There’s not a lot of love thrown around for the character of Stannis on HBO’s excellent Game of Thrones. I think it’s time to enumerate some of Stannis’ many positive qualities. And just maybe the naysayers will come around to consider dead King Bob’s younger brother as the right man to run Westeros. After all, at least he’s not Joffrey.
Usual spoiler warnings apply. I’m not going to be revealing anything that hasn’t happened on the show, although there’s always the chance that I’ll bring in some book detail from the same period that’s covered by the TV series. But this is going to otherwise be all HBO show-related. (Look, just watch the show.)
Quick recap of Stannis’ story from the first three seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones
Robert Baratheon has two brothers, crabby Stannis and charming Renly. When Robert rebelled against the mad Targaryen king, Stannis did his part by defending the Baratheon ancestral stronghold, Storm’s End. Nearly starved doing so. After the war, little brother Renly got to succeed King Bob as the lord of Storm’s End, and Stannis got some rocks.
King Bob eventually gets boar-gored, Stannis knows that his older brother has no legitimate children (the acknowledged heir is actually 100% not a Baratheon), and expects everyone to respect his claim to the throne. The country goes wild, two kingdoms secede, and little brother Renly decides he’d like to be king too. Stannis bumps off Renly with shadowy magic, nearly takes the capital city of Westeros but loses most of his men at the Blackwater Bar-B-Q, and looks like he’s out for the count.
He misses the opportunity to have his witchy-counselor Melisandre generate some mega-magic from sacrificing one of King Robert’s surviving bastards, but opts instead to respond to the Night’s Watch call for help.
Don’t remember the details? I have a much longer recap of Stannis’ story here. You’re welcome.
Stannis! He’s a Complicated Cat. No One Understands Him But His Woman. And He’s the King!
Okay, maybe he’s isn’t as cool as Shaft, but I really enjoy how Stephen Dillane plays the angry, grouchy, uncompromising Baratheon on HBO’s Game of Thrones. But this isn’t about Dillane. It’s about Stannis.
King Stannis. I don’t think anyone seriously disputes his claim to the throne.
Okay, we can argue that Daenerys should be Queen, because she’s from the previous dynasty and we all like her (except for those of you who don’t – you know who you are) but if you want to bring her up, you need to read my essay on the legitimacy of power in Game of Thrones. And I doubt anyone wants to do that.
So let’s limit his competitors to the other members of the War of the Five Kings.
Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy: They’re both seceding from the Seven Kingdoms, not trying to take the Uncomfortable Chair. Not in competition. (And Robb’s dead too. So really not in competition.)
Joffrey: Oh yeah, he’s the rightful king. Do I actually have to debunk his claims of legitimacy?
So that leaves Stannis’ younger brother Renly. Well, Renly does has a claim. Being Robert’s brother, and the fact that Robert had no legitimate children (sorry Joffrey), he’s certainly in line for the throne.
After Stannis. And that settles that.
But why should anyone support Stannis (other than boring legitimate claims, blah blah blah.) It’s a fair question, and I think its worthwhile to examine the aspects of Stannis, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Westeros is in need of a military man to put some things right. There’s a tyrant on the throne that needs desposing, a kingdom of pirates to be put down and brought back in line, and three kingdoms ruled by men who orchestrated the Red Wedding.
Not to mention three looming invasions, of Wildlings, Icy Demons, and Dragons.
Stannis thinks about military matters, a lot. You know that big map table Stannis has? He puts in so much overtime planning military campaigns that he sleeps on that thing. (Just joking. He sleeps with Melisandre on that thing.)
What about the common folk of the kingdom? Will they see any betterment of their position? Or will it continue to be the usual privileged few lording it over the powerless masses? It’s hard to say. They probably wouldn’t fare worse, and there’s a chance things can improve. Because, and this might seem unexpected, Stannis is probably the most enlightened nobleman on the show.
Stannis rewarded the smuggler Davos with a knighthood for his bravery, raising him up from his low birth as a crabber’s son to become a minor noble. When Renly betrayed Stannis’ trust and made his claim to the throne, many noblemen who should have served Stannis defected to go with the loveable charismatic Renly.
Stannis rewarded Davos by promising to make him his Hand of the King. Davos felt that this would breed discord and jealousy among the other lords who served Stannis, but the king was not concerned, because loyalty and service should be the measure of a man, not just the factors of his birth. If the lords were jealous and irked, they should strive to be more worthy.
I think this egalitarian and meritocratic sentiment speaks well of Stannis, and this might have been a good influence on the realm.
Stannis understands right from wrong. He really tries to do the right thing. He certainly took his grammar lessons to heart.
But he’s not all good.
I agree that Stannis has some bad qualities.
He’s a big lobster (to quote dead Renly), and wouldn’t be the most diplomatic of kings.
Did I mention “dead” Renly? Stannis did that. Not cool, Stannis, not cool.
Fratricide is a problem (as is kinslaying in general), and the fact that Stannis killed Renly with a shadowy assassin birthed by Melisandre is just kind of unclean. But it’s not like he’s the only one in Westeros engaging in terrifying and unconventional warfare. Stannis actually isn’t the worst offender.
His uncompromising nature and crabbiness might be a problem, but probably more to the counselors on the Small Council. Stannis’ bad qualities might bring a positive light to the corruption and intrigue at court. By putting a few more heads on the walls, not because they were contrary or troublesome, but because they were poisonous to the realm.
Peytr “Littlefinger” Baelish is clearly a schemer and a plotter, and would probably not thrive in a Stannis administration. It’s no wonder he tried to persuade Ned Stark into not supporting Stannis’ right to the throne.
Lord Varys, equally a schemer and as skeevy as Baelish, had other concerns about Stannis. Largely in regards to his connection with Melisandre, the incendiary red priestess. And that brings us to the next category.
Stannis has a public relations problem, and it’s not his unpleasant personality. It’s because he recently converted to a foreign religion, and is following some pretty hardcore guidance from the mysterious Melisandre of Asshai.
When Tyrion was preparing the defenses for King’s Landing, Varys offers a motivational pep-talk, centered around Stannis’ religious zealotry and reports of Stannis burning his enemies alive. There’s some truth to that, although it’s pretty much Melisandre’s way of removing her political enemies. But Stannis allows it.
He’s got a weakness when it comes to saying “no” to her. And that’s a problem.
Melisandre decides to start burning her political enemies at Dragonstone? Stannis is too bummed out about Blackwater to do anything other than say “whatever.”
Melisandre shows up with a captive Gendry wanting to burn him up, Stannis isn’t really into it, but has to get Davos to take the fall and insist on a magical test of blood first.
Robb Stark ends up being killed at the Red Wedding, and Melisandre is really quick to take credit as proof of her power. Stannis is pissed off, not only at the Red Wedding treachery, but now he has no choice but let Melisandre BBQ the bastard. Davos luckily takes action and frees Gendry, sparing his whipped king from having to do something really horrific.
So Melisandre is a problem, Stannis is certainly under her influence, but as long as Davos is around, there’s some checks and balance at play. It’s debatable how much influence Melisandre would have once Stannis became king, since it’s her promise of getting him to the throne that’s largely the tie that binds him to her. (Well, other than that she’s incredibly attractive.)
Look, I just like Stannis. I think he got a raw deal in most of this, he’s done some bad things, but I don’t think he’d be a bad king for Westeros. This guy agrees with me:
This guy doesn’t agree with me:
I could have ended my argument there and saved everyone a long read.
Okay, time for a poll, because why not?
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved