In my last article concerning A Song of Ice and Fire, I discussed a character called Jon Snow. He was, as are all George R. R. Martin’s characters, incredibly bland and unpleasant. Although they’re all basically the same character, there are more of the same character to tear apart in these articles, so let’s get started with Stannis Baratheon.
All About Stannis
Like half the cookie-cutter characters in this thing, Stannis is a brooding, stubborn, vengeful asshole who’s described as having “a strong sense of duty and justice” (though I got very little impression of the latter). At least, he’s like that most of the time; also just like most of the characters in this story he’s a tad inconsistent. It’s also mentioned that he’s somewhat prudish, but that’s also a bit inconsistent at times. His brother Robert is the scumbag who ordered a guy to kill his daughter’s pet wolf in a chapter I reviewed earlier, and they’ve never liked each other much—but that’s strangely not related to what a bloody sociopath Robert is. This is probably because Stannis is just as evil as his brother.
All of Stannis’s children have been stillborn; that is, except for one saccharine daughter who spends her days singing and teaching the illiterate how to read. He can’t stand his wife… or his brother… or anyone else, and all he wants is status and power for no real reason other than that he wants it (but this is Game of Thrones; what else is new?). Though it wasn’t for lack of trying, I really couldn’t discern much of a motivation; it seems like he just wants to be king so the histories will record him as such.
“If I do not press my claim, my claim will be forgotten. I will not become a page in someone else’s history book.”
I’ve sifted through the convoluted backstory, and I can find very little that’s of any importance. Most—if not all—of Stannis’s backstory is entirely pointless, and it’s all boring and quite incoherent. Other than the insufferable dates of each unimportant battle, I could discern only two nearly-as-irrelevant anecdotes. The first was when he was a young boy and nursed an injured hawk back to health. He then abandoned the bird on the advice of a relative who said he was making a fool of himself.
Much later, he defended a castle in a siege with the help of a former smuggler, whom he later knighted. However, because of the ex-smuggler’s past crimes, Stannis decided to almost literally bite the hand that fed him; he decided to cut all the fingertips off the man’s left hand. For some reason, the newly-knighted knight took no issue with this and continued to loyally serve Stannis.
Another Dipshit Fighting for Power
Stannis does almost nothing in the first volume; indeed, the show didn’t even introduce him till Season 2. Therefore I’ll begin where he becomes about as important to the “plot” as any of these characters. After Stannis’s brother King Robert Baratheon dies, Stannis decides to declare himself king, as he rightly suspects that the new king is the product of incest between the queen and her brother. He’s been building an army of mercenaries for a while now, and for some reason he takes his wife’s advice and refuses to ally anyone else on principle. Then it turns out his closeted-gay-stereotype younger brother Renly also wants to be king.
Stannis Joins a Cult
Unfortunately, things don’t really get any more interesting when Stannis’s wife convinces him to convert to the latest fanatical religion, whose leader is the priestess Melisandre. Melisandre believes Stannis to be the messiah, and he joins his wife in becoming a religious fanatic. There’s a big ritual where they burn a bunch of statues that depict heathen gods and Melisandre gives Stannis a magical, glowing sword. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with anything. Moving on.
Stannis negotiates unsuccessfully with his younger brother and decides to go to war over the crown. Then he goes home and shags Melisandre, and she gives birth to a shadow demon, which then assassinates Stannis’s brother. Having done this, the pair set fire to a forest. Stannis proceeds to attack the city where the inbred king lives, and what follows is a horribly-shot, horribly-edited, horribly-lit excuse for a battle scene that takes up an entire episode. Just like the battle scenes in Uwe Boll’s movies, it’s impossible to know what’s going on because the camerawork and editing are so awful. There’s a battle-speech that’s almost laughably bad, and one of the characters actually starts singing in a Southern-U.S. Cowboy accent out of bloody nowhere! It’s one of those “jump-the-shark” episodes—as though this thing didn’t have enough of those.
Stannis loses the battle and consequently goes home to pout. For no other reason than he’s nothing better to do, he decides to visit his wife, who’s completely fine with the fact that he shagged another woman; in fact she’s elated. What she’s not elated about is that Stannis also wants to see their daughter, which she thinks is a waste of time. Now, Stannis Baratheon isn’t much of a character, but his daughter, Shireen, isn’t even a character at all. Her personality consists entirely of being as sweet and innocent as possible so as to manipulate the reader into feeling bad when her father burns her to death.
This brings up another point that constantly drives me nuts; Martin constantly describes every female character who isn’t a prostitute (or at least licentious) as being hideously ugly. Not just disfigured from her past disease, but for some reason always “ugly.” I’m not even going to get into how subjective that is; instead, I’ll bring up the fact that any female character whose role isn’t stereotypically “sexy” (at least sexy by the perverse definition of these stories) is described as being unfeminine.
Stannis Leaves for the Wall
Eventually Stannis and Melisandre plot their next move. This next move, as it turns out, is for Melisandre to tie a little boy to a bed, molest him, put leeches on his you-don’t-want-to-know, and sacrifice the leeches to her god so that all Stannis’s rivals will die. They make a burnt offering of another background character that George R. R. Martin decided for some reason to give an actual name, and then they sail for The Wall.
Stannis Kills His Daughter
Stannis arrives just in time to aid the Night’s Watch in the battle in which Jon Snow’s ex-lover is killed. After a whole lot of filler, Stannis leaves to go fight another family. After the march is delayed by a snowstorm, Melisandre suggests burning Shireen at the stake. Stannis initially refuses, but reconsiders when his new enemies respond by burning his food supplies. In order to increase troop morale… or melt the snow… or something, Stannis and his wife agree to kill their own daughter as a human sacrifice.
They lead Shireen to the pyre and Stannis’s men grab her the moment she figures out what’s happening. In a turn of events that makes little to no sense, the girl’s crying pleas for her life invoke a response from the uncaring mother and very little from the supposed “caring father,” who “sheds a silent tear.” Indeed, it’s the mother whom the soldiers hold back as she tries to save her already-burning daughter whom she’s never been shown to care for, while the father who supposedly loved Shireen is comparatively unfazed.
What’s infinitely more interesting than the story itself is the reactions of fans to Shireen’s death. The internet was quickly awash with the following and similar sentiments:
“Game of Thrones just shocks for being shocking. Happens every ninth episode. I’m done.”
“The violence is too much. I’ve stomached it for years but I’m done with this show now.”
“There’s no narrative reason they needed to kill her, especially in such a heartless manner. It’s a pointless change from the book that did nothing to advance the plot.”
The first two are quite self-explanatory, but it’s the third of these that betrays the most about why people actually like A Song of Ice and Fire in the first place. Here’s where the irony hits hard; that remark about it being a “change from the book” is entirely uninformed. In fact, that lame excuse for a plot-point that did indeed fail to advance any semblance of a plot came straight from the spoiler-revealing mouth of George R. R. Martin. Game of Thrones, having run past the threshold of its source material, is nonetheless still taking its queues from the person who knows exactly where every dull, boring note will fall.
Not knowing of this, many fans immediately assume that these new developments are due to the show being “under new management,” not recognizing that they are completely in line with everything the show has shat out thus far. So what changes? Is it simply that they’ve just reached the breaking point? What is so different that makes people see these more recent parts of the show for exactly what they are?
The writing, characterization, and even things like punctuation and lighting have, from the very beginning, been almost universally poor in both the books and show alike. Aside from the title sequence, quite possibly the only thing that’s kept people watching it is the same thing that keeps people watching other soap-operas: wanting to know what happens next. In addition, George R. R. Martin’s outrageous praise of his own work—which at times borders on narcissistic—seems almost too outrageous for him to have simply fabricated it. The great twist here is that this is exactly what he did. With the narcissist’s hand seemingly—though not actually—gone, the veil is partially lifted.
That it is actually George R. R. Martin’s work is, of course, the main defence employed by those who still think Martin can do no wrong. However, I feel that is only a good defence when the primary complaint is merely that it is different from the source material. Here, however, the complaint is that it’s shocking for the sake of shock alone and lacks much of a point beyond that—a criticism that applies neatly to much of Martin’s work, I might add. Contrary to what many may believe, George R. R. Martin is not immune to criticism.
Now that I’ve said everything that really needs said, let’s get this over with. Stannis’s wife hangs herself, Melisandre sods off, and Stannis goes to battle against the enemy house. After being wounded in the battle, Stannis leans against a nearby tree but is approached by his late-brother Renly’s vengeful bodyguard, who slices his pathetic head from his equally deplorable shoulders.
I Don’t Care
Did you notice that the focus of this article was a single scene? Well, that’s because there’s almost nothing else to differentiate Stannis from most of the other characters in this story. Just like all the others, he’s boring and entirely unsympathetic throughout his unpleasant time in the spotlight. Just as with all the main characters, I felt nothing when he got his head cut off, rendering the story’s claim to fame quite unsubstantial. Even the deaths of the characters like Shireen who, rather than being psychopaths like the others, are written with no degree of character to speak of other than their all-encompassing innocence, leave me feeling no deeper emotion than disgust and revulsion.
And that’s another thing; every character in A Song of Ice and Fire is either a complete psychopath with few—if any—redeeming qualities or a paragon of innocence whose only traits are that they’re all-loving and have a laser dot on their forehead. For a series that boasts of such a vast gradient of grey, the characters in this story are surprisingly black-and-white.