesn’t make any waves. Cersei distrusts him because Tyrion appointed him. So now she has to deal with a militant and aggressive Protestant Reformation, if you will, that’s determined to resurrect a faith that was destroyed centuries ago by the Targaryens."

Martin Luther portrait
Martin Luther, a key figure of the Protestant Reformation

The Sparrows are so-called because of their dedication to humility, which is so extreme that even the High Sparrow himself could be mistaken for a beggar. Nonetheless, the religious zealots have proven to be a powerful force in Game of Thrones season five, refusing to make exceptions even for royalty when it comes to punishing those who offend the Seven.

In the show, the Sparrows become a force to be reckoned with after being armed by Cersei Lannister, and in the most recent episode the High Sparrow was confronted by Olenna Tyrell, who sarcastically asks him how the Seven communicate their wishes to him. The High Sparrow points her to "The Seven Pointed Star," the holy text of his faith, echoing the Protestant doctrine sola scriptura ("by scripture alone").

As Cersei learned too late, re-arming the Faith Militant is an extremely dangerous way of trying to score political points. Given the High Sparrow's talent for attracting loyalty among both the high-born and the low-born members of Westeros society, the Sparrows could prove to be a force greater than that of any king or queen.

Game of Thrones will continue next Sunday @9pm on HBO. Watch a preview below:

Source: Entertainment Weekly

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