Stannis’ Endgame: Book vs. Show

Few events in the show have had as dramatic a response from the fandom toward a single character as Stannis’ decision to sacrifice Shireen in Season 5, Episode 9 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Memes of “Stannis the Mannis” and “Best Father in Westeros” gave way to rage towards Stannis, and rage towards the showrunners for committing character assassination. However, as someone who’s in the middle of a project of analyzing A Clash of Kings, a lot of these arguments relating to Shireen ring falsely to me and ignore much of GRRM’s work.

To me, the bigger scandal is to take this potentially epic tragedy and waste it completely, as was done in Season 5, Episode 10. If it’s any consolation, I’m convinced that GRRM’s plan is quite different from what we saw – but to see the outlines of the destiny that lies in wait for Stannis Baratheon, you need to go back to the text (as Benioff and Weiss should have done).

Stannis and the Prophecy of Azor Ahai

Part of the reason why I didn’t feel the same outrage about Shireen as others is that I’ve always thought that GRRM designed Stannis’ character to be teetering on the knife’s edge between heroism and villainy as he’s put through a series of escalating trials.

And central to that aspect of his character is the way in which Stannis’ character is bound up with the prophecy of Azor Ahai. In the very first Davos chapter and Stannis’ second appearance in the series, Stannis converts from the Seven to the Red God in a ritual that is meant to demonstrate that he is the agent of this prophecy. As Melisandre expounds at the time:

“In ancient books of Asshai it is written that there will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him…Azor Ahai, beloved of R’hllor! The Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire! Come forth, your sword awaits you! Come forth and take it into your hand!”

It’s not always easy to read Melisandre’s pronouncements – she changes her tune quite often, and you can see just from this statement that she’s yet to tell anyone about the waking dragons bit. Indeed, the very fact that Stannis’ magic sword is repeatedly called out as fake (by Salladhor Saan and Maester Aemon) suggests that Melisandre isn’t quite telling the truth on the beach at Dragonstone – but I’ll get to why later. At the same time, there are some elements here that remain consistent over time and between R’hllorite preachers – Azor Ahai will return at the beginning of the second Long Night, will forge the sword Lightbringer, and will use it to defeat the Great Other.

However, the legend of Azor Ahai, as recounted by Salladhor Saan, is pretty clear that the forging of Lightbringer requires a much greater sacrifice than the burning of some statues:

“Do you know the tale of the forging of Lightbringer? I shall tell it to you. It was a time when darkness lay heavy on the world. To oppose it, the hero must have a hero’s blade, oh, like none that had ever been. And so for thirty days and thirty nights Azor Ahai labored sleepless in the temple, forging a blade in the sacred fires. Heat and hammer and fold, heat and hammer and fold, oh, yes, until the sword was done. Yet when he plunged it into water to temper the steel it burst asunder.”

“Being a hero, it was not for him to shrug and go in search of excellent grapes such as these, so again he began. The second time it took him fifty days and fifty nights, and this sword seemed even finer than the first. Azor Ahai captured a lion, to temper the blade by plunging it through the beast’s red heart, but once more the steel shattered and split. Great was his woe and great was his sorrow then, for he knew what he must do.”

“A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.”

This is pretty clear: to save the world, human sacrifice was necessary. If Stannis is indeed Azor Ahai reborn (or if he comes to share in Melisandre’s belief that he is, however mistaken that belief might be), he’s going to have to follow in the footsteps of the original. And the only thing that is truly precious to Stannis Baratheon, the person he loves “best of all that is in this world,” is Shireen Baratheon.

And from a thematic perspective, Stannis being confronted with the choice of whether to sacrifice Shireen fits precisely with George R.R Martin’s interest in the “human heart at war with itself,” and his deconstructionist approach to fantasy. Fantasy is absolutely littered with Chosen One figures whose metaphysical transformation and/or their saving the world is reliant on an act of martyrdom – whether we’re talking Harry Potter or Darth Vader or Jesus Christ. However, there’s something morally safe about the idea of self-sacrifice versus sacrificing someone else. As I’ve suggested in my Salon columns, what GRRM is doing is taking the moral conundrum of Abraham and Agamemnon and using fantasy to dial it up to eleven – what if sacrificing your own child wasn’t just the will of God/s, but the secret ingredient in a ritual to save the world from a zombie apocalypse?

Another point that becomes quite clear – the legend of Azor Ahai does not mention kingsblood. Neither Azor Ahai nor his wife are described as royalty, and yet the death of Nissa Nissa clearly works to forge Lightbringer and save the world from the Long Night. What makes the ritual meaningful is not the status of the victim, but the emotional cost born by the perpetrator – as Stannis puts it, “sacrifice…is never easy, Davos. Or it is no sacrifice.”[1] This idea is central to R’hlloric ideology:

Melisandre said, “Azor Ahai tempered Lightbringer with the heart’s blood of his own beloved wife. If a man with a thousand cows gives one to god, that is nothing. But a man who offers the only cow he owns… The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious.”

To me, this conclusively answers the counterargument that Stannis could sacrifice Theon or Asha Greyjoy to get kingsblood.[2] Not only does this option have no grounding in the religion of the Red God (as opposed to the lore of blood magic), but I would also argue it completely misses the thematic significance of the Azor Ahai legend. Stannis wouldn’t particularly mind killing either of the Greyjoys – they are, after all, rebels and traitors and his enemy. There’s no pain in that sacrifice.

