To preface this article, I want to make something perfectly clear: there will be SPOILERS from The Song of Ice and Fire, if you're not caught up, and HBO's Game of Thrones up until the 5th Season Finale. You all have been warned so proceed with caution... but do proceed.
Since the premiere of Season 2 and the first appearance of Stannis Baratheon (cranky king, portrayed by Stephen Dillane), I have enjoyed his character. He was always very interesting to me; not necessarily likeable-- like, at all-- but engaging. He stood out from the other characters. He was honorable but cruel. He was honest but tough. He embodied, to me, the value of justice without mercy. Stannis was a faithless, purely practical, judge without time for nuance or frills. And I found that so interesting. But the majority of other viewers that I know have never been "Team Stannis." Most people I've talked to find him bland, rude, or even evil (this was all before Season 5, by the way). So this article is to not only educate people on my perspective on the character, but to also defend his actions throughout the show. I want the readers of this article-- and watchers of the show-- to leave with a new understanding of the man, his life, his actions, and his future.
The majority of this article will be a history and biography of the character as well as slight psycho analysis; however, I will also go into his recent actions in the show as well as my predictions for the Season 6. I'm going to delve into not only the life of Stannis, but also a brief overview of his brothers, and major events in recent Westeros History. These events have all had lasting effects on the man Stannis became.
Stannis is the middle child of Steffon and Cassana Baratheon; just younger than Robert (the fat king, portrayed by Mark Addy) and older than Renly (the gay king, portrayed by Gethin Anthony). He was always overshadowed by the very strong, handsome, and talented Robert. Robert was everything to his parents; he was everything to the girls. Quiet, sober Stannis lived in his shadow. The birth of Renly didn't make it any better. Where Robert had pomp and strength, Renly had charm and wit. Now, not only was young Stannis obscured by his older brother, but also eclipsed by his younger. This gave the boy quite an inferiority complex. The only attention he ever got was from his parents and even then, they were more focused on the other two brothers.
Never had "middle-child syndrome" been more evident in a fictional character than Stannis Baratheon. He constantly felt forget and outcast and as a result of this is a stickler for rules and recognition. If he feels entitled to something he will literally never stop talking about it until he gets it. His stubborn, albeit dangerously immovable attitude stems from the neglect he felt was given to him as a child. Middle children have a reputation of misbehaving, but Stannis went the route of camouflaging into the background; which formed his bleak, uninviting personality.
The world changed for Stannis when, as a young teen, his parents were killed in a freak storm in Shipbreaker Bay. While the other two brothers took their parents' death relatively well, it crushed Stannis. He spent nights yelling at the sea, blaming the vindictive storm Gods for the death of his parents. Disillusioned from a young age, he went on from there hating the Gods and disbelieving of anything he couldn't see. His faith was shattered and he grew to become more stern, more reclusive, angrier. No religion ever made an effect on Stannis; no Gods or clergy could sway him; that is, until his faith was rekindled in the fires of The Red God. But we'll get to that later.
With the death of their parents, the brothers were split up. Robert was sent to The Vale to be tutored by Jon Arryn; which is where he met Eddard Stark (Sean Bean in a wig, portrayed by Sean Bean) and was betrothed to Lyanna Stark. Stannis however, remained at Storm's End and was educated there; especially in matters of war. This is where the boys grew apart. They were always at each other's throats and there was never much love, but the physical separation helped cement the emotional divide. Robert saw Eddard as more of a brother than Stannis.
Stannis was at Storm's End when Robert's Rebellion began.
BRIEF OVERVIEW: The rebellion was many years in the making but was sparked by the capture and apparent rape and murder of Lyanna Stark, the promised wife of Robert Baratheon and sister to Eddard. War was never the solution however until Brandon and Rickard Stark-- the brother and father of Ol' Ned-- were brutally murdered by Mad King Aerys Targaryen. Robert, Eddard, Jon Arryn, and many subsequent Houses and Kingdoms rebelled against the king. They eventually won numerous battles, defeated the Targaryen horde, killed Prince Rhaegar, sacked King's Landing, and won the crown for Robert Baratheon.
Back to Stannis.
