Author Archives: patricksponaugle

The Super Secret Origin of the Azor Ahai Myth in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is a sprawling fantasy epic that carefully blends grounded medieval realpolitik with magic and supernatural elements. George RR Martin has gone on record about his inspiration for the politics of the series: the real-world dynastic battles of the War of the Roses, with Starks and Lannisters being analogues for ye olde Englande’s northern Yorks and rich Lancasters.

But what is the origin of the supernatural mono-myth that seems to dominate the story? I’m talking about the story of Azor Ahai and related myths that are so prevalent in Westeros and Essos.

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Born under a bleeding star.

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By the New Gods and the New

Anyone watching Game of Thrones knows that there are several religions across the continents of Westeros and Essos. You’ve got your drowned god, your many-faced god, your great lamb god (or is it a shepherd), your old nature gods, etc.

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There’s also the Seven, which are occasionally called “the New” in conjunction with “the Old Gods.”

The Seven, although they are often interpreted as individual gods, are more like seven aspects or avatars of one divine force. Here’s the breakdown:

  • The Father
  • The Mother
  • The Warrior
  • The Smith
  • The Maiden
  • The Crone
  • The Stranger

Because this is Comparative Geeks, I thought it would be fun to interpret the aspects of the Seven, aka the New Gods, with a different set of New Gods: Jack Kirby’s super-beings that he developed for DC Comics. (And it’s a thinly veiled reason for me to talk about two things I like: Game of Thrones and comics.)

The New Gods (of DC)

Jack Kirby is best known for working alongside Stan Lee at Marvel Comics, but for a period of time DC Comics wooed him over into creating some titles for their books. Kirby had a flair for creating larger-than-life cosmos-spanning stories and characters, and what he created for DC fit that description.

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One of the titles was called The New Gods, and dealt with the warfare between two highly advanced planets, New Genesis and Apokolips. (Spoiler Alert: the inhabitants of Apokolips were the bad guys.) The mythology about the creation of New Gods has evolved and changed a bit over time, but basically there were the Old Gods, who were a unified super-race, and then some cataclysm created two different and warring factions: the New Gods.

I could provide more details here, but I think it’d be more interesting to get right on into talking about individual DC New Gods and how they could represent aspects of the Seven.

Kinda.

The Father

The aspect of the Father in the Faith of the Seven is that typical patriarchal godhead type. You know, making the laws, making judgments. Probably sporting a big white beard. Theoretically, all aspects of the Seven are intended to be equally important, but some must be more bossy than others.

Father: I’ve made up a whole bunch more laws!
Mother: Lovely! I’ve baked some cookies!
Father: Oh yaassss!
Warrior: I just want to punch stuff.

So who in the DC New Gods “pantheon” would that describe?

On New Genesis, their leader is Izaya, commonly referred to as the Highfather. He’s in charge.

HighFather

The eldest god among the inhabitants of New Genesis and probably the most powerful, Izaya also is the most committed to peace, trying to manage the conflict with warlike Apokolips to prevent mutual and total annihilation. He’s not necessarily a warrior. He can be judgy. And in the DC Universe, when they kind of need a big powerful stereotypical godlike figure, they often turn to Izaya.

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The Mother

An equally important aspect of the Faith of the Seven is the Mother, who represents a kind of flip side of the Father. The Father might be focused on justice, where the Mother includes mercy and compassion (presumably even for the guilty.) The Mother can be seen as an advocate, unconditional and loving. Is there an analogous character in the DC New Gods? Sort of.

There are important mothers for characters who we’ll get to in a moment, but I’m not thinking of someone to represent the archetype of the mother, but something. Or things rather. Things that have “mother” in their title.

Mother Boxes.

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Mother Boxes are living computers, sometimes presented as squares, sometimes shown as small as the modern mobile phone. They are relied on for transportation. They increase rates of healing to those they’re in contact with. Like many real moms, they do miracles.

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Holding a mother box provides a feeling of unconditional love, even to denizens of Apokolips. If anything can be considered a non-judgmental and helpful advocate, it’s a mother box.