Threefold Revelations and Sacrifice

Moreover, I believe that GRRM has already given us a clue that this is going to happen, in the form of one of his threefold revelations. The first “revelation” comes early in A Clash of Kings, where Stannis partakes in the sacrifice on the beach, and we are introduced to the legend of Azor Ahai. However, the sacrifice is explicitly called out as fake – both because it doesn’t involve real loss on Stannis’ part (indeed, given that the “victims” are mere wooden statues, there’s no human loss on anyone’s part) and because the purpose of the ritual is hollow and selfish. Stannis isn’t a true believer at this time, and his only motivation for partaking is to gain power – “the Seven have never brought me so much as a sparrow. It is time I tried another hawk, Davos. A red hawk.”

The second “revelation” comes in A Storm of Swords, when Edric Storm’s life is brought up as a sacrifice “to wake dragons out of stone.” This scenario comes closer to the Azor Ahai model – Edric Storm is Stannis’ nephew, he genuinely struggles with the question of whether to go through with it, and the sacrifice is explicitly justified with reference to the Long Night. However, there’s a few things missing – Stannis doesn’t particularly care for “this wretched boy,” and the raising of the dragons is aimed as much at political victory (“the kingdom shall be yours…like Aegon you shall conquer”) as it is at preventing “the night that never ends.”

In other words, things still hang in the balance when Stannis and Davos debate the question of human sacrifice, but in the terms of their debate we can see the outlines of a scenario in which Stannis would be willing to go through with it. First, the stakes must be about much more than just Stannis’ own success or failure, but rather the salvation of the realm:

“He may be the best boy who ever drew breath and it would not matter. My duty is to the realm…how many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, she says. The night that never ends.”

“….what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?”

“If I must sacrifice one child to the flames to save a million from the dark…”

Secondly, Stannis must see the act of sacrifice not as an act of self-aggrandizement, a means for him to conquer, but rather as a heavy duty required of him both as king and as Azor Ahai. Indeed, Stannis believes that his duty will destroy him, although that’s a price he’s willing to pay:

“She talks of prophecies…a king reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone…she speaks of signs and swears they point to me. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her…We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must…we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.”

“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?”

…Stannis ground his teeth again. “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…”

At the time, Davos manages to forestall this sacrifice by spiriting Edric Storm away, but I think this happens not necessarily because his position is meant to win in the end, but because this isn’t the right moment or the right sacrifice.

The sacrifice of Shireen would be a logical extension of the “threefold revelation.”[3] It better matches the legend of Azor Ahai in terms of how close and personal the sacrifice is, and on a meta level it raises the emotional stakes greatly from the Edric Storm test-run. Finally, the sacrifice of Shireen fits the foreshadowing-by-prophecy – not only Melisandre’s prophecies, and Stannis’ vision of a king whose duty totally consumes him, but also Daenaerys’ House of the Undying vision of a “red sword…raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow…from a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire…mother of dragons, slayer of lies. Shireen’s “bad dreams. About the dragons. They were coming to eat me,” would also fit this ultimate fate.

The Battle of Ice and the Context of Sacrifice

As the previous revelations indicate, GRRM needs to massively up the stakes, both to justify why Stannis makes the shift from being genuinely conflicted over whether or not to sacrifice Edric Storm to save the world and completely opposed to carrying out human sacrifice for mundane reasons (“I will have no burnings. Pray harder.”), but also as good writing (you don’t generally want the dramatic stakes to plateau or decline at the climax).

So what would constitute a good raising of the stakes? Well, as I’ve written elsewhere, my belief is that Stannis will sacrifice Shireen in Winterfell, when that castle comes under siege from the “army of the dead” following the fall of the Wall. This works for a number of reasons – it better fits the progression of Stannis and the Azor Ahai legend since the sacrifice will be tied directly to the war against the Great Other, rather than mundane logistics or Jon Snow; it involves incontrovertible evidence of an existential supernatural threat that would persuade Stannis that the sacrifice is in fact necessary for the salvation of all mankind (as Melisandre has argued); it also moves the plot along to the endgame rather than requiring yet another battle to eliminate the Boltons.

But most importantly, this scenario better fits with Stannis’ character arc and GRRM’s exploration of key themes. It returns Stannis to the Siege of Storm’s End that began with his story – surrounded, under siege, outnumbered, and running low on supplies – but raising the intensity and stakes. Indeed, I would argue that there is a perfect match between  character and themes in this scenario – GRRM has been arguing over and over again that “love is the death of duty,” showing how even deeply honorable men like Eddard Stark and Jon Snow fail that test for the best of reasons. However, as the quotes above should suggest, Stannis is the one person in Westeros whose devotion to duty is so total that he would actually go through with this action despite the consequences. It’s a scenario that rides the line between heroism and villainy, with the most horrible of crimes being committed for the most noble of reasons, proving that “there is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.”

However, you’ll notice that this scenario differs from the show in one key respect – along with Brynden BFish, Cantuse, and others, I believe that Stannis will defeat the Boltons in the Battle of Ice. Both in the Pink Letter and in the Theon TWOW chapter, we see hints that this is the case – “seven days of battle” is impossible, Theon and “Arya” aren’t found in the aftermath despite being in no state to outrun Ramsay’s cavalry, GRRM explicitly sets out Stannis laying the groundwork for faking his own death, the depth of description of the geography of the village by the lake and Stannis’ comment that he doesn’t yet but will soon have a defensive advantage, the fact that that Stannis has scotched the Bolton’s Karstark subterfuge and that half of the Bolton forces are made up of Manderly troops, and so on and so on.

Here’s what I think will happen – Stannis will use the hollowed-out lake as a trap for the Freys, and will crush them between himself and the Manderlys. He will then fake his own death to lure the Boltons into a false sense of security, using some combination of the Winterfell ravens from Theon TWOW, giving Lightbringer to the Manderly’s as “proof” of his death, and possibly using a rubied glamour from Melisandre to create a decoy (a la Henry IV at the Battle of Shrewsbury). He will then march his army around Ramsay’s personal force (remember Ramsay didn’t leave with the main body of Frey and Manderly soldiers because of Reek and “Arya’s” escape), while the Manderlys sell the story to Ramsay that Stannis’ entire army is dead at the bottom of the lake. Stannis will then use the tunnels through the walls of Winterfell and inside men in the form of the Karstarks and Manderlys to launch a surprise assault on Winterfell, defeating the Boltons.

