I never thought I’d find a character less deserving of a redemption arc than Grant Ward.
I was so, so wrong.
As ever, this article will spare no details from current episodes of season 5, so it will be chock full of spoilers. Also, this article is commenting on events that are currently exclusive to the show and thus should reflect only on how I feel about Stannis in the show (which unfortunately is going to be rather difficult to untangle from book!Stannis in future, I’m afraid).
Enter Stannis Baratheon, brother to Robert Baratheon and true heir to the Iron Throne. Except he’s not so well-liked. And kind of a douche. But, he’s totally right. Disregarding the existence of any Targaryens out there (you know, the ones his brother threw off the throne in the first place), Stannis has the cleanest lineage claim to the throne. He’s already blown open the Lannister incest secret, proved that those golden haired children are not indeed Robert’s and therefore are not only products of incest but usurpers as well, cut down the younger brother who also wanted to be king on the battlefield (we’ll get into the sketchy ass details of that victory later), and is ready to climb those stairs and sit his royal arse upon that deadly sharp chair.
Let’s go back to how he’s not really all that well-liked. It doesn’t exactly rally the banners. As a matter of fact, when Stannis defeated Renly, all of Renly’s bannermen (who were mostly supposed to be Stannis’ in the first place–it all gets very blotchy and confusing…you know these familial affairs) turned around and ran to join up with the Lannisters. So Stannis isn’t going to be winning the title of Miss Westeros any time soon.
Now, what does a not so well-liked hardy military strategist wannabe king do to gain the loyalty of his people and rally the troops needed to place him atop the jagged throne?
Forswear the beloved gods of the people, burn statues of the Seven on the beach, kill people who refuse to give up the religious beliefs they had known their entire lives, and climb into bed with a wild-eyed red priestess from across the narrow sea, duh.
It’s, without a doubt, the next logical step.
So there’s Stannis, turning to the Lord of the Light popular across the narrow sea and falling to the sway of a red priestess of R’hllor who is convinced that Stannis is Azor Ahai come again. Melisandre sees it in the flames, so it must be true. To his credit, Stannis spends a long time scoffing at her claims and probably rolling his eyes when she’s not looking (spoiler alert she’s always looking).
Stannis’ first mistake is coming to rely on the power of this Lord of Light in the first place. Claiming some religious fervor that grants you the right to sit the Iron Throne isn’t going to end well, buddy. Nor is it even necessary, given that he legitimately has the best claim to the throne! But Stannis forges ahead, trusting Melisandre as advisor, expressing his doubt on the same breath as praising her wisdom. It’s a very confusing relationship. The cynical remarks and doubt fade over time, especially when Melisandre’s creepy, violent shadow babies start taking care of his enemies for him. At this point Stannis’ actions are becoming shadier than the actual shadows wresting their way forth between Melisandre’s thighs.
Using blood magic to defeat your enemies while staring broodily into the flames and muttering about ‘those damn usurpers’ under your breath from the safety of your hold definitely inspires the confidence. There’s no denying Melisandre’s magic, even as the demand for king’s blood grows and Melisandre begins to ask for sacrifices to provide the necessary juice. Stannis has gotten into bed with a deadly ally. And when I say gotten into bed I mean figuratively and literally. We’re all aware that there’s no love lost between Stannis and the rigid Queen Selyse (who, incidentally, brought Melisandre into her position of power in the first place), but c’mon man. You’re falling apart.
By this point Stannis has ripped the ancestral gods from his people, succumbed to blood magic to murder his own brother and invoke the death of others, cheated on his wife, and attempted to sacrifice Robert’s bastard to the fire.
At least he loves his daughter. Awkwardly, yes, but it’s there. Shireen is well-read, clever, and unbearably kind. She selflessly helps anyone she comes across and approaches the world with a warm innocence that sees the good in all. Wait, are we sure she’s Selyse and Stannis’ kid?
He also was the only one to respond to the Wall’s desperate plea for help, charging in and saving the day when the Wildings would have otherwise overrun the Wall. That one’s pretty big. That one also only happened because Davos Seaworth shoved the letter under Stannis’ nose so he would see how important it was.
Stannis Baratheon is hard to like. Hard is a mild word. Excessively difficult. Nearly impossible.
But I believed in Davos Seaworth. Sir Davos Seaworth shines like a true knight in slightly waterlogged armor throughout the blind blundering adventures of one Stannis Baratheon. He weighs Stannis’ pig-headedness and understands the possibility that any one of his numerous dissenting opinions could be his last, and then he continues to shove Stannis onto the right path anyway. Davos Seaworth is my goddamn hero. The man can do no wrong.
So despite my utter dislike for every stupid ass decision Stannis Baratheon continued to make, I held a glimmer of hope that his stupidity would be realized and set right via the pure goodness and rightness that is Davos Seaworth. I mean, he clearly isn’t completely useless. He’s made one good choice in his reign, trusting Davos’ opinion on most matters and looking to him for at least an opinion before thundering forward (haha, get it, get it? Storm Lord references ahoy). Davos has narrowly escaped Stannis’ wrath time and time again, usually because Stannis realizes that Davos is truly just doing what’s best, even though it goes against everything the Red Woman whispers in his ear. If anything, that’s the true miracle of this show. Go Onion Knight!
Season 5 has seen Stannis and his army dealing with the aftermath of the Wilding invasion, cleaning house, trying to seduce Jon Snow from his sworn position in the Knight’s Watch, and waging war on the Boltons in Winterfell. Stannis is busy. Melisandre is demanding king’s blood. Pretty much every episode. Stannis is dithering. They don’t have many options left. Maybe Mance, but Jon Snow is better than you and wouldn’t give the red priestess that satisfaction. Left is Shireen, the king’s own daughter, veins filled to bursting with king’s blood.
Stannis has made some stupid decisions before, but he would never ever never sacrifice his daughter. He is righteous to a fault and may break before he bends, but he would never sit by and consent to murdering his child.
First, it was watching as Melisandre burned the non-believers with vague disgust written across his face. Then, as shadow demon babies began taking care of his dirty work, slightly more enthusiastic agreement to shady acts of bastard torture and blood rituals. Now, we’ve disintegrated to the point of sending our own daughter to the flames. I guess Stannis’ descent into full devotion to the Lord of Light is officially complete. Congrats, Melisandre, your conversion is a success.
Sorry man. I was rooting for you. I really, really was. You were always a dick, but there used to be reason that dictated the flow of shady acts and kept you fairly within the bounds of righteousness. Slightly religious fervor righteousness what with all the murdering nonbelievers but there was a line. The line has been crossed–no, not crossed. Burned to a delightful little sacrificial crisp. There’s no coming back from this one, though, you heaping pile of trash. Kinslayer. And even if I put my tinfoil hat on to imagine Davos pulled some advanced trickery and stole Shireen away to safety, you still stood there, stoic as a fucking mountain, and watched as your only child was burned at the stake.
Yo Stannis. The Night is Dark and Full of Terrors. I’m rooting for the Terrors.