I love the show. I really do. But sometimes they don’t quite hit the mark. Season 5 Dorne is the classic example. Stannis is another. Some say show Stannis was a deformation of the character. I don’t agree with that. I think show Stannis was a simplified version of the character that wasn’t given as much care as the showrunners have given the rest of the main cast. I don’t think they gave him enough respect as a diverse and complex character say as they did Tyrion or Jaime. Sit down. Relax, get comfortable and let’s explore Stannis Baratheon past and present.
This is Stannis Baratheon
Stannis suffered from a nasty affliction from an early age: Middle child syndrome. Some of you may be familiar with this condition as it affects millions of children across the world. No cure is known, although Stannis does try to remedy himself of it later on in life to mild success.
Stannis was the second son of Cassana Estermont and Steffon Baratheon, lord of Storm’s End. His elder brother was Robert Baratheon, and Renly was the youngest of the three. The three were so different from each other it could be hardly said they were brothers at all. I find the easiest way to display their differences is to explore their sex lives. Robert basically slept with anything that walked on two legs and had breasts. I would say Stannis wanted nothing to do with sex. He saw the act as a duty to get an heir from his wife, but that was the end of it. Stannis was a man of few pleasures. Renly just went the other way completely and didn’t sleep with women at all from what we hear. Rumors were always going around about that lad.
When Stannis was young he found an injured goshawk (bird). He carefully nursed it back to health and named it Proudwing. Robert teased Stannis and nicknamed the bird Weakwing because the poor thing couldn’t fly very high and failed at every attempt Stannis made to teach it to hunt. Stannis’s uncle told him that he was being a fool and told Stannis to abandon the bird, which he did. Proudwing was never seen again.
Cassana and Steffon were sent on a mission to Volantis to find a bride for the crowned prince, Rhaegar Targaryen. They didn’t find one, but they did find a jester who would delight Robert, and may even teach Stannis to laugh. (book only).
Stannis and Robert stood on the parapets and watched their parent’s ship as it returned from the voyage. And they watched as the ship smashed into the rocks of Shipbreaker Bay. And they watched as, in the distance, their parents drowned and the sea dragged the ship down into its depths. The only soul to survive was the fool who washed up on shore three days later, his mind broken (book only). Stannis lost his faith in the gods that day.
Maester Cressen raised the Baratheon brothers from that point on. He gave Stannis the most attention because he needed it. He was shy and quiet unlike his brothers. He didn’t naturally pull attention like they did and he had always been the least loved among them. Stannis was also the son Cressen could never have, but Stannis was always in Robert’s shadow in every way, from childhood to adulthood.
The Siege of Storm’s End
Robert’s Rebellion posed an interesting conflict for Stannis, and one you may not have ever thought about. Robert was a rebel, an usurper, an outlaw from the crown’s point of view. Stannis had to decide if he would support his brother in rebellion or support the crown. We know, of course, that Stannis sided with his brother.
To summarize, Robert marched off to war and Stannis was left at Storm’s End with a measly garrison to hold the castle. Stannis was eighteen at this time. Mace Tyrell quickly swooped in on Storm’s End with his full host. Storm’s End was cut off from land and sea. A true siege. And it went on and on and on.
The Siege of Storm’s End was part of the domino effect that won Robert the war, and it was key in doing so. The Tyrell army was strong, but they were tied up trying to starve Stannis out for most of the war. When Rhaegar marched with the Targaryen and Dorne host to the Trident, the Tyrell host was still sitting outside of Storm’s End. If Stannis had surrendered and given up, the Tyrells would have joined the fight at the Trident, and Robert would have lost the war (most likely). And Stannis and his men weren’t sitting pretty either. They were starving. Literally.
The siege lasted a year. They ran out of food so they ate their horses. They ran out of horses so they ate their cats and dogs. They ran out of cats and dogs. The only meat left in the place was human meat. Luckily it didn’t go quite that far (insert subtext here that it DID, in fact, go that far) and they were saved by the timely arrival of a smuggler with onions, probably the best thing those men had ever tasted in their lives. A funny thought process. Try and follow along.