There’s a number of reasons why I think this scenario will happen: on a logistical level, we know that the Battle of Ice will take place very early in TWOW, which doesn’t leave enough time for Stannis or Melisandre, Shireen, and Selyse to travel the 700 miles between Castle Black and Winterfell in order to carry out the sacrifice before the battle; moreover, we know that the Bolton forces are only a few days’ march from Stannis’ position at the village by the lake. More importantly, it’s Winterfell and not the Wall that’s associated with dragons – sacrificing Shireen at the Wall (or to resurrect Jon Snow) simply doesn’t accomplish Melisandre’s purposes, let alone Stannis’ purposes. Moreover, real blood magic (as opposed to leech fakery) is generally not remote – Dany wakes the dragons, Moqorro heals Victarion, and Melisandre works weather magic, all in situ.

Finally, I think having Stannis win the Battle of Ice only to see the Wall fall and then sacrifice Shireen for a ritual that will backfire importantly (there may be a stone dragon birthed, but Dany’s vision of herself as a slayer of lies relating directly to the stone dragon breathing shadow fire suggests that it will go wrong somehow and have to be put down) fits with GRRM’s writing style. GRRM likes to set up seeming victories and then undercut them immediately – Robb’s victories in the Riverlands and Eddard’s execution, Robb’s westward campaign and Edmure’s victory at the Ruby Ford and the Battle of Blackwater, Cersei’s campaign against the Tyrells, and so on and so forth. For Stannis to triumph against the Boltons and seize control of Winterfell, only to find his work undone by the fall of the Wall fits this pattern.

Moreover, GRRM also seems to be distinguishing between secondary and primary threats, from the very beginning of AGOT, where the Others are revealed in the Prologue as the true threat that the “Game of Thrones” is distracting people from. Especially in the context of the North, the Boltons are not primary villains. They aren’t existential threats, they’re just a traitorous House who were needed to eliminate Robb and Catelyn and get House Stark out of the War of Five Kings, and who now need to be swept away to allow the Starks to return to their place in Winterfell.

Conclusion

So why did Season 5 go the other way? I think that Benioff and Weiss decided to foreshorten Stannis’ arc – Stannis will sacrifice Shireen, sacrifice won’t actually work, so just have him lose the Battle of Ice – in such a way that they’ve missed the thematic significance and potential payoff of the original scenario.

A big party of this has to do with the fact that Benioff and Weiss have only intermittently understood Stannis as a character. If you watch the various Inside the Episode, character introduction, and other videos that Benioff and Weiss have done from Season 2 onwards, it doesn’t seem like Benioff and Weiss have really understood Stannis as a character – for example, their comments that Stannis is driven primarily from ambition (as opposed to duty), or that his statements about justice are entirely self-justifying, since justice would require him to be king. (Interestingly, I wonder to what extent their opinions were changed by learning from GRRM that Stannis would sacrifice Shireen in bullet point format, without having read the not-yet-completed TWOW that would provide the context for his actions.)

Moreover, throughout the series, Benioff and Weiss have shown a lack of interest in themes versus results, especially when it comes to “what matters.” There’s a strong emphasis on outcomes above all else – Tyrion has to kill Shae and Tywin, but it doesn’t matter why; Jon Snow has to be assassinated by the Night’s Watch but it doesn’t matter why it happens; Myrcella has to die, but it doesn’t matter how or why this happens, nor does the AFFC Dorne storyline’s ruminations on the futility of vengeance. So I think what they concluded is that Stannis’ failure to summon a dragon, the fact that he’s not really Azor Ahai, means that nothing that happens along the way really matters. Stannis can die a defeated and broken man, ignoring the basic story structure of tragedy, and the defeat of the Boltons can be handed off to some weird combination of Northmen and possibly Littlefinger. That approach loses is the richness of George R.R Martin’s world, the depth and complexity of character he insists on giving not just to the main protagonists like Jon, Dany, and Tyrion, but also secondary characters like Stannis and Melisandre.

I’m confident enough in my prediction that I’m willing to lay money on it, just as with my wagers with Sean T. Collins and BryndenBFish, but I might be wrong. We’ll have to wait to see what happens when TWOW is published, hopefully before Season 6 launches. I am confident of one thing though; if I am right, and TWOW significantly diverges from Season 5 of Game of Thrones, there’s going to be a lot of unhappy fans who’ll feel they didn’t get the full experience, but rather the televisual equivalent of a premature ejaculation.

[1] Indeed, there’s an echo here to the religion of the Many-Faced God, whose adherents weigh the offering of supplicants according to how great a sacrifice it is, rather than by some set monetary value. A rich man offering a third of his wealth and a poor man offering his own life are seen as equal – the point is to see how sincere their prayers for vengeance are by seeing how much they are willing to give up to get what they want.

[2] Another side-point: I think this same line applies to the theory that Melisandre would sacrifice Shireen in Stannis’ absence to bring Jon back to life. As we’ve seen with Thoros of Myr and Moqorro, human sacrifice is not necessary for R’hlloric healing and resurrection. Rather, human sacrifice has only ever been mentioned in context of waking dragons (only Melisandre) and performing weather magic (both Melisandre and Moqorro). If R’hlloric resurrection is to be part of Jon Snow’s rebirth, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t involve Melisandre using the same ritual that Thoros of Myr used. Moreover, from a thematic perspective, Melisandre sacrificing Shireen doesn’t cost her anything. And as her POV chapter indicates, Melisandre is not a stereotypically-evil sacrifice-crazy witch as much of the fandom thinks – she seeks to save people’s lives when possible.