Stannis was caught between two opposing ideals. On the one side, The Stormlands and The Crownlands were raising their banners in support of the king and his vassals. However, Robert and all of his constituents were gathering to oppose them. Stannis had to choose between family or honor; and he chose family. Defying many of the other minor houses in his homeland, Stannis stood behind his brother despite it being treasonous. Robert assigned him with the job to defend their home, Storm's End, as Robert moved north. A massive Tyrell force marched against him, so Stannis closed the gates and prepared for the siege of his life. His uncompromising personality gave him the ability to withstand the siege.
In the first few months, the inhabitants of Storm's End ate through all their rations. But Stannis wouldn't give up. They ate through all the horses in the fortress. But Stannis wouldn't give in. They ate through all the pigs, ravens, dogs, and rats. But Stannis Baratheon refused to budge. Eventually he was saved by the smuggled goods of Davos Seaworth (everyone's favorite bearded gent, portrayed by Liam Cunningham). The entire war raged in The Riverlands; all the glory was had by others, all the recognition and songs were dedicated to others. But there was Stannis, forgotten by history despite keeping the rock of House Baratheon secure. The siege wasn't lifted until after King Landing fell and Robert eventually remembered his little brother. Actually, Robert didn't even come to thank his brother, he sent Eddard to do the deed.
Immediately after the Tyrell army departed, Robert demanded that Stannis sail to Dragonstone and dispatch the remaining two Targaryen children. With haste, he got his fastest ships and sailed directly to Dragonstone, conquering the island. When he got there, the children had been swept away by Targaryen supporters and vanished into the East. Robert, now on the Iron Throne, was furious with his brother's apparent "failure". Due to his anger, Robert stripped Stannis' right to Storm's End and all lands attached to it; giving them to his weaker, unqualified brother Renly who didn't do anything during the war. Robert, in his "mercy" gave Stannis the Island Fortress of Dragonstone; which was more of an insult than a gift to the second son. There he remained, the forget Prince of The Stormlands.
The Greyjoy Rebellion
BRIEF OVERVIEW: House Greyjoy, Lords of the Iron Islands, saw weakness in the new Baratheon Monarchy and openly rebelled against the crown by burning the entire Lannister fleet while they were still docked at Lannisport. In retaliation, the now seasoned King went to war against the Greyjoys. They defeated them, destroyed the Ironborn and broke Balon Greyjoy (old, fishy king, portrayed by Patrick Malahide); not to mention killing his two oldest sons and imprisoning the third.
Stannis had a major part to play in this skirmish. Now, having been through one war, he was better prepared for combat. Robert yet again gave him a seemingly impossible task to perform, expecting him to fail. Stannis was told to crush the Ironborn fleet and siege Great Wyk, the largest of The Iron islands. So what Stannis did was crush the Ironborn fleet to smithereens and conquer Great Wyk without hesitation. He yet again proved his adept ability at warfare. But Robert took this victory for granted and decided not to bring Stannis to the Battle of Pyke; where all the glory was shared. Songs immortalized all the heros who fought at Pyke, but no one sang for Stannis Baratheon.
The War of the Five Kings
This is the only event that the show has physically covered so far; so I'll try to be as quick as possible.
BRIEF OVERVIEW: After the death of King Robert Baratheon and execution of Eddard Stark, separate regions of Westeros united behind five Kings; The King in the North, Robb Stark; The King of the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy; The King on the Iron Throne, Joffrey Baratheon (Lannister?); The King in HighGarden, Renly Baratheon; and The One True King of Westeros, Stannis Baratheon. They battle it out until only one king remains (... and Balon Greyjoy in the show?), Stannis. Although he is the only survivor of the original five, Tommen, Joffrey's successor, has the throne instead of Stannis. But if you watch the show, I don't have to tell you any more.
Poor poor Stannis Baratheon. The history is lengthy, forgive me, but I think it's necessary in order to understand the character. If you've made it this far, it's about to start getting interesting. Stannis has been a major part of recent Westerosi History but has never been paid his dues. Once King Robert died and he got the news of the incestuous origin of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, Stannis was finally going to get what he deserved. The Iron Throne was his. He earned it. According to the laws of the land he should be the next King of Westeros. But very few people supported his claim. His own little brother denied it, wanting the crown for himself. When Robert rebelled, Stannis followed him no matter what. But when it was Stannis' turn to be supported by his brother, Renly betrayed him. Can you imagine? If your family won't support you, who will?