If the Tyrells had been at the Trident, Robert would lose. If Stannis had given up Storm’s End the Tyrells would have been at the Trident. If Davos hadn’t brought Stannis onions they would have died of starvation. If they had died of starvation the Tyrells would have taken Storm’s End and been at the Trident. So, logically, it’s not too far fetched to say that Davos won them the war :). (all assumptions of course).
Ned comes and ends the siege. Stannis knights Davos. Yay a happy ending for everyone. But not quite. Robert, the new king, tells Stannis to build a fleet and go to Dragonstone. Robert’s blood lust over the Targaryens is still strong. And hiding away on Dragonstone was Rhaella Targaryen, sisterwife to the Mad King.
Months later, Stannis set sail for his Assault on Dragonstone. But unknown to him, Rhaella was already dead. She died shortly after giving birth to a new child and that same night a terrible storm destroyed the Targaryen fleet anchored at Dragonstone. Rhaella’s two children were smuggled away to safety before Stannis even arrived.
“I built a fleet at Robert’s command, took Dragonstone in his name. Did he take my hand and say, “Well done, brother, whatever should I do without you?” No, he blamed me for letting Willem Darry steal away Viserys and the babe, as if I could have stopped it.”
Robert was furious that the Targaryn children had escaped and Stannis became the scapegoat. Robert gave Renly Storm’s End and made Stannis lord of Dragonstone. An insult to say the least. If Robert was king then Stannis was next to be lord of Storm’s End, the Baratheon seat, but instead Robert gives him Dragonstone. We’ve already talked about how lovely a place that is.
“I never asked for Dragonstone. I never wanted it. I took it because Robert’s enemies were here and he commanded me to root them out. I built his fleet and did his work, dutiful as a younger brother should be to an elder, as Renly should be to me. And what was Robert’s thanks? He names me Lord of Dragonstone, and gives Storm’s End and its incomes to Renly.”
Keep in mind I’m telling this how Stannis sees it. Some argue that this wasn’t an intentional slight by Robert, but that doesn’t matter right now. This is the story of Stannis and that’s how he saw it, so that’s how I’ll tell it. Always keep in mind there are two sides to every story.
Stannis proved himself to be a great commander. During the Greyjoy Rebellion he smashed the Iron Fleet to pieces. He was an exemplary strategical mind, one of the best in the Seven Kingdoms.
“I have felt from the beginning that Stannis was a greater danger than all the others combined.” – Tywin
“He is known for his prowess as a battle commander, and he is utterly without mercy. There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.” – Varys
Stannis earned the respect of everyone in the kingdom. Not many could say they liked him, but he had their attention and respect. Robert made Stannis his master of ships and Stannis lived in Kings Landing as part of the small council. Together, Jon Arryn and Stannis ran the realm and kept everything together. Stannis was closer to king than Robert who preferred to fuck and drink. Robert never truly admired Stannis and the things his brother did for him. He never thanked Stannis for holding Storm’s End for a year, he thanked Ned who ended the siege. Robert blamed Stannis for the escape of Dany and Viserys. Robert gave Storm’s End to Renly. The list goes on.
Believe it or not, Stannis had a big hand in setting off the events in Game of Thrones. Time to pull your memory back to season one/book one. We learn that Jon Arryn died after becoming suspicious of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. That they weren’t in fact Baratheon at all. Well who gave Jon Arryn this suspicion? None other than Stannis. He confided in Jon and they investigated the matter together. Just as they were getting close, Jon dies. Robert and company go to Winterfell to make Ned hand of the king, Robert’s last slight against Stannis. This is when the show starts and Stannis goes back to Dragonstone very much under the impression that Cersei killed Jon Arryn.
Understanding the Mannis
You basically know the rest, but I’m not going to end it there today, there’s more to say. Stannis turns people off. I get it. He’s not warm or funny. He doesn’t make smart quips like Tyrion (maybe sometimes) or destroy people with a hammer, but that’s not what Stannis is about. Why say something yourself when someone else has said it better? I’m going to use quotes and try to get at the core of Stannis and his character.