[3] Moreover, I think this escalation from statues to leeches to nephews to Shireen explains Melisandre’s deceit in regards to R’hllor and sacrifice – Melisandre has known from the start that Shireen’s sacrifice is necessary and that the ritual on the beach (and the leeches) was fake, but also that Stannis would refuse if approached with the truth initially, so instead she’s attempted to gradually acclimate Stannis to the idea over time. Her unique connection to kingsblood also makes sense – it moves Stannis closer in the direction towards his kin since Shireen is both his beloved daughter and has kingsblood (note how GRRM has carefully moved all other sources of kingsblood, from Mance to Mance’s baby to Aemon, away from Melisandre to eliminate those options), and in a pragmatic way, since kingsblood is useful in blood magic anyway, Melisandre may be hoping to use blood magic (as opposed to Rh’lloric miracle) as a Plan B to pull off the wakening of stone dragons.

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146 thoughts on “Stannis’ Endgame: Book vs. Show

  1. Julian says:

    Great post as usual. I think you’re 100% right about the fact and timing of Shireen’s sacrifice, due to the lesser-known “corollary to chekhov’s gun,” which requires not only that the gun go off, but that it go off in the most meaningful way possible. It’s also the most compelling reason (for me) to believe that R+L=J: imagine the dramatic letdown if it turns out Jon’s mother was, like, Sally from across the way.

    I second your complaint about D&D’s treatment of the characters.

  2. Ser Squirt says:

    Great work as always.

    Has anyone else noticed the strange Jon chapter where Val implores Jon to do away with Shireen? I wonder what part that will play into the story.

    • It’s something that’s frequently debated. I’m personally not of the belief that there’s going to be a greyscale/grey plague outbreak, but there are speculations.

    • Alix says:

      (Long-time reader, first time commenter.) That actually makes me wonder if there’s going to be a kind of fakeout with Shireen’s death – that maybe there is a grayscale threat, or a rumor of one, and people try to pin it on Shireen as a potential plague carrier, but she’s spared … only to be used as a sacrifice later.

      I dunno, that might not be plausible, but given how odd that was, I wonder.

    • Son of Fire says:

      Fun theory i saw via bartube on youtube was shrieen infecting gilly’s baby and when his big brother’s come for him it gets passed to them,greyscale is a supernatural disease!
      Another of her theories is edmure strangles cersei at casterly rock.

    • It could be just seeding for what’s going to happen with Connington.

  3. Vicky says:

    Excellent analysis brother. The showrunners are over the show after ASOS. So expecting them to do justice to the source material is unrealistic.
    Winning the battle of Ice against insurmountable odds would secure Stannis’s legacy as a warrior & commander and his name will finally be spoken alongside Robert. But life will come a full circle for our favorite King with the Siege of Winterfell. Sacrificing a child by fire in the heart of the old gods will ruin Stannis.

    • Thanks!

      That’s the way I think of it too – “And what profiteth a man, if he win all the world, and lose himself” is a tragic scenario, but you kind of need him to “win all the world” to make it work. Otherwise, he’s just a shmuck.

  4. eugeneearnshaw says:

    I think all of this is bang on, but let me say this in favor of the show version:

    Different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. If GRRM gets credit for toying and undermining the conventions of the hero’s journey, why not B&W? Taken on its own, leaving aside what was ‘supposed’ to happen does Stannis’s character arc in the show work? Yes, absolutely it does, on its own terms.

    In classic tragedy, of course the protagonist accomplishes something meaningful through sacrifice. Ditto the Azhor Asshai legend. But why not undermine and recast that? Undermining it is an extremely GRRM thing to do, even if it wasn’t what GRRM was planning in this instance (but who knows?). B&W have given us what looks like Classic tragedy, but it turns out to be a different trope altogether — the devil’s bargain. This is the trope where the protagonist pays a heavy price for something that they desperately desire, but it turns out what they wanted is worthless or actively harmful.

    And I think that this is a great way to play Stannis’s arc. Maybe its not GRRM’s way, but in the show (and in parts of the book as well) Stannis is perpetually seen in the context of sacrificing others to get what he wants. Yes, he recasts this as getting what is right/justified, but there is clearly an element of self-serving rationalization to this.

    In the end, the key thing for me is that the Shereen arc works very well in the context of the show’s world and characters. I am curious to see if you’re right about how GRRM will diverge from the shows arc though.

    • winnie says:

      Well said! That’s my take as well.

      Also to be fair to the show runners this was a season where too little forward progress was being made as it was, (while season 6 is probably gonna be pretty lively in between the Iron Born, Jon’s resurrection and the Big Reveal, Ser Strong, and the likely fall of the Wall,) so they may have decided that now was the time to get at least some plot points done like Stannis’s arc and Mycella’s death. Frankly the latter is a bigger sore spot for me; Dorne has been a complete trainwreck.

    • David Hunt says:

      In my opinion, the immediate disaster brought on by Stannis’ sacrifice is just the final proof that the showrunners always thought of him as nothing more than a necessary plot element given them by GRRM that had exhausted his uses. He had killed Renly, changed fates at the Blackwater, done the leech magic (I suspect D&D think that it really worked), and rescued the Wall. I don’t think they like or “get” him so they used him up to make the Boltons look more dangerous in a “I’m here to show what he monster does” kind of way.

      The sacrifice loses all of its thematic strength by leading so directly and obviously to his destruction. The snow does melt, but half his men desert, his wife commits suicide, his most zealous backer and greatest remaining asset grabs the last horse in camp and runs, and of course the weather that he bought makes it viable for the deserters to run and means he’s exposed and easily found by the Boltons. I’d wonder if he had such a shitty disposition of his troops in the battle scene was him committing suicide in the only way that his sense of duty would allow him, but I don’t know if D&D get him even that well…or maybe they understand tactic well enough to see how bad that looked. I’m don’t know tactics but Stannis’ troops were obviously just a mob in that overview.

