Can you help explain to me what purpose it is exactly that the faceless men serve? Do they just kill people who deserve it and bestow the gift of death to those that truly need it? Is that all? I feel like I'm missing the purpose behind it all..
The Faceless Men are a Braavosi secret society of assassins, who are contracted to assassinate people. They are extremely expensive, and the more prominent the target, the more it costs to hire them. (Littlefinger said it costs the equivalent of hiring an army of sellswords just to target a merchant.) However, Arya has learned that the price is always within the means of
the person requesting the assassination, if they are willing to make the
sacrifice – so a poor person could indeed ask the Faceless Men to
assassinate a very prominent person and the price would not be nearly as
much as if a rich person made the request, but the relative cost to
each person would be equally dear. The Faceless Men were founded in Valyria centuries before the Doom (and may have been instrumental in the Doom), but it’s currently unknown when they first came to Braavos, whether among the slaves who escaped Valyria, in the years it was a secret city, or after it was revealed to the world.
One major characteristic of the Faceless Men, beyond being an assassin society, is that they also are a religious cult. They serve the “Many-Faced God”, their name for death, which incorporates all the death gods of all the religions in the world. The Stranger of the Faith of the Seven, the Lion of Night of Yi Ti, the Black Goat of Qohor – to the Faceless Men they are all faces of the same god. Presumably this also includes the Other of the R’hllorist faith, as that dualistic religion holds that R’hllor brings life and the Other brings death. (Note however that R’hllorites would probably consider the MFG a false god, as that’s how they feel about all religions besides their own, that they are tricks of the Other or his demons.)
Because of their faith, the Faceless Men hold death to be a sacrament, the gift of the Many-Faced God; and in their temple, the House of Black and White, is a pool of poisonous water that visitors may drink for a quick and painless death. Also because of their faith, the Faceless Men are highly reluctant to kill anyone who has not been “marked and chosen” by the Many-Faced God. (This is likely why it’s known that they charge so much for their assassination services, to discourage anyone but the most desperate (or rich) from seeking them out.) On their assassination missions, the rule is to kill only the target, not bystanders or any guards the target may have. Also, they make no moral judgements on the assassination target; it does not matter if the victim was a good or bad person, as they do not decides who deserves to die, only the Many-Faced God does.
“And are you a god, to decide who should live and who should die?” he asked her. “We give the gift to those marked by Him of Many Faces,
after prayers and sacrifice. So has it always been, from the beginning.
I have told you of the founding of our order, of how the first of us
answered the prayers of slaves who wished for death. The gift was given
only to those who yearned for it, in the beginning… but one day, the
first of us heard a slave praying not for his own death but for his
master’s. So fervently did he desire this that he offered all he had,
that his prayer might be answered. And it seemed to our first brother
that this sacrifice would be pleasing to Him of Many Faces,
so that night he granted the prayer. Then he went to the slave and
said, ‘You offered all you had for this man’s death, but slaves have
nothing but their lives. That is what the god desires of you. For
the rest of your days on earth, you will serve him.’ And from that
moment, we were two.” His hand closed around her arm, gently but firmly.
“All men must die. We are but death’s instruments, not death himself.
When you slew the singer, you took god’s powers on yourself. We kill
men, but we do not presume to judge them.”
–The Kindly Man, ADWD, The Blind Girl
Another characteristic of the Faceless Men, unique to their order
(and unlike other assassination societies such as the Sorrowful Men*) and
what gives them their name, is their ability to change faces. They use makeup and disguises and magical glamours, but also their own unique magic – they have a library of faces (skinned from those who die in the House of Black and White and perhaps elsewhere, and then preserved), and through potions and magic a Faceless Man can cover their own face with this preserved face, and to everyone who views them, it’s as if they look exactly like that person did before their death. It’s yet unknown whether height and weight and gender are included in this change, or if this is handled through illusion magic or actor’s tricks, or if the Faceless Man can only use faces of people similar in body type to their own.
*The Sorrowful Men are another society of assassins (from Qarth
rather than Braavos), but we don’t know anything about their habits
except that they whisper “I am so sorry” before killing their target,
and that one used a manticore when attempting to assassinate Dany. There may be other assassin societies throughout the world, but the Sorrowful Men and Faceless Men are the only ones that have been named so far.
Another element of the “facelessness” of the Faceless Men is their practice of discarding identity and individuality, to become “no one”. Novices are taught to train their face to avoid tells and body language that gives any hint of their old identity and personality, and are frequently questioned to see how far they have come in discarding their identity. They do not use names or even pseudonyms (the names Arya uses for them are her own, based on their apparent physical characteristics), but only refer to each other as brothers and sisters, novices and acolytes and servants and priests. When considering assassination targets, the priests meet in the House of Black and White, and anyone who knows the target recuses himself from the assignment – only one who does not know the person may give them the gift of the Many-Faced God. (This is another possible reason why more prominent targets are so expensive; it’s definitely the reason why the sailors on the Titan’s Daughter gave Arya gifts and made sure she remembered their names.)
And of course there is their mottoes “valar morghulis” (all men must die) and “valar dohaeris” (all men must serve). Though these are sayings from Old Valyria and are used throughout Essos in various contexts, as a specific password and response they appear to be unique to the Faceless Men and those who serve them. Saying “valar morghulis” and presenting a coin of the Faceless Men to any man of Braavos acts as an identifier, and the Braavosi will then do all they can for that Faceless Man.
Known targets of the Faceless Men during the course of the books: Balon Greyjoy; also an insurance salesman who cheated the heirs of his client. Also there are the victims of the Faceless Man who once called himself and used the face of the Lorathi Jaqen H’ghar (and later called himself the Alchemist and is now disguised as Pate the Citadel novice), many who seem to have been killed against the known rules of the FM – but it is unknown whether that Faceless Man is on some mission or whether he’s gone rogue.
And if you’re wondering about the literary purpose of the Faceless Men, it’s to provide interest to GRRM’s worldbuilding (acting as analogues to (fictionalized versions and legends of) the Thuggees and Hashishin), to move Arya along her plotline and develop her character and skills, to possibly provide answers to certain mysteries of the story, and of course to be an element in this plotline. I hope that answers your question.
TV Episode | TV-MA | 60 min | Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Stannis arrives at Winterfell. Tyrion runs Meereen as Daario and Jorah go after Daenerys. Jaime and Myrcella leave Dorne. Jon sends Sam and Gilly to Oldtown. Arya challenges the many faced god. Cersei confesses her sins.
Director: David Nutter
Writers: George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by), David Benioff (created by)
Stars: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey
I think you misunderstood a bit maybe? I wasn’t saying that the Faceless Men are, idk, the equivalent of R’hllorian Satanists – they don’t serve the Great Other as the avatar of evil or whatever. But just because they don’t serve “the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and
Terror”, it doesn’t mean they must serve “the Lord of Light, the
Heart of Fire,
the God of Flame and Shadow”. (GoT put a statue of the fiery heart of
R’hllor in the House of Black and White, but such a statue is never described as being there in the books.)
The Faceless Men don’t serve either god in the R’hllorian duality,
that’s the point, they serve death, which they call the Many-Faced God. Like, they don’t serve the Stranger, they just say the Stranger is one of the faces of their god, because in the Faith of the Seven, the Stranger brings death. And similarly, the Faceless Men would say that the god called the Great Other is also one of the many faces of Him of Many Faces, because in the religion of those who believe in the Lord of Light, the Great Other brings death.
Was I wrong to spare this one? “If the glamor fails, they will kill you.” The wildling began to scrape the dirt out from beneath his nails with the point of his dagger. “I’ve sung my songs, fought my battles, drunk summer wine, tasted the Dornishman’s wife. A man should die the way he’s lived. For me that’s steel in hand.” Does he dream of death? Could the enemy have touched him? Death is his domain, the dead his soldiers.
Now, whether R’hllorians would consider the Faceless Men to be tools of the Great Other, because they revere death, is another question. (If they knew of the FM’s beliefs at all, which they might not since they’re probably trade secrets.) I said in my post that they’d probably think the FM’s Many-Faced God is just one of the Other’s demons, which is what they believe of the gods of all religions that aren’t theirs… but it’s possible they might think that in the case of the Faceless Men, the Great Other has cut out the middleman. But whatever the R’hllorians might believe the MFG to be, it doesn’t mean they’re correct.