The Warrior

The Warrior aspect of the Faith of the Seven is pretty straightforward, right? Some kind of Ares/Mars type, or maybe an Athena/Minerva type? Grants strength and skill, represents bravery? Etc?

It’s kind of a specific vibe, and therefore not all that interesting. So, who would represent the Warrior among the DC New Gods?

Despite the Warrior being (in my opinion) the least complex of divine aspects, my pick for the Warrior, Orion, has one of the two most interesting backstories among the New Gods.

Orion

Orion is clearly the greatest warrior among the citizens of New Genesis, and their strongest soldier in their defense against the forces of Apokolips. This is due largely because Orion is not from New Genesis. He’s the son of Darkseid, the tyrannical ruler of Apokolips.

Whaaaaat?

In the history of the New Gods, to forge a truce between Apokolips and New Genesis and halt the nightmarish destructive conflict, Izaya proposed that his infant son and Darkseid’s infant son be exchanged as hostages. (We’ll be getting to Izaya’s son who was raised on Apokolips soon enough.)

Orion, being from Apokolips and the son of one of the most evil beings in the DC Universe, was filled with natural rage and possessed terrifying strength. That’s a bad combination. But Izaya’s teachings and the angry lad’s upbringing on peaceful New Genesis allowed Orion to channel his powers in defense of his adopted home, to resist Apokolips. It’s a battle that Orion fights regularly externally, and fights internally daily.

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I could probably spin this back towards Westeros and talk about Theon Greyjoy and the similar (and different) situation with Ned Stark and Balon Greyjoy, but I need to move on.

The Smith

If the Warrior is a fairly-straightforward aspect of the Seven, the Smith is one of the most complex, unless interpreted too literally. The Smith might merely be the divine aspect of people forging metals into tools. Boring! And way too specific. The Smith (in my opinion) represents hard work but also the creative spirit. Laborers, farmers, craftsmen, musicians, and artists, people who are doing things and making things, can all seek inspiration and strength from the Smith.

Identifying the aspect of the Smith in the New Gods pantheon required a bit of squirming and thinking-outside-of-the-box, which was perfect for my choice as representative: Scott Free aka Mister Miracle.

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In my section on the Warrior, I mentioned that Izaya and Darkseid swapped sons to be hostages as part of a truce. Orion was raised with hope, love, and optimism on New Genesis, but Scott, the son of Izaya handed over to Darkseid, did not have the same advantages. Darkseid turned him over to the monstrous and ironically named Granny Goodness, who began to torturously train him to be a soldier of Apokopolis.

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Scott eventually escaped from Apokolips and found his way to Earth, where he became an escape artist and showman known as Mister Miracle.

Escape Artist? Showman? Yes. Bear with me. Scott turned away from the cosmological conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips, and came to Earth, to more or less discover who he was.

So why is he the Smith? Because Scott is representative of freedom and of arts. On Earth, recognizing how humans were vulnerable to the insidious influence of Darkseid, he engineered his traveling showcase of escape artist theatrics to harden people’s willpower against control. A kind of Performance Art Against the Man.

In a sense, Scott was forging stronger psyches in people to resist domination. Of all the New Gods (who generally are either beating up on parademons from Apokolips, or picnicking on lovely New Genesis) Scott was the one that was doing something creative.

The Maiden

The Maiden aspect of the Faith of the Seven is associated with purity, beauty, love. Things along those lines. Certainly more a kind of innocent love, full of joy, as opposed to the maternal love of the Mother with its responsibility.

Almost all of the New Gods (at least the ones on New Genesis) are beautiful, but my vote for the Maiden would be Orion’s best friend Lightray.

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Yes, Lightray’s a dude.

Lightray is just that literal beam of sunshine type of person. As bright in spirit as he is in external aspect. Where Orion (the Warrior) is angry and gloomy, Lightray is bubbly and optimistic. His light-based powers make it difficult for him to be seriously threatened by the forces of Apokolips, just as the purity of the Maiden (in theory) can shield the innocent. By extension, the Maiden is a good complement to the Warrior, like bright Lightray is a good companion to dark Orion.