    • Here’s the problem – deconstruction works when it’s done for a purpose, an effect. Even in the case of a devil’s bargain/monkey paw scenario, you have something impressive happening. Faust actually meets Helen of Troy or seduces Gretchen, Mr. and Mrs. White bring their son back from the dead.

      The irony isn’t that the devil doesn’t follow through on the bet, it’s that you aren’t happy when you’ve got what you want. Stannis not getting what he wants doesn’t fit.

      • I don’t know. I could see them playing it out as “uses magic that works but alienates everyone so he never gets what he wants until he’s forced to use his more mundane talents to get what he wants.”

        Given that Stannis is not dead working with the rebel Northern Lords is what makes the most sense.

      • John says:

        Seducing Gretchen is impressive? Oh, man, yeah, Faust, great work, you managed to seduce a pretty young girl. You totally needed to sell your soul to do that.

    • In this case, it does mean worse. Because Benioff and Weiss are bad writers, as they have so amply demonstrated in season 5.

      Trying to subvert expectations just for the sake of it (even though they telegraphed Shireen’s sacrifice many times, just as they telegraphed Olly stabbing Jon, so even that doesn’t really work in terms of surprising people), without caring for story logic, characterization, plausible character motivations, narrative logic… can only results in absurd and lousy plots. And this was best summarized by the two Tumblr posters who run blogs gotgisfandmusings and theculturalvacuum in their sarcastic “Carol Awards” for GoT season 5, when they nominated the plot for the “Creatively it made sense to use because we wanted it to happen” award (which it went on to win): “Stannis murders his heir because he is moderately inconvenienced.”

      To me, this storyline didn’t feel like a tragedy or a subversion of a tragedy; what it reminded me of was the South Park episode in which the townspeople get stuck in the snow for a few hours and decide that “it’s time to resort to cannibalism!” since “I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast!” so they kill and eat Eric Roberts.

      Game of Thrones has become a South Park parody of itself.

    • John says:

      Do tragic heroes necessarily accomplish anything? I think this is nonsense. What does Hamlet accomplish other than getting everyone he knows killed? What does Othello accomplish other than murdering his wife for no reason? What does Lear accomplish other than destroying his kingdom and getting himself and his daughters killed? There’s some weird sense here that every tragedy has to be Macbeth.

  5. dole@google.com says:

    one huge problem. “the heart of a LION”. where do lannisters die?

  6. Erin says:

    It’s pretty clear now that D&D loathe Stannis with a passion and couldn’t bear to have him succeed at retaking Winterfell when they could have someone else, anyone else, do it. They certainly didn’t want to include “What does Stannis offer you? Vengeance. Vengeance for my sons and yours, for your husbands and your fathers and your brothers. Vengeance for your murdered lord, your murdered king, your butchered princes,” that would be too much like admitting Stannis might actually have his merits. In a season that was so revenge-focused, the loss of that speech was a deeply weird omission. Almost as weird as the reading comprehension failure that has D&D apparently believing that Renly would have been a good king.

    I do find it bizarre how sometimes they succeeded writing Stannis, though. The early part of the season, Stannis’ interactions with Jon Snow, were very good. But then, I’ve often thought that D&D don’t like Jon Snow as written either.

    • Faber says:

      -Speculating that D & D simply loathe Stannis and set out to intentionally butcher his character is nonsensical. They actually made him more heroic and sympathetic in the show in several ways (fighting in the front lines, heartfelt moments with his wife and daughter, saying only nice things about Ned Stark, etc.)

      -Renly would have been the best of the 5 Kings, BY FAR

      • Lann says:

        I remember that I thought the same thing about Renly when I first read the books. However I definitely changed my mind when I read Steven’s case against this in the Hollow Crowns essays as well as ACOK Catelyn III CBC.

      • BG says:

        LOL
        – D&D said in an interview that they hate Stannis and they think Stannis is motivated by ambition when he is trully motivated by duty… “There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man” – Varys
        – Renly would be a shit king… you really think that Littelfinger wanted him as a king cuz he would be a good one? 😀 “And Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.” – Donal Noye

    • I don’t think they hate him necessarily, I think it’s more than they don’t particularly get him and don’t particularly care about him. Hence why they’re perfectly willing to have someone else take over Stannis’ plot of defeating the Boltons.

    • BloodofMyBlood says:

      I don’t know, I don’t see as rely having been a bad king. I think he would have been somewhere along the lines of Robert only less vengeful and not an angry drunk. Now of course with winter coming he may not have been much of a tactical genius or a brute combatant, but his ability to unite people and make them happy may have been enough. Considering he would likely have surrounded himself with competent advisors who he likely would have ACTUALLY listened to when it mattered.

      • BG says:

        Robert only hated the Targaryens… He had pardoned to Jamie, Varys, Pycelle and many others…. and that caused his downfall

      • David Hunt says:

        “Considering he would likely have surrounded himself with competent advisors who he likely would have ACTUALLY listened to when it mattered”‘

        Oh God. Spare us from the ascension of George W. Baratheon.

    • What’s even odder than them thinking that Renly would have been a good king (Renly managed to fool quite a few people in-universe into believing that, so it’s not hard to see that he could fool some readers, too; and D&D are particularly prone to falling for their favorite characters’ self-justifications and taking them as gospel truth – see: Cersei, Tyrion…) is that they had Brienne say that he was the RIGHTFUL king. Rightful. That really feels like a parody. Renly was the only one of the pretenders to the throne who was clearly not “rightful” and never even tried to present himself as such.