“I stopped believing in gods the day I saw the Windproud break up across the bay. Any gods so monstrous as to drown my mother and father would never have my worship, I vowed. In King’s Landing, the High Septon would prattle at me of how all justice and goodness flowed from the Seven, but all I ever saw of either was made by men.”
One of his key defining moments in life was the death of his parents. People think Stannis is a ‘slave’ to the will of Melisandre, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Stannis doesn’t like gods, and his belief in R’hllor is less of a belief and more a tool to be used. He’s no devout follower, that’s for sure, and he seems to have a general dislike for religion.
“Renly offered me a peach. At our parley. Mocked me, defied me, threatened me, and offered me a peach. I thought he was drawing a blade and went for mine own. Was that his purpose, to make me show fear? Or was it one of his pointless jests? When he spoke of how sweet the peach was, did his words have some hidden meaning? Only Renly could vex me with a piece of fruit. He brought his doom on himself with his treason, but I did love him, Davos. I know that now. I swear, I will go to my grave thinking of my brother’s peach.”
Stannis kills his own brother. How could he do such a thing? You ask. I’ll never understand how anyone could possibly think Renly was in the right here. Stannis didn’t want to do it and got no pleasure from doing it. Stannis was next in line and Renly stomped all over it like a child throwing a fit. If Renly had just supported his older brother, who knows what could have happened? Oh wait.
“If Renly had done his duty by his brother, we would have smashed Lord Tywin. A victory even Robert could be proud of.”
People like Renly because he’s charismatic, friendly, and enjoyable to be around and watch/read about. I say egocentric and careless. Stannis kills his brother, not because it’s the easy thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do. Unlike every other king in the War of the Five Kings, Stannis thinks of the everyday man. No soldier deserved to die in a fight between Stannis and Renly. A pointless fight that Renly created because he wanted to be a big boy. Only Renly deserved to die and he got what he deserved in my opinion.
“It is not a question of wanting. The throne is mine, as Robert’s heir. That is law. After me, it must pass to my daughter, unless Selyse should finally give me a son. I am king. Wants do not enter into it. I have a duty to my daughter. To the realm. Even to Robert. He loved me but little, I know, yet he was my brother.”
This is the main thing to understand about Stannis. He’s not trying to get the throne for want of power or anything else. Stannis is a man of law and it’s just an undeniable aspect in his mind that the throne is rightfully his. That doesn’t mean he wants it. It means he believes it’s his duty to take it.
One boy! He may be the best boy who ever drew breath and it would not matter. My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, [Melisandre] says. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her? We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.
This is Stannis talking about Edric Storm (replaced by Gendry in the show). Sacrifices must be made. When Stannis kills one child, he’s doing it so that a million may live. It’s easy to say “How could he do such a terrible thing? But it’s hard to DO such a terrible thing. Stannis is one of the only people in the realm STRONG enough to be able to put the lives of the many before the few. No matter what.
“[Davos] reminded me of my duty, when all I could think of was my rights. I had the cart before the horse. I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.”
Stannis is the only one to come to the rescue of the Night’s Watch. The only one.
“Demons made of snow and ice and cold. The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.”
This is Stannis’s enemy. He has no interest in fighting men, but he has to. The realm has to stand together to fight the Others and it’s his duty as king to be the one to unite them against the true enemy. The only King who has been smart enough to know the true enemy and actively try to do something about it. This is why we call him Stannis the Mannis. He lives on in the books and… not so much in the show. But the takeaway here is that he’s not just an angry man who just listens to what Melisandre tells him and enjoys burning people alive. He has strong beliefs and he’s a serious man, but that doesn’t make him any less of a great character than a colorful one like Tyrion.
There’s honestly a lot more to the guy than this, but I honestly only have so much space and time. These books are long and deep and you should read them if you haven’t. Really. Just do it. It adds so much to the experience.
As always thanks for reading! All information comes from the A song of Ice and Fire series.
#1: Art by Joshua Cairós
#2: Art by Jeff Johnson (I think this is him)
#3: From a dvd extra on Game of Thrones
#4: From a dvd extra on Game of Thrones
#5: from GoT
#6: Art by Erenarik