Lightray

And, because Lightray has great hair, he’s been mistaken for a woman at least once by the superhero General Glory. So I think he’s a good fit.

The Crone

The aspect of the Crone in the New Gods of Westeros represent wisdom, particularly in regards to the future. The Crone is old, she’s seen a lot, so she knows a lot. And she carries a lantern to light the path of the faithful into the future. She’s seen as a guide. A seer. The wise woman.

In my experience, there really isn’t a great analog for the wise guide among the New Gods. I mean, Izaya often consults “The Source” so that’s like looking into the future. Sort of. But I’m already using him for the Father.

So I decided to take the easy way out, and just go for a literal meaning of the name “Crone.” And go with Granny Goodness, one of Darkseid’s terrible minions.

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Admitedly, it’s not a great fit. I mean, Granny is an old crone, but she’s not a benevolent repository of experience and wisdom. She is cunning though.

And she’ll be the first to tell you that she knows what’s best for you. As if she’s seeing the future.

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Because, you know, you’d better do as Granny tells you, or it will go very, very bad for you.

The Stranger

Rounding out the aspects of the Seven is the Stranger. It’s a unique aspect from the others in that the Stranger is recognized as one of the Seven, but is not prayed to. The Stranger represents the Other, is often depicted as either having no face or the face of something non-human. The Stranger is associated with death as well as the vaguely disquieting unknown. If the Crone shows a destiny that can be strived for, the Stranger represents a fate to be avoided.

In DC New Gods terms, Darkseid is the Stranger.

darkseid

The dictator of Apokolips and super-super-villain of the DC Universe, Darkseid is obsessed with finding the Anti-Life Equation. Anti-Life sounds rather death-like, although to be fair, it’s more in line with domination and not literally antithetical to the biology of life. But it just seems to fit.

Darkseid is not someone to get the attention of, much like no one prays to the Stranger. Because nothing good comes from it. And of the New Gods, Darkseid seems the least human in appearance.

Just like the Stranger in Faith of the Seven art.


Alternatively…

I’ve cobbled together my seven DC New Gods and the Faith of the Seven New Gods as a comparative exercise, but it’s not in any way definitive. There are many more New Gods than just seven in the DC Universe, and others could easily fit into the broad archetypes represented by the Seven of Westeros.

Darkseid, Izaya’s nemesis and counterpart, could easily be the Father. Not only is he a dad (famously to Orion, as well as to the hairy clown Kalibak) but if you’re looking for someone making laws and judging you (harshly), that would be Darkseid. Lawful Evil all the way. The anti-life equation is an extreme version of lawmaking. Just not very just.

On Apokolips, the evil genius Desaad would make Darkseid tools of destruction, so he’d be a candidate for the Smith.

Metron, the amoral knowledge seeker might be considered the Stranger, because of him simultaneously and paradoxically being associated with both New Genesis and Apokolips

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(Metron tends to not pay attention to Darkseid’s evil ways, since he’s too busy contemplating the infinite.)

One of my favorite creations in the New Gods, Forager, would also be a good candidate for the Stranger. (He wears a mask to hide his human face among his non-human family of Bugs. It’s crazy great!

I could go on and on, but this post has gone too long already, and I think I’ve probably worked through this exercise enough.

Hopefully my mashup of the DC Universe and GRRM’s Universe has been an interesting topic. I’d love to talk more about this, or hear where I’m wrong, or whatever. It’s all good.

Hellboy vs Cthulhu: A Storytelling Moment (and Stuff)

People play different games and they play for different reasons. Sometimes simply because they’re competitively-natured, sometimes it’s just to kill some time, sometimes to be entertained, and sometimes to be social. (These aren’t mutually exclusive reasons.)

Recently, my wife and I were over for dinner with friends, and we decided to play a game of Munchkin Cthulhu.

Our friends’ names are Chooch and Viv; I’m telling you this to make this anecdote flow. Allegedly.

At least one of those names is definitely a nickname. That would be Viv. Chooch might be a nickname. He looks like a Viking, so let’s just roll with this, shall we?


Everyone here knows how to play the basic set of Munchkin, right? If not, for a full introduction please check out Wil Wheaton’s YouTube episode of TableTop, where Wil plays the game with the lovely Felicia Day, the lovely Sandeep Parikh, and the legendary Steve Jackson – the creator of Munchkin.

MunchkinGame

If you don’t have 28 minutes to spare, I’ll give a super high level breakdown. It’s as if you were playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons (or the equivalent) but without a map or character sheet. Everyone starts at level 1. Each turn someone kicks down a door in a dungeon (not literally, a “door” card gets turned over and then the player might fight a monster.) Winning fights against monsters results in gaining combat levels and treasures for the player.

First person to level 10 wins. Often, everyone else in the game tries to prevent this from happening.

It’s GREAT FUN! (In this context, munchkins are not residents of Oz nor the delightful donut-holes that can be purchased at a specific donut shop, but refer to people who play non-competitive games in an aggressively competitive manner.)

We were playing the Cthulhu version of the game (Munchkin comes in many many different genre versions) so we weren’t elves or dwarves, fighters or wizards.

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This was Lovecraftian. (I hope I don’t have to explain Lovecraft or his literary creation, Cthulhu.) This version of the game includes 1920’s tommy guns, mystical tomes, and tentacles.

The particular gaming session with our friends was a typical Munchkin run: some easy fights, some empty rooms, some running away from Things Men Were Not Supposed To Know, some team-ups when it was mutually beneficial, and many occasions of trying to make the current player’s combats go badly.

Along the way, Viv, my wife Lisa, and I were turned into cultists (a character class.)

CultistMunchkin

We didn’t realize what effect this would have at the end. We cultists were just happy to have a +4 combat bonus.

Soon Chooch, Viv, and Lisa were all at level 9, so the game was close to being over since one of them was bound to win a fight sooner or later and hit level 10. (I was level 6 or something, so it was very unlikely that I was going to win.)

It was Chooch’s turn, and when “kicking open the door” to start his turn, he opted to play a monster from his hand to fight. This wasn’t some easy creature. This monster was Cthulhu.

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The issue was this: if Chooch fought Cthulhu and won, he wins the game. All of us cultists would lose. (It didn’t matter that we were cultists, we’d lose if we were professors or monster bashers or investigators.)

But if Chooch could not defeat Cthulhu, and was caught by the big bad… he’d be killed and his new character would be a cultist.

That would make everyone a cultist. Munchkin Cthulhu has a rule, if all players end up being cultists, all the players lose and the Great Old Ones (or Elder Gods, one of those) win.

Things suddenly got weird. And familiar.

I’d recently re-watched the first Hellboy movie, starring Ron Perlman as the eponymous demon with a heart of gold and a fist of stone.

Hellboy

Hello Hellboy

The movie’s been out forever, so if you’ve not seen it, I apologize for spoiling the ending where the good guys win.

The climax of Hellboy centers around the mad monk Rasputin planning on summoning something equivalent to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods (or Great Old Ones, I don’t want to split hairs.) He’s assisted by some crazed Nazis (as if there are any other kind) and has some leverage over Hellboy which serves to ensure compliance and assistance from the big red devil.

HBAndRaspWe’ll just say everyone is at level 9. Just like Chooch, Viv, and Lisa. (My level 6 movie analogue would be one of the dead critters, probably. I’m not even in this fight.)

Hellboy eventually turns the tables, the summoners are all killed, but there’s a complication. Hellboy has inadvertently caused the materialization of a huge, tentacled, rapidly-growing creature. That can’t be good.

Just like Chooch choosing to play Cthulhu in a bid to win the game or have everyone lose.