      • Jim B says:

        So Brienne has a different standard for what makes someone the “rightful” king than “whatever the Westerosi laws of inheritance say” — is that so implausible? According to the laws of Westeros, she had no business being a knight. From her point of view, Renly was the one person who treated her with dignity and respect. And yes, she’s more than a little smitten with his charm. It’s hardly a stretch to think that she would look at him and think, “that’s what a king is,” and if the law and tradition says he isn’t, so much the worse for the law and tradition.
        You can disagree with Brienne, but I don’t think it’s out of character. If she didn’t think Renly was the rightful king, then why did she agree to serve him after he’d declared himself?

        • No, Brienne thought he would be a GOOD king. That’s what she told Catelyn in ACOK. GRRM did not make her say he would be a “rightful” king, because he is not portraying her as an idiot.

          There is no possible way in which Renly could have claimed to be “the rightful king” – as he was himself aware, which is why he is never claimed he was. Was he the rightful king by the Westerosi rules of inheritance? No. Was he elected, by anyone, anywhere? Nope. (And when Catelyn suggested a form of election – a council of noblemen to decide between the candidates – he flat out said no, he wouldn’t do it, because he had the largest army) Could he even claim the right of conquest? Nope, because he had never conquered anything – he was just showing off his large army, but he had never been in a battle, and there is no knowing whether he would ever win one, with his lack of military skill and experience. Did he get to where he was based on merit? Hell no – he had never really done anything of importance, and it’s clear as day he would have never gotten to where he was if it wasn’t for the Westerosi rules of inheritance, which he was ready to use to his advantage when it suited him but waive off when it did not; if he had been a son/brother of some peasant or merchant or sellsword, nobody would have paid attention to him. Even if he had been a high ranking noble but one with no claim to the throne, nobody would have been backing him up. Mace Tyrell could have just tried to make himself or one of his sons king, if rules of succession didn’t matter to the Westerosi nobles. But since Renly had a claim to the throne, albeit inferior to that of his elder brother – and as far as most people knew, to that of Robert’s supposed children – and because he was involved with Loras and married Margaery, the Tyrells were backing him with their huge wealth and army.

          So no. Brienne may have (wrongly, IMO) thought that Renly would make a wonderful king, but she would not say he was the “rightful” king, because she is not delusional.

  7. Abaddon says:

    Loved the article! But that last line is really tacky.

  8. Yezen says:

    I think this article is fantastic, but makes one key prediction that I think will prove false. That is, **I do not think that Stannis will burn Shireen as he is being seiged by the Others, I think it will be before they arrive.**

    I think in the your love for the character of Stannis, you have envisioned a scenario where the burning feels too unquestionably justified. It’s like: *”Stannis is burning Shireen yes, but he is doing it as he is being sieged by an apocalypse of inhuman ice zombies, so it’s obviously cool now.”*

    The problem with this scenario is that it eliminates options and faith completely. The choice is almost no choice at all and the sacrifice is almost no sacrifice at all.

    If Stannis *and his daughter* are hopelessly trapped in a castle surrounded by the full forces of the white walkers, *then Shireen is dead either way.* It’s still a tough action to go through with, but Stannis isn’t left with the choice to save his daughter. If the option to run, or at least have his daughter live on is not there, then there isn’t really a sacrifice. *He is sacrificing a dead girl.* The article has goes from a man with a thousand cows sacrificing one, to a man sacrificing his only cow, and then ruins it by going to a man sacrificing a dying cow.

    Furthermore, if the Others are already there in front of his face, laying siege to his castle and threatening his men, family, and the realm, then there is very little happening in the way of faith. It almost completely cuts out Stannis choosing to put his faith in Melisandre’s prophecy or magic. The evidence is right there, happening in front of him.

    .

    So all in all it is a wonderful article and analysis of the logic behind sacrifice and how Stannis is truly relating to the Azor Ahai myth thematically, but I think the flaw in the logic is that in the rush to make Stannis look good, the proposed outcome softens the decision, because he doesn’t have as much of a choice, and doesn’t have to display as much faith. The scenario the article lays out pretty much removes a lot of the agency, and thus the conflict, seemingly in an attempt to absolve Stannis of guilt and thus it lightens the shade of moral grey.

    • Sean C. says:

      Furthermore, if the Others are already there in front of his face, laying siege to his castle and threatening his men, family, and the realm, then there is very little happening in the way of faith.

      I don’t know that that really affects the “faith” aspect. The Others’ return is a matter of cold, hard fact at this point. Stannis would have received ample evidence from the Night’s Watch.

    • Faber says:

      I tend to agree. The scenario Steve envisions would be hard to read, since it’s a girl being burned to death, but it would let Stannis off too easily. It’s too selfless, even heroic, and loses a lot of the horror that made the scene so powerful in the show

      • I disagree. I think what turns it into tragedy is that Stannis does it…and it doesn’t work. He’s not Azor Ahai, someone else is, and they save the world.

        And Stannis has to live with that revelation.

        • somethinglikealawyer says:

          There’s a certain element of tragedy in doing what you feel to be right and not succeeding, especially if what makes it fail was always out of your control.

          • I don’t think Stannis will stay at Winterfell long enough to witness Others Invasion. That’s probably ADOS territory, and Winterfell storyline has a lot going on before that. I think that he will win the Battle of Ice, but Nothermen won’t follow him south because why would they? So he’ll get back to the Wall. Specifically, to The Night Fort. And there will be sacrifice.

          • Stannis isn’t going south, and the Night Fort has no links to dragons.

  9. Punning Pundit says:

    I’m in the middle of my first reread of Book 5, and I’ve noticed that all the good Stanis bits from the 5th season were pulled directly from that book. Maybe they should have just trusted George a bit more.

