This post will be referencing plot points throughout the four seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. If you’re not caught up, shame on you! It’s the most pirated show in the universe!
But I shouldn’t be slack-shaming. Should you need to get caught up, please do so and come back.
My work colleagues are great; the office is a Game of Thrones-friendly environment. Many of us have read the books and nearly everyone’s watching the show.
When I started blogging about Game of Thrones last year, I didn’t necessarily expect my teammates to follow my blog but they have been, since it gives them more Game of Thrones things to talk about (and the opportunity to make fun of my grammar and bizarre typos and run-on sentences and Fnord.)
Most of my early posts were “In Defense of … ” articles, where I’d try to rationalize or defend one of the major character’s bad decisions. After a few of those articles were on the blog, one of my colleagues asked me when I’d go on the offensive and not defend someone, but take them to task.
That time is now.
Busting Renly’s Chops
I don’t have a lot of issues with King Robert’s youngest and more charming brother, but I do have to call him out for at least one thing: he selfishly hung Ned Stark out to dry.
Did I say one thing? I have some other issues with young Renly, and again it’s all from his desire to be king.
But let me take a step back.
Casus Belli, Yo
I’m not necessarily interested in labeling any one person as responsible for the chaos of the War of the Five Kings which splintered the Seven Kingdoms, ruined the North, bankrupted the crown, and ravaged the Riverlands.
(That same chaos also ended up being a ladder for treacherous, allegedly lecherous Littlefinger to ascend to the Eyrie. So that’s extra bad. Boo.)
Obviously Joffrey played his part in impulsively ordering Lord Eddard’s execution. Others get yelled at too.
Catelyn Stark has her detractors.
They insist that her anxiety-driven action in arresting Tyrion Lannister was the primary cause of the war, since it prompted Jaime’s ambush on Ned and for the Mountain’s chevauchee on the Riverlands.
But she was reacting to an earlier event…
Many point out Jaime crossed the Rubicon when he pulled an Arryn on Bran and made the bad boy fly.
Those are all valid points, all certainly contributed to the Stark/Lannister conflict. But those actions were decided in the heat of the moment, with little chance of taking the action back. (Catelyn probably had the most leeway until she brought Tyrion to Lysa. Then she had as much control over Tyrion’s fate as Jaime did over the force of gravity on Bran, or Joffrey’s chances of reviving Ned. None.)
But one man had a chance to make a difference, to secure the stability of the realm or shatter it. He had the opportunity to think through his course of action, to act decisively and not impulsively.
Renly Baratheon. Whom no one seems to think ill of. Really?
Renly Makes His Move
In Season One, Renly was accompanying his brash and boastful brother on one of his endless boar hunts.
Sometimes, you get the boar, sometimes the boar gets you.
King Robert returned to the capital grievously injured. He had time to arrange for a peaceful and stable succession: he dictated a decree naming Ned the Lord Protector.
Renly wasn’t a fool, he knew Cersei wouldn’t allow this, particularly after Ned had sent the Stark fighting retinue with Beric Dondarrion to interdict the Mountain. Renly took Ned aside and made an offer:
- Renly would provide Ned 100 men in case Cersei made a move to seize power.
- In exchange, Ned needed to support Renly to be the new King.
Ned was uncomfortable with Renly’s offer, and refused the terms.
Renly fled the city with his retainers the moment of King Robert’s death, avoiding having to swear fealty to Joffrey. And avoiding having some kind of “accident”, if you know what I mean.
Safe in Highgarden, he declared himself the king.
Shortly after, Joffrey executed Lord Eddard, Robb Stark was declared King in the North, more serious-than-a-heart-attack Stannis Baratheon scrambled about, telling anyone and everyone that he’s the king since Joffrey was not Robert’s son, and grey and joyless Balon Greyjoy declared himself the King of the Iron Isles and proceeded to invade the under-defended North.
The War of the Five Kings had begun.
Bad Brother Renly
Renly’s fraternal duty to his dying eldest brother would have been to support his royal last wishes. If Ned needed men to resist Cersei’s coup d’etat, an honorable younger brother would have offered his men with no strings attached. Or at least strings less majestic.
Demanding to be king as a condition to do his duty was disrespectful to the spirit of Robert’s dying wishes.
Demanding to be king was disrespectful of Stannis’ rights. Now, Stannis might not be that awesome a guy, but during Robert’s rebellion, he had faced a similar choice. He could have supported his older brother in a rebellion, or he could have rejected his brother’s wishes, paving the road for him to replace rebel Robert as Lord of the Stormlands.
Instead of pursuing personal glory (i.e. pulling a Renly), Stannis backed his brother Robert in full.
The Domino Theory
It’s one thing to not support Ned, it’s another thing to disrespect Stannis by ignoring his claim, but the bigger issue that arose by Renly inventing his claim to the Throne: it encouraged the secession of two of the Seven Kingdoms.
