A repost of something I put up on /r/teslore a few months ago. Let me know if you have any thoughts!

The Nordic pantheon begins, and ends, with death. And both of these are the same thing: a dragon.

This is quite different from most human religions and their attitude to the dragon god; Alduin is not a protector like Akatosh, as Thromgar Iron-Head eloquently points out, he is a destroyer. But he is also the 'wellspring' of the Nordic pantheon, according to Varieties of Faith. How are these two attitudes reconciled? I think the answer is to be found in the Dragon Cult and its impact on the Nords' society.

The Skyrim dragon cult was allegedly very different to the Atmoran dragon cult, of which Ysgramor was a part. I believe that it was only when the Dragon War began that dragons began to be regarded in such a deathly way. It was only by overthrowing the dragons that the Nordic pantheon as a whole could begin. This gives us the start of the Nordic pantheon in both dragons and death. This is further emphasised over time by the Dragon Cult remnants being pushed to the margins of Skyrim, into tombs and other places associated with death. This may be a chicken-and-egg thing, but what if the association with the Dragon Cult is why these places are connected so much with death.

However, they have possibly been hounded to the brink of non-existence; while the dragon does exist in the Nords' totemic religion, they have a relatively minor place in most of the glyphs in the ruins that we see. Akatosh is also divested of his gift of the dragon-blood, which the Nords associate far more with Shor and Talos. Taken together, these can be seen as deliberate attempts to reduce the influence that dragons have in Nordic myth-making, as well as an attempt to claim mastery over dragons by "stealing their power", something that is explicitly said of the dragonborn in Skyrim. This chimes with real-world traditions surrounding tribal cannibalism and eating rituals in general; to consume a defeated foe is to steal their power. To take their mythic power away could be seen in a similar light.

I don't think that the role of Shor as king of the underworld is a coincidence either. Shor is the champion of man, and he rules death. If death is symbolically associated with dragons, then Shor is figuratively the master of dragons as he is the master of death. There is also a recurring theme of no temples in the Nordic pantheon. Buildings can be destroyed, and probably were during the Dragon War. But stories don't die. However, there are lots of tombs. This is symptomatic of their relationship with death and the dragons. Death is more permanent than life for the Nords, and in many ways more important. Shor is a king of the underworld, a master of death (dragons) and the saying that how a Nord lives does not not matter, but how they died, it another indicator. Die a particular way, and you may not be reunited with Shor and thereby not beat Alduin and Orkey's final trick, which is death itself.

I also think that the presence of Orkey as a snake is significant. He is also tied to Alduin in the Five Songs of King Wulfharth, to the extent that we can't be sure whether Orkey or Alduin is responsible for shortening the Nords' lifespans (depending on which source you read). But the Nords now do live longer, and Orkey is a snake. A snake is a dragon without wings, and the myths say that Shor beat Orkey. Is it possible that in doing so, Shor took the wings of a dragon? In doing so, the Nords have symbolically beaten both death and the dragons again, reflecting the recurring theme of their victory over death and dragons, which is one and the same thing to them.