    Something else that I’m only beginning to really see: books 4 and 5 really _did_ need to be separate books, they really _are_ necessary, and thematically, they really _do_ make sense of a lot of the series. A lot of the weirdness of season 5 comes from the pacing problems inherent in slamming those books into one TV season. Had they decided to make books 4 and 5 into separate seasons, they would have had time to really marinate in their stories.

    Ah well.

    • winnie says:

      All this talk about AA though has me wondering….since Jon is the *real* AA (and in ita that one thing that helps bring about Shireen’s sacrifice will be Stannis falsely believing that he’s Azor) then who is Jon’s Nyssa? Was it when he killed Ygritte? Which would make it strange that the show had Olly kill her instead but then again the show never did emphasize the Nyssa part of the prophecy.

      • David Hunt says:

        Jon didn’t kill Ygritte in the books either. He finds her dying from an arrow wound, but he can tell from the fletching that the arrow isn’t his.

        I would assume that if Jon is going to act out the AA myth, that we haven’t seen his sacrifice of “Nyssa Nyssa” yet. In the myth, he sacrifices her to quench the blade and that creates Lightbringer. If Jon is going to called Lightbringer, I don’t think he’s got it yet and I think that any sacrifice associated with it will be done shortly before he get…whatever it is.

        BTW, it seems to me that Dany is a much better match for the AA myth. She was born on Dragonstone. She went through trials including trying to strengthen her son with the heart of an animal (horse instead of lion,, but she gets a lion skin too). She sacrifices her beloved husband and the dragons are born from his funeral pyre. You could make a good argument that one or all the dragons could be a good stand in for Lightbringer, the fiery sword of heroes.

        • Doug McMillan says:

          Well, you could argue that in choosing to return to the watch and turning against Ygritte he created the circumstances for her death. Technically he didn’t shoot the arrow that killed her but he might as well have; he was firing arrows in that fight and had created the circumstances for her death by informing the watch. SO Ygritte does work as Nissa Nissa, he turned against the woman he loved and caused her death to defend the realm and the watch.

          • David Hunt says:

            I’m still of the opinion that any sacrifice of a Nissa Nissa equivalent is in the future if it’s going to happen. I think the cause and effect will be such that you don’t have to wait three or four books to see it born out. Something like:
            1) Smother your husband with a pillow.
            2) Dragons are born on his funeral pile in your next POV chapter.

          • Doug McMillan says:

            The problem is that at the time Danaerys did that killing Drogo wasn’t really a sacrifice, it was more an act of mercy. Burining Miri fits with the Valyrian role of sarcrifice but not necessarily the R’hllorist; much like the slave whole blew Euron’s horn and died Miri represents a payment of death to pay for magic but not a thing of any value to the one sacrificing her, Dany wanted her dead. If for the sacrifice to be valuable in the R’hllor it need to be someone important to the one sacrificing then I don’t see the parallel, Drogo was brain dead before the pillow and dead before the fire, Miri wasn’t important to Dany. Azor Ahai has to sacrifice Nissa Nissa, not a slave or an enemy.

            I don’t think Dany is Azor Ahai or TPTWP because of her vision of Rhaego leading the Dothraki in the House of the Undying:

            “A tall Lord with copper skin and silver-gold hair stood beneath the banner of a fiery stallion, a burning city behind him.”

            The vision of Rhaego as an adult sacking cities suggests that there would be cities to sack if Dany had not woken the dragons. Given the scale of the threat of the Others it’s hard to believe that the Dothraki would have thawed lands to ride over and intact cities to burn unless the threat could be driven off without Dany and her dragons. If the world would have gotten on fine without her than she’s not much of a chosen one; unless of course it’s a subversion in the style of The Bard’s Tale.

      • Sean C. says:

        Not that I actually think this is going to happen (indeed, I’ve argued in the past against any theory where Jon has to kill one of the series’ main female characters to save the world, given what that would reduce their own plot/character arcs to), but purely from a perspective of literary impact, the only viable candidate would be Arya. Obviously GRRM’s original conception of this relationship is, um, decidedly different (one hopes, anyway) from what we got in the finished product, but she’s his closest family member, which we see reinforced repeatedly throughout the series, including the need to rescue her being what ultimately prompts him to break his neutrality vow.

        I don’t see how, in the remaining 2 books (or so we’re told) you could really bring in a substitute of equivalent impact, given everything else that will be going on.

      • Son of Fire says:

        Jon will plunge his sword into…….wait for it….dany’s heart!
        Check out teflon tv on youtube specifically dany’s endgame video,i think tony teflon nailed it!!!

        • Or the other way round…

          The theory “Jon and Dany will fall in love, and then Jon, who is really Azor Ahai, will have to kill Dany as a sacrifice” is pretty popular. But why does no one think of the possibility that, were they to fall in love, it could be the other way round – and Dany has to sacrifice Jon?

          Men aren’t always heroes, and women aren’t always sacrifices!

      • Lann says:

        Ghost?

    • Interesting. Explain more why you think they need to be separate.

      • Punning Pundit says:

        (Since your comment, I have moved houses. It’s probably not as hard as actually writing one of these novels.)

        Thinking about real history: the 7 Year’s War creates the American Revolution which creates the French debt implosion which creates the French Revolution which creates the Napoleonic Wars, which etc and so forth.

        George RR Martin is telling the story of the Lesser Long Winter, with an emphasis on Westeros. That story is basically 2 parts: the War of 5 Kings (Books 2 and 3) and… I dunno exactly what to call the next part. Maybe the Northern War (books 6 and 7).

        In this telling the entire first book is prologue. Which seems like exactly the sort of awesome longwindedness that we’ve come to expect from Martin.