(Mind you I don’t think the Faceless Men are necessarily all that good, whatever the R’hllorians might think of them. Worshiping death should be disturbing to anyone,
being assassins who worship death even more so. Even if their
philosophy is complex, and they provide painless suicide, and their morals re killing assassination targets
(and not bystanders) vaguely ethical, it doesn’t make them good. They’re pretty darn evil! Though I still do think the Faceless Men would probably be against the Others if they knew about them. Probably.)
There’s something I don’t understand though. I thought Jaqen told Arya that she could offer any name to the Many Faced God. Arya had offer Meryn Trant’s name before… so why is it a big deal that she took his life? Why is the Many faced god angry at her?
I wasn’t being very precise in my tags, sorry, it was more just some
spur-of-the-moment thoughts. I wasn’t debating most of the things you
wrote above, what I’m wondering about is whether the Faceless Men
believe that the Great Other is one of the aspects of the Many Faced
God, or if they consider R’hllor to be an aspect of the Many Faced God?
(I wasn’t talking about anything on the show.)
For example, despite how hypocritical Melisandre is, and despite what the universal, GRRM-given truth is for ASOIAF, Melisandre believes murdering Renly was in service to R’hllor. So is there a quote that says the Faceless Men can’t believe R’hllor is one of the aspects of the MFG, given that other devotees believe death can be dealt in service to R’hllor?
No worries! What I was saying when I mentioned the show, was that we don’t know exactly which god of the R’hllorian duality the Faceless Men consider part of the MFG. The Kindly Man hasn’t spoken of it, and in descriptions of the House of Black and White neither a statue of R’hllor is mentioned nor any statue of the Great Other (not that we even have an idea of what that would look like). Though note there are about 30 statues there and Arya’s narrative lists only 7 of them.
However, my educated guess is that if the FM ever mention which R’hllorian deity is a face of the MFG, it would be the Great Other – because if you asked your typical follower of R’hllor who brings life, they’d say R’hllor, and who brings death, they’d say the Other. That’s the standard orthodox word of belief, not whatever rationalizations Melisandre has for her murders. It doesn’t matter that Melisandre kills people in the name of R’hllor, the embodiment of death in that religion is still the Great Other. (Just like in the Faith of the Seven, people can be brought to justice in the name of the Father, but nevertheless the Stranger is the god that takes their soul away.)
My original thoughts were more in relation to your last paragraph, I
suppose, what is the true nature of R’hllor, and how have his worshipers
(mis-)interpreted him? You believe the FM would probably be against the
Others, as do I. Which is why I simply wonder, thematically, if GRRM
would create a society of people that knowingly … yes, I know, “serve”
isn’t exactly the right word here to deal with aspects of the MFG … that
knowingly incorporate the force R’hllorists call the Great Other into
the MFG they worship.
(Also, GRRM has already definitely created a society that worships pure evil – the Cult of Starry Wisdom. Ok, well, he didn’t actually create them, he borrowed them from Lovecraft, but he brought them into ASOIAF, so same difference.)
“Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa. Needle was Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people. Needle was the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room. Needle was Jon Snow’s smile. He used to mess my hair and call me “little sister,” she remembered, and suddenly there were tears in her eyes. (…) The Many-Faced God can have the rest, she thought, but he can’t have this.” - Arya 5.03 - High Sparrow
The Many-Faced God, also known as Him of Many Faces, is a deity worshipped by the Faceless Men, a guild of assassins established in the Free City of Braavos.
The founder of the Faceless Men came to believe that all the diverse slave population of Valyria prayed for deliverance to the same god of death, just in different incarnations. Thus, in Qohor, the Many-Faced God is called the Black Goat; in Yi Ti, the Lion of Night and in the Faith of the Seven, the Stranger.
This belief of a single god with many incarnations or ‘faces’ came to be reflected in the Guild’s House of Black and White, which contains a public shrine with idols of many death gods, including the Stranger of the Faith of the Seven.
The worshipers of the Many-Faced God believe that death is a merciful end to suffering. For a price, the Guild will grant the 'gift’ of death to anyone in the world, considering the assassination a sacrament to their god. In the Guild’s temple, those who seek an end to suffering may drink from a black cup which grants a painless death.
As the Faceless Men forsake their identities for the service of the Many-Faced God, they only assassinate targets they have been hired to kill and may not choose who is worthy of the 'gift’ by themselves.