Game of Thrones is an HBO fantasy series that tells the story of a medieval country’s civil war based on the series by George RR Martin. Characters from different kingdoms fight to claim the “Iron Throne” and each leader was besting the next. It’s full of battles, romance, and of course, the greatest of unifiers, death.
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Over the entire eight seasons of Game of Thrones, there was one thing that viewers counted on time and time again: characters would die. From heroes to villains, death didn’t discriminate in this series.
While most are familiar with just how many characters died in Game of Thrones, have you taken a closer look at the way the dead are treated? What funeral traditions became a staple of this series? More importantly, what can we learn from this fantasy series about our own mindset around death and dying.
Though Game of Thrones is fiction, it grapples with real-world feelings and ideas. We can’t all relate to fighting over a throne of power, but we do understand loss through these character’s different perspectives.
Good doesn’t always triumph over evil, but in the end, everyone perishes in the balance. This notion is as beautiful as it is haunting, so let’s dive even deeper into the world of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones Funeral Traditions
Like in real life, the funeral traditions in Game of Thrones vary depending on the region, religion, and beliefs of the specific group. The differences between these cultures are what adds to the richness of the Game of Thrones series.
The North is where the royal Stark family lives in Winterfell. When a loved one dies, the family says goodbye and buries them in a relatively simple ceremony.
Under Winterfell, the capital of the Kingdom of the North, there’s a large crypt where the elite are buried. The tombs of men typically have statues holding real swords that guard the individual vaults.
The Faith of the Sevens
The Faith of the Seven is a religion in King’s Landing. These are some of the first funerals seen in the Game of Thrones universe. After a death, those who belong to this belief system have an open-casket visitation for friends and family to say goodbye.
During the visitation, the eyelids are closed and have stones placed on them. The stones are painted with eyes to symbolize the deceased opening their eyes in the afterlife. Men are posed with swords in their hands. For the funeral, the body is embalmed, and the organs are on display in seven urns near the body. The mummification process resembles funerals from ancient Egypt, and this is a highly intricate funeral process.
The Night’s Watch
The Night’s Watch are the protectors of the wall. For these characters, cremation is preferred over burial. The members of the Night’s Watch have their remains burned on a funeral pyre.
There is a eulogy given as their body is burned. It’s customary to finish this eulogy with the words “And now his watch is ended” to honor their service to the protection of the Wall. The only ones who aren’t given a proper sendoff are those who commit treason.
The Ironborn are natives from the Iron Island. Because they worship the Drowned God and practice seafaring, their burials happen at sea. Their rocky soil isn’t a good fit for burials, and cremation isn’t likely given their belief in the afterlife.
After death, the Ironborn are said to go to the Drowned God’s watery halls. Their eulogy includes powerful words about one’s continued legacy below the water’s surface. The eulogy reads, “Lord, take your servant back beneath the waves. Feed the creatures of your kingdom on their flesh. Pull their bones down to your depths to rest beside their ancestors. What is dead may never die.
The free folk, also known as the wildlings who live north of the Wall, prefer cremation as a practical choice. If they fail to burn the bodies, they can turn into wights that fight for the army of the dead.
The funeral itself doesn’t feature any intricate ceremony. It’s more about practicality and disposing of the body quickly and safely.
The Dothraki of Essos also burn their dead on funeral pyres. These people believe that the stars at night are the horse god. By burning the body, the ashes rise to the heavens to join this god and ride with him in the afterlife.
Not burning a deceased Dothraki is seen as a great dishonor. To be buried and subject to worms and decomposition would be a terrible fate. However, one unique tradition of the Dothraki is that after a woman is widowed, she must become a spiritual guide.
Members of the House of Targaryen in Westeros also practice cremation, following the traditions of their Valyrian ancestors, despite converting to the Faith of the Seven.
During the time of dragons, their funeral pyres were lit with dragon flame. The Targaryens keep the ashes stored in crypts.
In the North, House Tully stands apart as an outlier. Because they’re located in the Riverlands, they use the waters of the Trident in their funeral ceremonies. House Tully members are placed on a boat and displayed with stones over their eyes with their organs removed from embalming.
A eulogy is given in honor of the dead, and the boat is set on fire by an archer. This resembles ancient Viking funeral ceremonies.
Game of Thrones Themed Funeral Ideas
It’s not uncommon to have a themed funeral nowadays. Everyone has diverse beliefs and ideas not only in life, but also in death. Honoring these passions through funeral ideas is a powerful form of remembrance.
Here are some of the best themed funeral ideas based on Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones has a number of original songs, many of which would make great funeral songs. Playing music at a funeral is one of the best ways to honor someone’s life.
Popular songs in Game of Thrones include:
- “The Rains of Castamere”
- “The Dornishman’s Wife”
- “It’s Always Summer Under the Sea”
- “Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy”
- “Hands of Gold”
These were songs written specifically for the series, and their the perfect tribute for a die-hard Game of Thrones fan.
In both the HBO series and George RR Martin’s books, many different dishes are explained. Some are fictional, but most are based in Medieval history. For a fan of the series, one way to honor his or her legacy is by incorporating some of these beloved series-inspired foods into the funeral, repast, or celebration of life.
From walnut pie to milk tea, there are many different recipes that honor the traditions of the past. Food brings people together, especially when a favorite story is involved.
There are a number of ritual elements the main families in Game of Thrones use to honor their dead. While these are often based on religion, there are many ways to incorporate them in a modern funeral as well.
These rituals are primarily based around the elements (earth, fire, water, and air). Taking time to focus on nature and include these small touches in a funeral or service helps loved ones feel grounded in a time of mourning.
Many of the characters in Game of Thrones recognize that grief doesn’t go away after the funeral. Candles are a big part of remembrance. Not only do they help with remembering loved one’s memories during the service itself, but they’re used after to connect with the spirit and hold loved ones close.
Candles are popular outside of this series as well. In many cultures around the world, candles are used to connect with ancestors and hold rituals. They’re popular on death anniversaries, holidays, and so on. Utilizing this practice for yourself can be a powerful tribute.
Valar Morghulis: All Men Must Die
There’s a High Valyrian phrase in Game of Thrones that will always ring true. “Valar morghulis,” or “all men must die,’ is a reminder that funerals are a part of life. While your funeral practices might vary depending on where you are and what you believe in, the same principles ring true.
More people are incorporating their favorite stories into their funeral wishes. Though fictional, stories remind us that we’re all more alike than we are different. In Game of Thrones, the battles between both good and evil and life and death have blurred lines. The same is often true in our own lives, so there’s a lot to learn from what we see on the screen.
If you're looking for more funeral planning ideas, read our guides on memorial service ideas and headstone design ideas.