Game of Thrones’ Stannis Baratheon: A Review
By now I’ve written several character reviews for George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, profiling characters ranging from Littlefinger to Hodor. This particular one, of Robert Baratheon’s younger brother Stannis, is one I have wanted to do for quite some time but always held off on. Partially because Stannis is one of my favourite characters and I knew I would want to do it perfectly. Partly because I knew it would be a difficult review to do given the controversial nature of the character. With it now all but certain that the last Baratheon brother is dead and his story has come to an end, I figured the time had finally come. So without further adieu follows my review of Stannis Baratheon, the King Who Cared.
To begin I will immediately address the pyre in the room (too soon?) otherwise known as THAT SCENE, and by address what I truly mean is choose to ignore. Given that in the books Shireen Baratheon is still alive and well, and that we now know Stannis meets his end at the Battle of Winterfell, it’s fair to assume that the horrifying scene where she is sacrificed to the Lord of Light was an invention of the showrunners (who have never been particularly good at making creative decisions with Stannis’s character). As such I’m not going to attempt to defends it or justify it in this review, and instead simply to bypass it.
In many ways, Stannis is the opposite of the character of Danerys Targaryn. In the latter’s case, it is almost painfully obvious from the get go that we the reader are supposed to like the character and root for her. With Stannis, the character does not initially come across as especially likeable; he’s dour, and grim, and something of a prude (one of the first mentions of him is in reference to his attempts to ban all the brothels in King’s Landing). What is noteworthy, however, is that every character of any intellect, from Ned Stark to Varys to Tywin Lannister, has a healthy respect for his capabilites and either desires him as an ally or fears him as a potential ally.
One early description of Stannis is that he’s like iron, hard and with no bend in him. He is much like the character of the High Sparrow in this regard, an incorruptible figure singularly focused on his goals who will not deviate from his concept of justice. This is a recurring theme with the character, including with his motivations for claiming the throne. With the character of Daenerys, she essentially wants the Iron Throne because she wants it; the Kingdom of Westeros is something she sees as her’s that has been stolen from her and she wants it back. What precisely she will do with the throne once she has it is never explored (does she even know?) as much as the show attempts a to clumsily paint her as some kind of crusader for social justice against inequality.
Stannis, by comparison, makes it clear he actually does not want the throne. Nevertheless, as the eldest surviving brother of King Robert he is his true heir by all the laws and customs of Westeros, so therefore the throne is his and he must be king. Telling, when the Wall is in danger of being overrun by Wildling army it is only Stannis of all the contenders for the throne and leaders of the great houses who answers the call for aid; he alone realizes that instead of winning the throne to save the kingdom he should save the kingdom to win the throne.
This is ultimately is what makes Stannis such an appealing character, and the one I rooted for (only to be ultimately disappointed) in the civil war for the Iron Throne. He saw kingship as a duty to be fulfilled and not a priviledge to which he was entitled; the people did not exist to provide him with position but rather his position existed to provide for the people. This is monarchism at its finest, and ultimately made him a far more complex and interesting character than one such as Daenerys who ultimately manages to some both the entitlement of inherited priviledge with the recklessness of a revolutionary.