- Had Renly backed Ned, to keep things stable until Stannis showed up for a coronation (followed by some Stannis-style justice on Tywin for invading the Riverlands), the North would not have had to mobilize, Robb would not have had to submit to Walder Frey’s extorted demands, and the Red Wedding would not have happened. Eventually, Ned could have visited Jon Snow and told him about his mother.
Instead, Renly abandoned Ned, leading to Stark’s betrayal and capture. Robb mobilized and headed south, getting metaphorically in bed with the Freys. Which ended badly.
- If Renly, after fleeing King’s Landing and leaving Ned to his fate, had not declared himself king, but instead grudgingly backed Stannis, it’s conceivable that Robb Stark would never have declared himself King in the North. Because there would have been a clear successor to the Throne. With Renly in the mix, there was room for other opinions on the legitimacy of authority.
With the Throne seemingly up for grabs, the secession of the North from the Seven Kingdoms seemed like the right thing to do.
Wait, that’s not bad, right?
Sure, I don’t think it was necessarily wrong for the North to want to declare independence from the central government that had been imposed on them by force, three centuries before. But…
… it gave someone else the incentive to secede, and conditions to support it.
Balon had already learned the dangers of seceding from a reasonably united Seven Kingdoms. But with Westeros splintered among four monarchs? The opportunity was there. In no time at all, the Ironborn controlled the western coastline of the North, and Winterfell was in ruins.
Bad Planning, Renly
Renly did no one any good in pursuing a pretense for the throne (especially not himself.)
Renly’s position, had he supported Stannis, would have been greatly improved. Before Robert’s death, here’s the list of names (in order of succession) between Renly and the Iron Throne.
(We’ll ignore the incestuous nature of Joffrey and Tommen for this exercise, and ignore Robert’s bastards.)
After Robert’s death, had Renly backed Stannis (and his claims of incest), here’s the list of names (in order of succession) between Renly and the Iron Throne.
Dude. Stannis had no male heir, not even any bastards (that we know of.) Being king is a dangerous job, especially if there are people who can immediately benefit from that monarch’s death.
It might have been smarter to maintain the peace and security of the realm, and pick a better time to get head measurements for a crown. (Anyway, all the cool kings eschewed crowns.)
And Ned would have lived. And he would have gotten a chance to see Jon again. Dammit.
Good King Renly
When Renly made his initial offer to Lord Stark, he stated that the soldierly Stannis would not make a good king, but boldly declared that he would instead. Would Renly have made a good king? It’s hard to say for sure.
His initial argument was really “at least I’m not Stannis.”
He said that his older brother “inspires no love, no loyalty.” I’m not so sure about that.
Let’s say he’s right, and Stannis was totally a dud. I don’t know if we have much evidence that implies Renly would be that much better, since he’d probably be a puppet king.
There’s a fine line between Book Renly and Show Renly. There were enough references to Renly’s charisma in the first two books to demonstrate that he’d be able to get legitimate backing as the authority. It’s harder to lay that out on television without spending a lot of time with Renly, and the television show only has so many hours.
The show opted to have it summed up with some exposition between Renly and his good friend Ser Loras.
Loras: You know, you’d make a great king, Renly.
Renly: Dude, you’re just saying that.
Loras: No way, you’d be a great king, everyone loves you.
Renly: I’m also gay, by the way.
Loras: Me too!
Unaware Book Readers: WHAT?
George R. R. Martin: Didn’t everyone know those two were gay? It’s so obvious in the books!
I’d like to think that Renly would be a wise king. On the show at least, he was willing to make concessions with Robb to allow the North and Riverlands some autonomy while still swearing fealty to King’s Landing.
The negotiations meeting between Renly and Catelyn Stark was a nice moment, opening up the possibility of a positive outcome for the Starks.
Then this happened:
Had Renly prevailed over Stannis, he might have been a good king, but odds are he’d have been a puppet for the wealthy Tyrells. Renly was literally in bed with them. One implication from the scene with Loras is that Renly was being pushed into a game-playing position by Highgarden.
Lady Olenna mentioned in Season Three that she’d been against supporting Renly to be king, but it’s very easy for her to say that with Renly dead and her granddaughter engaged to Joffrey, a monarch her household had been previously opposing. I have no problems imagining Olenna having had her calculating eyes on Renly for quite a long time.
Would that be a bad thing? It’s unclear. The Tyrells are certainly as ruthless as the Lannisters, and as rich. They’re a lot better at public relations though.
In Conclusion (or possibly Inconclusive)
As people on Game of Thrones go, Renly seemed more decent than most. He would inarguably made a better king than Joffrey.
But I can’t let go of his lost opportunity to support Ned during the critical time after Robert’s death. So he’s in the doghouse as far as I’m concerned.
But I’m not the final arbiter of character assessment on Game of Thrones. (Sadly. I should be. You fools need to treat my opinions as gold!)
Let me know if I’m wrong (or unbelievably if I’m right, that’s cool) via comments.
I’m sure there’s someone who was delighted with the choices that Renly made.
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved