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Why the New Game of Thrones Cast Is Keeping the Faith in Westeros

HBO The crowd at HBO's Comic-Con "Game of Thrones" panel.

Analyzing the introduction of new characters suggests HBO series' growing focus on religion

Comic-Con was abuzz — because what is Comic-Con for if not to become abuzz? — with news that HBO had cast several new characters for season 5 of Game of Thrones. What does it mean for the coming season? In the most general sense, exactly what you’d expect: that the storyline is continuing, more or less following the settings and characters used in the source books by George R.R. Martin. But the news does give us some general hints as to what–besides winter–is coming:

Warning: some previous-season spoilers and very general references to upcoming storylines from the books follow:

MORE DORNE. The most glaring implications of the new characters are also the most obvious: much of the new season will involve the late Oberyn Martell’s homeland of Dorne, as we already essentially knew from news of HBO’s scouting locations in Spain. (Or from having read the books.) Among the characters is Myrcella Baratheon (Nell Tiger Free), Cersei and Jaime’s daughter and the guest/hostage of the Martell family (who now look even less kindly on the Lannisters after Oberyn’s skull-flattening). And several of the “Sand Snakes” — Oberyn’s bastard daughters — have been cast, suggesting that vengeance may be afoot. (Many fans were upset that a significant book character, Arianne Martell, was not cast — but again, this was only a partial casting announcement.)

MORE DIVERSITY. One offshoot of the Dorne-heavy announcement is that Game of Thrones — which has leaned heavily on white actors, particularly for the citizens of Westeros — will be adding to the racial diversity of its cast (in keeping with Martin’s description of Dorne as a multiracial region). The new cast include the part-Maori Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) as Obara Sand and DeObia Oparei, a British actor of African descent, as palace guard captain Areo Hotah. (As more characters are cast for the Eastern continent storyline, where the characters have been more diverse, this trend may continue.)

MORE DEITY TROUBLE. Maybe the most interesting announcement to me in terms of season 5’s focus is one character: veteran actor Jonathan Pryce (Brazil) as The High Sparrow — the leader of what is essentially a fundamentalist, populist sect within The Faith of the Seven that has grown in influence amid the troubles of war. One of the fascinating aspects of the source novels that is sometimes lost in the series is the role of religion in each of the various kingdoms — not just in the story’s mythology but culturally and politically. Casting Pryce suggests that season 5 might pay serious attention to the role of The Faith in Westeros’ politics, and to the battle for the people’s hearts and minds that goes beyond the battles on the field. Looks like the gods are going to be busy.

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