“There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man”
-Varys “The Spider” on Stannis Baratheon
Stannis Baratheon, the First of his Name, Rightful King of the Andals and of the First Men. Rightful Heir to the Iron Throne, yet universally rejected of that role. Peerless tactician, clumsy politician. Fierce fighter, reluctant lover. Subtly nurturing, quick to condemn. Driven as much by insecurity, stubbornness and recklessness as by duty, honor and justice, Stannis Baratheon is one of my favorite characters, fictional or not, that I have yet encountered.
Part Macbeth, Part Cato Uticensis, Stannis embodies concepts that others merely give lip-service to, stands firm where others waver, and has infamously turned suffering into a teeth grinding artform.
Here I will demonstrate 3 reasons why Stannis Baratheon is a fookin’ legend, and worth any man’s admiration.
1.) He knows this struggle shall lead to his death
“I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning… burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?”
Despite his admission that his pursuit of the Iron Thrones shall lead to his own, possibly horrific, death, Stannis carries on. He could have easily knelt before Geoffrey, Tommen, Robb or his own brother, Renly and led a comfortable, stable life in any manner that he chose. He eschewed his humble wealth, his castle, his security, his own family’s name in order to pursue something all said was impossible, illegal and foolhardy. Why? Simply put, Stannis believes, above all, in adherence to duty and its associated tasks. From a purely legal standpoint, Stannis is King of the Andals, and that is alone for Stannis to pursue something he admittedly doesn’t even want:
“I never asked for this crown. Gold is cold and heavy on the head, but so long as I am the king, I have a duty … If I must sacrifice one child to the flames to save a million from the dark … Sacrifice … is never easy, Davos. Or it is no true sacrifice”
And this is ultimately what drives him: Responsibility and duty are the foundation of a just society, and to eschew these tenets in light of adversity or obstacles is a moral weakness. To give up on his beliefs simply because adhering to them is difficult is not an option.
2.) In victory or defeat, Stannis does not lose sight of his goals
During his brother’s rebellion, Stannis was tasked with holding Storm’s End, and hold it he did. The loyalist lords sent a large detachment of their main ground forces to deal with what they thought would be a quick and painless siege. Stannis was young, inexperienced and had only a small garrison. What the loyalists only later came to realize was the dogged determination the young Baratheon had. Rather than surrender as the loyalist lords held extravagant feasts before his castle walls, Stannis and his men ate dogs, cats and book glue for the better part of a year until Stannis’ future confidant, Davos, smuggled in fish and onions to the besieged party. This loyalist army, 50,000 strong, was kept from the main battleline, allowing his brother Robert to more easily defeat the other loyalist forces and ultimately win the war. Stannis was never thanked for this.
Stannis went on to have an illustrious military career, staging daring naval battles against the Greyjoys at Great Wyk and Fair Harbor. Many readers love Victarion and Euron Greyjoy, battle-hardened badasses who know not the meaning of mercy. Stannis made them his bitch multiple times, on their own terms and in their own element with a navy he built himself (once again, on his brother’s command).
Later on, with a small force, Stannis was able to withstand Wildfire and the might of King’s Landing in a near-victory to his cause. Shaken, but not defeated, Stannis mobilized the remnant of his army to utterly crush the 300,000 strong wildling army, mammoths, giants and all, to prevent the certain death of the Night’s Watch defenders. This was with 1,500 knights.
Stannis inspired the loyalty of the Northern Mountain Clans, defeated the Ironborn menace in the North, and captured Asha and Theon Greyjoy while restoring local control of the North. His shrewd battle-planning seems unphased by the historic blizzard currently ravaging his army outside of Winterfell, where, contrary to what HBO says, Stannis will win with ingenious tactics as described by Brynden Bfish.
And, even if HBO’s fanfiction comes true, Stannis will rise from the snow to once again wage war against the usurpers… Or die trying.
3.) Behind (dark) blue eyes, lies a deeply caring man
Many criticize Stannis as a cold, uncaring and cynical man. This is all mostly true, but shows a lack of full understanding of his character. Stannis was raised in an environment where he was neither the strongest, nor the most loved, a true middle-child. He was berated and ridiculed his entire life by Robert, and made ashamed by the charming Renly. Stannis watched as his own mother and father were killed in a shipwreck right before the castle walls. As he grew old enough to hunt, Stannis cared for an injured Goshawk in one of the most touching excerpts of character background in ASOIAF:
“When I was a lad I found an injured goshawk and nursed her back to health. Proudwing, I named her. She would perch on my shoulder and flutter from room to room after me and take food from my hand, but she would not soar. Time and again I would take her hawking, but she never flew higher than the treetops. Robert called her Weakwing. He owned a gyrfalcon named Thunderclap who never missed her strike. One day our great-uncle Ser Harbert told me to try a different bird. I was making a fool of myself with Proudwing, he said, and he was right”
This excerpt really demonstrates Stannis’ heartfelt care for a select few, but it also demonstrates his own insecurity, especially when his emotional investments don’t pay off or those who respects ridicule him. His extremely awkward relationship with his own wife and daughter are testament to that, yet Stannis is willing to walk into certain death for a chance for Shireen, who he moved mountains for in order to prevent her death by the disfiguring grayscale, to sit the Iron Throne.
We also see how often Stannis is quick to either condemn or favor those few he trusts, as he does with Jon Snow and Davos quite often. Stannis is quite fond of them both and respects them as men, yet his ways of displaying those feelings might simply be hearing them out, rather than shutting them down immediately. He especially goes out of his way with Jon Snow to the point where it’s obvious Jon is no longer seen as a political tool, but an honorable man in his own right who Stannis respects. After Stannis’ supposed death according to the Pink Letter, Jon is able to rally the Wildlings to fight at least partially to avenge Stannis. Too bad Jon died and all before that could happen.
I hope these few examples could give an understanding as to why, despite his numerous flaws, Stannis Baratheon is a man worth admiring, and in some ways, emulating. I hope to continue to write posts such as these, with the general theme of “Men worth admiring” or something along those lines. We shall see.
Note: Though Stannis was portrayed well by Stephen Dillane, his portrayal in HBO’s Game of Thrones was character assassination at best. He was seen as incompetent, petty, short-sighted and, for lack of a better term, a gullible idiot. Even the music implied a certain villainy to him. The season 5 finale, culminating in Stannis’ army simply walking to Winterfell and him and his army dying horribly (after casual child sacrifice, of course), represents everything that Stannis is not. GRRM wrote fierce tenacity, D&D saw idiotic stubbornness. GRRM wrote unwavering adherence to unpopular ideals and casual confidence, D&D saw myopic self-assurance to the point of megalomania.
Note Note: Don’t forget that Stannis is an extremely funny character, as well. Many don’t notice his dry humor at first, but it grows on you