"Game of Thrones," Baptism, and the Drowned God

*spoiler alert

If you’ve been watching this season of HBO’s Game of Thrones you might remember that visceral scene from episode five where Euron Greyjoy (the new king of the Iron Islands) is held under water by the priest until his lungs are filled with water and he loses consciousness.

By Henry Söderlund [CC BY 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
This is the “drowning” ritual practiced by worshipers of the Drowned God in George R.R. Martin’s world. When I first came across this ritual in the books I was immediately reminded of Christian baptism.

Christians have never held baptizands (those who are being baptized) under water to the point of drowning, but the meaning behind the two rituals is strikingly similar.

In the first chapter of A Feast for Crows, Aeron Greyjoy, priest of the Drowned God, holds a thrashing boy named Emmond under the water, saying: “Lord God who drowned for us…let Emmond your servant be reborn from the sea, as you were.” [1]

“Finally, it was done. No more air was bubbling from his mouth, and all the strength had gone out of his limbs. Facedown in the shallow sea floated Emmond, pale and cold and peaceful.”

Shortly thereafter, with some prayer (and what we would call CPR), “the sea came gushing from [Emmond’s] mouth. The boy began to cough and spit, and his eyes blinked open, full of fear.” (25) Aeron the priest then says, “Rise…You have drowned and been returned to us. What is dead can never die.”

This might sound a bit different from the Christian baptisms you’ve seen, but consider what the Apostle Paul says in Romans: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rm 6.3–4, NRSV)

With all the joy that (appropriately) accompanies baptism, we should never forget the stark severity of what this sacrament entails. It means our death.

The famous reformer, Martin Luther, speaks of baptism with characteristic color:

“Your baptism is nothing less than grace clutching you by the throat: a grace-full throttling, by which your sin is submerged in order that ye may remain under grace. Come thus to thy baptism. Give thyself up to be drowned in baptism and killed by the mercy of thy dear God, saying: ‘Drown me and throttle me, dear Lord, for henceforth I will gladly die to sin with Thy Son.’”[2]

This death is grace because it is the death of us as sinners, the doing away with our opposition to God. It is, therefore, the death of death itself. Karl Barth writes that, “to be baptized means to be immersed, to be sunk in a foreign element, to be covered by a tide of purification. The [person] who emerges from the water is not the same [person] who entered it. One [person] dies and another is born.” (193)

As Christians, we may not have come away from our baptism literally coughing up sea water; but we can be sure that our baptism testifies, earnestly and decisively, that in Christ we are those who have died.

And what is dead can never die.

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[1] George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2005), 24.

[2] As quoted in Karl Barth, Epistle to The Romans (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1968), 194.

[Ed. note: Alex DeMarco (@Alex_J_DeMarco) is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary who now lives on the North Side of Chicago. He blogs (irregularly, alas) at Religionless-Worldly Christianity.]

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Comments

Wyatt said…
Is this covert argument for immersion?

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