Game of Thrones’ Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Decision

8 Jun

Stannis Baratheon

I’ve read the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and as a book reader, I often find myself comparing and contrasting choices made in the show with those in the book, sometimes agreeing with the decisions of the show runners, sometimes disagreeing, and sometimes understanding their decisions in the context of the show even when I preferred the book’s decisions in the context on the book. There are many shades of grey while comparing the two entities, and though there can be a negative in constantly thinking through every decision the show makes because the books are always in the back of your head, I still prefer having the knowledge, and enjoy considering the different paths of the show vs. the book.

As I mentioned, I’ve disagreed with show choices before. However, I’ve never hated and absolutely despised a choice the show made. Well, until Sunday night. In “The Dance of Dragons,” Stannis decides his only option to press forward to take Winterfell is to sacrifice his one and only child, his only daughter Shireen, to the Lord of Light, by burning her alive. This could still happen in the books, and I’d hate it there as well, though the circumstances would have to at least be somewhat different as the relevant characters are not all the in same place. This turn of events so angered me that I had to pause the show and take 20 minutes to calm down before moving forward because I would have been unable to concentrate on the remaining scenes.

Before I rant further, I’ll explain the case on paper supporting the logic behind Stannis’s sacrifice. Stannis believes it’s his duty to become king, both because it’s his right, as next in line to Robert, because he’s been chosen by the Lord of Light, and because he’s the only man who can protect the seven kingdoms from the coming white walker menace. He’s at a crossroads. He has to go forward and take Winterfell, and hunker down there through winter. He can’t stay where he is, and since Ramsay and his henchmen burned down half their camp and all their food, they either have to go back to Castle Black, where they’d have to remain for winter, or move. They’re at some pretty dire straits, and Stannis believe he’s out of options. He turns to the only option he believes he has left. The Lord of Light’s magic is real; it works. He gets unintentional authorization from Shireen who is desperate to help in any way. Thus, kill his daughter.

So that’s the case. But I’m entirely unconvinced. Stannis has done a lot of terrible things. A lot. He’s burned people alive. A lot. He’s killed his own brother. Still, killing his daughter is much much much worse and crazier than any of those. He’s followed the red god, but he’s wary. He’s not his wife, a total zealot who believes anything Melisandre tells her. He believes it in as much as it works, and he has gotten benefit out of her practices, but he expresses occasional skepticism and doesn’t seem completely under her sway.

I want to concentrate on in-story reasons that this was a terrible move, so let’s even move past the point, while mentioning it, that this makes Stannis a character who is completely impossible to root for in any way. Now, not everyone liked Stannis, though I probably did more than most. But I can’t anymore. He’s now as low as any character, only above the likes of total psychos Ramsay and Joffrey. I’m not sure he’s any better than Roose Bolton.

But moving past that, I just don’t buy it from the character and the environment of the show. Now, I admit, as always, it’s hard for me to separate a character from the book and the show, and sometimes I take qualities that are established in the book and bring them into the show. Still, though. First, as far as Stannis is willing to go, I still don’t believe he would sacrifice his daughter. Stannis is many things, he’s severe, he’s cold, he’s dutiful, and he’s unafraid of making hard choices. But his daughter is his only child. Not only does he very obviously love his child, she is his only heir. Were he to actually become king, she would be the only natural successor, or the seven kingdoms would again descend into chaos. I just don’t believe Stannis would sacrifice his only child, both out of love and because of the value of an heir (Even if a victorious Stannis was unable to change the rules to put a woman on the throne, her value would still be immense as a kingmaker via marriage).

Also, simply, who is going to follow a man who sacrifices his own daughter?

Let’s go with the premise that killing Shireen does have power. I’m not sure how powerful the sacrifice is, but let’s say it’s very powerful and enables the crew to take Winterfell. That’s still not an endgame. Not close. It’s an important win, a very important win, and the biggest yet for Stannis. But there’s a long, long way to go. The book makes the point, which I believe is somewhat made in the show, though less clearly or thoroughly that, if Stannis is going to win the Iron Throne, he needs the support of the people; not all of the people, but enough people to fight for him and prevent him from being overthrown. Sure, some will do it out of duty and some out of fear. In the book, Stannis frees some other villages and forts from the Ironborn, showing the North that he’s there to repel their invaders and thus earning their trust and support. Again, who is going to fight for a man who sacrifices his own daughter? Kinslaying is as as serious a sin as any in Westeros, and Stannis has already done that by killing his brother. Still, that was complicated. This isn’t. Northerners and most Westerosi are already suspicious of the red god. They have their own ways and religions which have been established for a very long time. The show of force may well be enough for them to fear the red god, but enough to rally behind this man and fight for the throne? I’m just not buying it.

I’m not going to stop watching Game of Thrones because of any one decision; there’s too much good stuff, too many compelling characters and plotlines that any one thing can’t damage it. Still, it’s going to take some time to not have this bother me in the back of my mind during each upcoming episode, especially during any scene Stannis is a part of.

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