Character Analysis: Stannis Baratheon
The only virtue Stannis Baratheon holds like a faith or support system is law and justice, and these systems he believes and the world encourages are concepts which are not self-sustaining. The gods, happenstance or other terms like fortune lead Stannis to be second born, see his parents die, be little loved and unhappily married, with a disfigured daughter. He has no comfort, no dream but is propelled instead by the laws that encourage him, which we see as the tenacity to win a throne in actuality Stannis hardly wants.
The throne, as a steel symbol fitting his grey, uncomfortable and sharp nature is not a reward, has little appeal and does not enthral him so much as the demand of what succession dictates. Sacrifice for duty, for law makes Stannis entirely like his priestess Melisandre, in that deeds and commitment must be constantly sacrificed to it. he must make his claim, declare the truth, secure his rights. Not a single friend or deed of his was ever given, his seat nd small army were earned personally, much as Westerosi justice is a meagre thing that must be fought for. as a contrast to his abrasive personality in the series it is very apparent how those who can provide him any help selflessly are spoken to as though the only beings of consequence: Melisandre, Jon and Davos, the only ones to grant him advice which he uses to win supporters, each willing to accept punishment or suffer for their beliefs, and interestingly the ones to contradict him rather than sycophants that he unfortunately allows to root themselves around him.
Worse than the man’s personal flaws -himself a warning against inflexibility- is that his victory will be poisoned by the preening sadists who champion a new God and king to enhance their gains, although it may be argued they would be in for nasty surprises were Stannis to leave his constant state of self-righteous aggrandisement and self-torture. The hunger to unify all faith into one and devour the others is befitting of a man who desire one king, one kingdom, and ultimately will very likely see the man himself used as fuel for his cause and be consumed, having reduced himself so much intentionally as to be singular and devoted to ideals that can never be truly realised in such a fractured and divisive world.
An overlooked relationship, and something more than enough to harden a man is the disfigurement and illness of his daughter. While not really highlighted in the books, and something not worth deigning to mention (besides a rarely in-character scene allowing Stephen Dillane and Kerry Ingram to have a beautiful heart to heart) of what the series called Stannis, Shireen being a sombre girl nearly taken from him and afflicted by greyscale must hurt very much. Unable to relate to women, while a bit of a weakness in character from his perspective must toughen the situation and leave the character without another confidant or place to find love. A cold marriage is a ruin of what should be for almost all the greatest one, and the bond with a daughter halted and not evidently developed.
A living sacrifice, Stannis goes from being a lesson in the issues of inflexibility to demonstrating how virtue and patience do have use in corrupt times, for corruption is not sought out by everyone nor does it last forever. Just as men and women disrupt to natural order or inflame society for personal gain, opposite figures also ruin exposed systems to stabilise or reverse what was done. Ultimately this is not possible, but a synthesis or new status quo is reached with the introduction of new beliefs, and as characters, ideals and trends die.
It is worth noting that of the five kings behind the titular war, he is the only one who unravels physically but not idealistically. His short but fantastically insightful comment that Robb Stark in effect only conquered the Riverlands shows that much like Joffrey, Balon, Renly, no claims beyond territory and conquest were achieved, and notably with one exception not physically. While outlandish, in a declining world suffering a non-political threat Stannis’s efforts are actually effective in wider concept. His Stormlands holdings were given up in favour of the north, something the provincial rulers would never consider. As with the trilogy of high protagonists, Jon, Daenarys and Tyrion, Stannis persists and becomes dangerous and knowledgeable due to constant application of pressure and willingness to endure the unpalatable, even if to him, interestingly this means humouring others and taking a less abrasive view, potentially having more support, respect, even love for a sovereign in the time he cares the least.
Ultimately (and certainly in the show if you care for that rather loose adaptation of him) the character is a lord of ash and king of cinder. Stannis is characterised by faith, family, love and his courtesies being taken away. And in exchange for friendship, military gains, and appearing slowly more appealing and righteous in comparison to the fanatics and maniacs vying for the throne, he gives up his physical help and the presence of the few King’s Men who embody the cold ideals he strives for. It is unlikely that he will triumph over all others, but the think perhaps more tragic is that were he to win, sadly it is doubtful that sitting the throne would be victory for him either. The greed of men, hollow religiosity and sallow nature of his wife make prosperity seem uncertain, as Martin likely intended to make audiences speculate.
There is a virtue in tenacity, and a small, scant, but admirable thing to find in finding how a man without any charisma or likeability continuing to serve his own right may be perceived as virtue. We may be accustomed to seeing characters develop, and even see sick or morally questionable characters seek understanding and redemption; but rarely is the straightforward and moralistic character presented without any heroic qualities, and if it is both shown to be a little repellent, and yet perhaps part of the change in building a better world.
Martin, G.R.R. A Game of Thrones. Harper Voyager, Great Britain 1996.
Martin, G.R.R. A Clash of Kings. Harper Voyager, Great Britain 1998.
Martin, G.R.R. A Storm of Swords. Harper Voyager, Great Britain 2000.
Martin, G.R.R. A Dance of Dragons. Harper Voyager, Great Britain 2011.