Myth in Pop Culture: Faceless Men and the Iron Will

Jessica Dodge
TV Game of Thrones
TV Game of Thrones

The Many-Faced God in Game of Thrones is a death god. His followers, the Faceless Men, are assassins. But there is an unseen underbelly to the assassins and priests of the Many-Faced God. This unseen portion of myth in pop culture has to do with soulskin and necromancy. Beneath that is an individual’s force of will and identity that is the driving essence of the power of the Many-Faced God.

The Beginning of Faceless Men

Jaqen Hghar game of thrones faceless men opens steel door

The story of the Many-Faced God starts with slavery. The Faceless Men started out as slaves in Valyrian mines. This is important because it is in these early beginnings that these people learned they were “nobody.” Part of the process of making a slave includes beating the identity out of them. This loss of identity is the loss of self-value and self-esteem. Consequently, this causes the person to lose free will and independence. This, of course, leads to a better slave. So, they take orders without question. They do not try to escape. And will even die for their masters without fear, because slavery is horrible and the slave wants to die to be free. To the master, a slave is nobody and worthless, so the master doesn’t care whether the slave lives or dies.

The Power of Identity, Value, and Iron Will

arya-stark-game-of-thrones blind with evil stare

This is an illusion masters tell themselves to feel more comfortable around people who can kill them in their sleep. While this method might work for the majority of people, it doesn’t work all the time. A human cannot control the thoughts of another human. Another human can only control the physical environment of another human. Identity and value are thoughts, ideas. It is intangible and cannot completely die or be beaten out of another person. Identity and value can also be resurrected and restored. They can change and shift. A slave can create a new face for the master while keeping inside him his will of personality. Hence, it takes a very strong individual power of will to keep this identity a secret from your enemies and still make it look like you are following orders.

It also takes the same amount of individual will not to become your mask. Every day, a slave wakes up and puts on her mask. She may grow to hate her mask, but over time it is easy to be sucked into that identity. Putting it into the real world, have you ever had a job you hated, then suddenly realized you were working far too hard at it? Why are you bending over backward for a boss who doesn’t appreciate you? The job market is bad, and you are frightened to leave the job. You need the job to live. So, you continue the job until the day you can be free. It takes willpower to stay true to yourself and your secret identity. Some people will forget who they were, who they are, and where they came from. It’s normal. But the Faceless Men are not these people.

The Mythic Shape Shifter is Death

Everybody is nobody. Every person can be a nobody. The Faceless Men were never “nobody.” They want others to believe that they are nobody because that is how they blend into the crowd. But deep down inside themselves, they know who they are. They know their identity and value. They do not need to talk about it or prove it to others. It is there, inside them, and each one has a name.

The Many-Faced God needs a name. It’s your name. Your identity. Your Value. It’s who you are. He needs you to know your own name, your own value, and it needs to be there no matter who is beating you or trying to kill you. He needs to know your identity is like iron in you. This identity needs to be stronger than death itself. Death can change your shape and environment, but death does not change who you are inside. Your personality and will go with you to the beyond.

many faced god game of thrones
A person’s identity is in their face. Magically speaking, it is in their skin. It is a ‘soulskin.’ Priests use necromancy to remove the face of the soulskin to create masks needed for their work. This is a magical shape-shifting technique as the soulskin is a powerful artifact. If a person stays too long in a different shape, that person is in danger of becoming that shape.

Every time a person shifts, the risk is increased. For a Faceless Man, this is highly dangerous. Changing shape often means a high risk of losing your personal identity and value. The Faceless Men are not shifting into animals; they are shifting into people. People’s will and personality go with them to the beyond. The face is the physical symbol of that person. If a Faceless Man does not have enough will to match or overpower what personality and identity is already there, the risk of shifting gets higher. The person to whom the face belonged before will overpower the shifter and take over. A Faceless Man cannot be “nobody” inside himself.

Ultimately, this provides a moral compass. The Faceless Men are not cold-blooded killers. They do not kill simply for money. If that were true, then anyone with enough money could hire them to kill all their enemies. The Faceless Men would be guilty of killing innocent people, who, in reality, didn’t really do anything at all. That is why Arya refused to kill Lady Crane. The Many-Faced God doesn’t want death as dominion. He doesn’t want his followers to become corrupted by wealth or power. He is a death god. Time means nothing to him. Money means nothing. Power means nothing.

The Many-Faced God needs to know that if another person comes to his followers, they aren’t simply going to take the money, ask no questions, and kill for sport. This is why “The Waif” was never going to be a Faceless Man. She liked to kill for the sake of it. The entire process of training was a ruse to discover Arya’s true intentions and what she would do with the power if she attained it.

Arya Stark and Her Iron Will


If a person can endure beatings, illness, blindness, living in the gutter, and assignations and still come back from it retaining their personal identity, then they have proven the power of their iron will. This person has passed the tests and can wear the masks without danger of becoming trapped in them. This is the kind of person the Many-Faced God is looking for. This kind of person is Arya Stark.

When Arya proclaimed her name to the priest of the Many-Faced God in the sanctuary of the House of Black and White, she became a Faceless Man. She doesn’t know it yet. That is why the priest smiled. She gave a name to the Many-Faced God as she was ordered to do so many times.

Arya proved to the God she wasn’t a cold-blooded killer by refusing to kill Lady Crane. Arya didn’t think that the assassination was a justified one. It was ordered by a petty girl who was jealous of the Lady’s acting talent. Not a good reason for murder. Arya did, however, prove she was willing to kill for a good reason. The priest sent Arya to the brothel knowing who Arya was going to see there. It was only a chance encounter for Arya. The priest wanted to know what would happen if Arya had the opportunity to kill for a good reason and if she had the will to do so. He also wanted to know how she was going to do it.

The Return of Balance


It is safe to say that the Game of Thrones audience is eager to see more. We want to see how Arya progresses in her adventure and how she is going to become more than she is now. Whose faces will she add to the House of Black and White? How will she use her new-found identity and power to help her brother in the north? We want to know how she will use her power to assist the Many-Faced God in the coming battle of the Night King.

One thing we know for sure, the Death God is not happy with the Night King and his corrupt use of necromancy. The Many-Faced God wants Arya Stark to be his follower, whether she knows it or not. She is his chosen in the battle to come and how he will influence the world to return the balance of life and death.

Read more in our Myth in Pop Culture series here.

Jessica Dodge
I love all things Pop Culture and Myth. You can find more about me and my ramblings at
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