You see, once Stannis sets his sights on something, he doesn't let up. Ever. It's a great virtue but ultimately, a weakness. His inability to shift or adapt makes him a strong warrior but a bad leader. He doesn't play the game which makes me respect him as a man but at the same time, in order to rule he needs to deal with others.
Stannis, the King of the Unlucky
Stannis has been plagued by misfortune during his crusade for his birth right. At The Battle of Blackwater, his fleet was decimated by wildfire but he marched on the wall anyway. His determination in any other series would have meant that he won. But because of this, he lost nearly his entire army, fleet, and support. But he would have been good for the crown! Imagine if he had won the battle. The Starks would still be alive. Knowing Stannis, he would have imprisoned the Lannisters remaining in King's Landing; executing Cersei probably. He would demand the North "bend the knee" which Robb would, after being reappointed Warden of the North and probably given the honor of beheading Joffrey. Ugh the world would be such a happier one! Anyway...
His bad luck doesn't just involve military matters. A terribly streak of unfortunate events have made Stannis hardened, cold, and reserved. He was disliked by his brothers. He was stuck in a loveless marriage with someone who repulsed him. All of his sons were stillborn. His only child was stricken with greyscale; and a girl. His wife despised the his daughter; the only person he ever loved. The island of Dragonstone was sterile and unmanageable. He had no allies in Westeros; or even friends. He had very little power or influence. Stannis was a self-made man with nobody behind him and no luck at all. That is, until he was brought into the fold by Lady Melisandre (hot, cultist temptress, portrayed by Carice Van Houten).
He's basically a born-again Christian. His life was reinvigorated by the fires of religion-- literally-- bringing to him new purpose and new direction. Since childhood, he never had faith in anything but his own two hands. When his eyes were open, he knew what he had to do. Disaster struck at Blackwater, crushing his new found "faith". But then there was that beautiful scene, when Stannis looks into the fire and finally, truly believes. Truly believes in Melisandre, in The Red God. He finally saw what the world could do for him and he put his ultimate faith and support into the Lord of Light. For such a hard man to believe in such an extreme religion is uncanny. What could drive a man so practical, so realistic, to believe in a fringe cult that sacrifices people and practices fire rituals? He has been burnt to his wick's end in life and has turned to the only thing left to him-- something that he had sworn off forever-- mysticism.
He finally felt lucky...
He finally felt like the world was working in his favor. Robb died supposedly due to his blood sacrifice. Joffrey as well. A boy sat on the throne. Tywin was dead. Lannisters were broke. The North was divided against the Boltons. He finally felt in control. Stannis had the Golden Companies. He smashed the King-Beyond-The-Wall. He grew massive support at Castle Black. Then he marched on Winterfell with a far superior army, cavalry, siege weapons, experience, and money. Everything was in his favor, until it was all taken from him in a blink of an eye.
Can you imagine... can you imagine finally feeling on top of the world after a life of misery, just to have it all stripped away from you within a few moments? He had it all and once he took out Winterfell, Westeros was his for the taking. He could have been king within the year. But sequentially it all fell apart; the winter overwhelmed his army, the ice covered their path, the food, siege weapons, and horses were destroyed, and he was stranded. Then he lost his daughter, his wife, his true lover, his friends, army, and backing all within a day. Ultimately, he lost his crown, his men, and his life... presumably. But lets back up.
What we all want to talk about is Stannis' recent actions in the show...
Stannis has made many terrible decisions throughout the show. He was willing to kill his own bastard nephew. He was willing to kill thousands of his own men for the capture of Winterfell; and at the Blackwater. He had sex with Melisandre, despite being married. He murdered his own brother in cold blood. He burned his own people as sacrifices to The Red God. He brutally torched Mance Raydar (wildling king, portrayed by Ciaran Hinds) just to make a point to the wildings. But no decision has been as gut-wrenching, as painfully brutal as the decision to sacrifice his only child, his beautiful daughter Shireen.