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To deal with this growing threat, Hellboy allowed the nightmare to swallow him along with the belt of grenades he was carrying.

BOOM! Game over. Good guys win.

Speaking of games…

In our game, Chooch numerically could not defeat Cthulhu. Until he played this…

TNTMunchkin

BOOM! Game over (literally.) Good guys win? Well sure, since Chooch wasn’t a cultist, we’ll say he was one of the good guys. (He’s actually a great guy.)

As it turned out, none of us cultists had any cards suitable to help Cthulhu (and had we helped, we would have been risking a fate worse than losing. I think? Maybe?)

And this is why I like to play games. For all of the reasons that were outlined in the beginning, but also I like being told a story.


In ye olde dayes, my dad would eye me skeptically as I was graphing out a dungeon to be a setting for the weekend Dungeons & Dragons game with my buddies.

My dad did like games and he liked playing games with me. Provided that game was Chess.

His view of my awkward teenage chums and me rolling a lot of dice was this: random chance wasn’t interesting or worthwhile. There was nothing skillful about it.

(He also liked playing cards, but even though poker and its ilk are games of chance, they’re also games of skill. But that’s not my point.)

I didn’t have a good grasp at the time on why I enjoyed playing D & D so much and so I didn’t have a good counter-argument for my pop, but now in my wizened and enlightened adulthood, I realize that I wasn’t gaming as an exercise of skill or competition or just to waste time.

I was in it for the moments of storytelling.

Sometimes those moments came from the dungeon master and sometimes from the players. (And sometimes from the dice. I won’t be lying. We teenage DMs and players were clownish noobs when it came to narrative import.)

And even though the particular story being told to me by the events of Munchkin was a story I already I knew (i.e. the climactic plot of Hellboy) it doesn’t change the fact that my imagination was being engaged. I feel that I could have appreciated the story of Chooch, with his backpack of dynamite, fighting an eldritch horror with the fate of the world on the line, regardless of if I’d seen Hellboy or not.

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This probably isn’t world-shattering news to anyone. I assume anyone reading this has had similar experiences where the turn of a card or the roll of a die has the emotional echo of a good book’s plot twist or a movie’s big reveal.

I’m sure we all have similar stories to tell.

This post was written by Patrick Sponaugle, who couldn’t possibly be wrong all the time. Hey, do you like Game of Thrones? Pat is my go-to Game of Thrones blogger. Hey, did you like this post? Also a great reason to check out his blog! Oh, and leave your stories to tell in the comments below!

Mothers Day Going Medieval: Cat and Cersei

Happy Mother’s Day to two mothers of kings: Catelyn Stark (née Tully) and Cersei Baratheon (née Lannister.)

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It would be relatively easy to compare these two powerfully political women by pointing out the similarities in Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon (and there are many) but this is a post about mothers, not sons.

The pair do share many similarities separate from whom their royal sons were.

  • Both were the eldest in their family, and both suffered the tragedy of their respective mothers dying during childbirth.
  • Both were married off as part of political alliances, and neither married the man they originally expected to.
  • Both of those marriages were initiated by Robert Baratheon’s rebellion (just one was at the start of the conflict, and one at the end.)
  • Both had to suffer the indignity of an acknowledged unfaithful husband. Ned Stark only claimed one illegitimate child, but he kept bastard Jon Snow close at hand, a constant reminder. Robert Baratheon never had any of his bastard children attend court, but he had a lot of them. So it kind of balances out on the humiliation scale.
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Tyrion Just Can’t Catch a Break.

  • Both women were quick to have Tyrion Lannister arrested under the accusation of his causing harm to a beloved son.
  • Both saw their royal sons murdered. (I can’t not mention that, even though I was mostly trying to stay away from Robb and Joff.)
  • Both (from the show’s perspective) sent Jaime Lannister off to secure the release of daughters. (Okay, daughter, singular, in Cersei’s case.)

It’s fun to make lists, but it doesn’t really illustrate the nature of the women, and since this is a Mother’s Day post, some talk of their mothering nature should be discussed.

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