This scene has been foreshadowed since the very beginning but it didn't stop it from being horrific. There's no excusing Stannis. A moral man does not burn his own daughter. But I'm here to say, I still have sympathy for him. It took everything he had to kill Shireen. Everything. He never loved Renly; killing him was easier. He never loved Robert, Selyse, his people, or really anyone; that is, except Shireen. Stannis was a rock until Shireen turned him into a puddle. When she was born he gave everything he had to keep her alive. He hated Selyse for her treatment of his daughter. But he finally had faith in something other than himself until he believed in a higher power, The Red God, The Lord of Light. When he was facing insurmountable odds, he gave into his faith. It tore him apart; even just the idea of killing his daughter. But he had to do it. He felt that it was the only way to retrieve his destiny, something that has always alluded him. He was lost for so long in his life and had finally found a path, but that path meant killing his daughter.
Look at this face, look at Stephen Dillane's impeccable performance as Stannis. By the Old God's and the New, he is amazing. It breaks my heart. He is furious with himself but sad at the same time. He's angry that he's sad, sad that he doesn't have enough faith, angry that he cares about the faith, and bottles it all down until he can't take it. His determination makes it impossible for him to change course, but the decision is killing him. He has lost the only thing he ever loved in life so he can become who he thinks he's destined to. He put all of his faith into Melisandre and her god just to lose everything again. It hurts. Stannis has one of the hardest paths out of all GoT characters but no one realizes it.
Hmm... maybe that's why I wrote this article... I think someone needed to defend Stannis. While I was watching the finale a bunch of my friends were cheering when it all went wrong for him. Like "Ha! That's what you get!". But I didn't feel that was right; Stannis wasn't sadistic, he didn't enjoy death. He did what he felt had to be done to secure his destiny but everything fell apart for him. He lost his men, his wife, his daughter, his faith, and destiny within two days. I can't fathom it. I can't.
How can you not feel bad for him? Look at his picture, he's so sad:
BUT HE'S NOT DEAD!
I know, I know. The whole bait and switch or whatever. But I don't care. Stannis is not dead. There's a rule on Game of Thrones, if you don't see them die and get burned/buried, they're not dead. I need to see his body and the physical evidence that he's not coming back before I think he's dead. And even then, there's a little bit of a grey area-- lookin' at you Jon Snow.
First of all, if Stannis was dead, we would have seen the gratuitous death scene. He is a major character; one of the biggest in the show. This entire season has been focused around his journey and they would show his death. Every major character we got to see die; Ned, Robb, Catelyn, Joffrey, Tywin, maybe even Jon. But they cut the scene right before his death so we would think he died, so his return would be all the bigger. We want that brutal killing so Brienne can have some closure, if they're not going to show it to us then it didn't happen. The audience wants that gratification, that closure.
Secondly, his final line is the give away. "Go on, do your duty." When Stannis says this, Brienne has a moment of hesitation. You can see it in her eyes; she feels remorse for this man. Do your duty; its such an important thing to Brienne to keep oaths and do what is asked of her. Her duty was to look after the Stark girls, first and foremost. Sure, revenge on Stannis was a selfish desire but she believed in Catelyn and loved her. She remembers that she left Sansa at Winterfell and decided to leave Stannis alive. He could be an asset to her and she views this as penitence for the death of Renly. If Stannis can help her save Sansa and Arya, he would be forgiven. She sees how broken this man truly is and takes mercy on him at his lowest point.
He's not dead.
So what do you think? Did this article give you a better understanding of Stannis Baratheon, The One True King of Westeros? Do you feel more sympathy for the brother-murdering, cult-worshipping, daughter-burning harda** (I don't curse)? Please let me know in the comments below! I will respond to every comment because honestly, I just want to talk about Game of Thrones.
BONUS FACT: Stephen Dillane's son, Frank Dillane, is also an actor. He is most well known for portraying Young Voldermort, better known as Tom Riddle Jr., in Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. I guess playing complex characters runs in the family. Stephen also has a Tony Award...