        If all we are concerned about is the awesome action, then books 1, 4, and 5 are not at all needed. But without those books we lose the context that makes the world come alive and helps us actually care about what happens to the people involved. For instance: without books 1, 4, and 5, I’m not sure anyone would actually care about the show’s butchering of Stannis’ storyline.

        So: why were books 4 and 5 separate?

        Start with how bloody _big_ they are! Roughly 2,000 pages when combined. This was the series I had in mind when I first bought my Kindle- I did _not_ want to keep breaking my back hauling these books around. Giant S/F tomes and smutty romance stories* are the reason for the popularity of ebooks.

        That’s just question begging**, though. Looking AFfC and ADwD, they’re split roughly by geography. It’s one thing to say “Cercei was a terrible leader and now she’s been deposed and the Iron Throne is in hock to the Iron bank and everything else is in shambles”. It’s quite another thing to show the erosion of the Monarchy and the rise of Theocracy and it’s ramifications for King’s Landing. Without seeing Cercei bankrupting the Iron Throne- for a fleet that mutinies- we have much less context for Tycho Nestoris’ trip. Similarly, skipping from Danny’s Book 3 ending to Danny being on a Dragon while piecing her sanity back together would be jarring at the very least.

        Thematically, the books are also very different. Book 4 is about the terrible cost of war. Everywhere war has touched we see death and destruction. The theme here is not merely “war is hell”, but that war doesn’t stop just because the swords are mostly put away. That theme is important to emphasize because of Book 5.

        Book 5 is all about politics being war by other means. Specifically, it shows that misery, death and destruction can be just as prevalent in a non-warfare situation as it is in a warzone. In Slaver’s Bay, Daenerys gets the peace that she desires between herself and the rest of Slaver’s Bay’s ruling class. In order to achieve that peace she has to agree that the ruling class may continue to make war on everyone who’s not the ruling class. I don’t know that this ever becomes explicit to her, but the understanding of it crystallizes in the fighting pit. And then enter Drogon.

        Similarly, Jon’s arc along the wall is- in part- about preparing for the Others. It is also about understanding that there is a war between the Wall and the Wildlings. It’s possible that Jon would not care to make peace in the absence of the Others, but it’s also possible that he would be unwilling to prosecute that war. The Night’s Watch, too, is willing to make peace. They are so willing to make peace that they actually murder the Lord Commander who tries to violate that peace.

        Then there’s Stannis, who is busy fighting the wrong war, trying to find justice when he should be fighting for survival. He knew that when he first went to the Wall, but has forgotten about his primary duty. In some sense, he is the exception which proves the rule.

        That, as I understand it, is why books 4 and 5 had to be separate. By examining war and peace from different angles, they were thematically complementary. There’s a reason the battles of Ice and Fire were put off until book 6- those battles would have undercut the big ideas of the books. By seeing how destructive peace can be, we come to accept that war can create a more just outcome. By spending a lot of time seeing various characters outside the life and death struggles to come, we will care a lot more about those struggles.

        The show tried to cram the two books into one season, and we ended up deflating a lot of the themes and tension that creates an interesting narrative. So I think George RR Martin made the right call.

        *I’m not casting aspersions on romance novels here, the rise of the ebook has made it _much_ easier to buy, sell, and discreetly read filthy stories. The market for those is- by all accounts- discreetly booming.

        **In the literal, old school meaning of that fallacy.

    • John says:

      You are suffering very deeply from Stockholm Syndrome.

  10. doug says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter…

    This is great stuff here. Thank you. You’re right that stakes just weren’t high enough for what went down. It just doesn’t make sense to me that some snow would turn the guy who ate rats to hold Storm’s End, broke the Iron Fleet, and made an amphibious assault of King’s Landing into a daughter killer. If someone could re-work logistics it would be Stannis with the help of Davos.

    To me part of the end game of the show’s miss on Stannis is mirrored in the over-hyping of the Boltons. I would think that that Stannis wouldn’t be worried at all about a few Bolton’s, snow or not. What has Roose ever done, really? He was under Ned for the action in Robert’s rebellion. He isn’t mentioned (I think) in the Greyjoy rebellion, and in the only meaningful battle that he’s commanded, he, at best, failed to try to win. Further, as a matter of personal taste, super-villain show-Ramsay just does nothing for me. I’d honestly rather have the wacky vampire offspring that you can find in the westeros.org forums be true.

    • Faber says:

      You can’t judge how dangerous an enemy is based solely on number of battles they’ve won.

      The Boltons retook Winterfell and Moat Cailin from the Ironborn (Stannis doesn’t know the extent of Ramsay’s treachery) and Roose usurped the Starks to become Warden of the North. He’s widely known as cunning and cruel. Stannis is smart enough not to underestimate him

    • Well, for me, it’s more that I’m convinced that Roose is a secondary villain. He’s meant to cause problems for the heroes, and then get swept aside so that the real villain can take center stage – and Roose isn’t exactly the Night’s King. Unless he is…

      • WPA says:

        Also the show’s shift of Ramsay from a murderous albeit quick-thinking brute in the books into essentially (was it Brendan Bfish or some other worksmith who coined this) “The Shirtless Napoleon” has some of the worst aspects of cheap script-writing over theme.

        • Faber says:

          Agreed with WPA. Ramsay is apparently a skilled warrior and a tactical genius in the show, neither of which is true in the books

          And where was Roose in Episode 10?? If they were going to have the Boltons defeat Stannis, they should have at least showed Roose in the moment of triumph. Instead we got more gloating sadism from Ramsay

          • WPA says:

            At least it wasn’t gloating *shirtless* sadism. But yes, having Roose give his emotionless version of a victory speech – “Well done.” would have been appropriate.

  11. Andrew says:

    1. Beniof and Weiss seem to suffer the problem many producers have when adapting books. In the 1998 film adaptation of The Main in the Iron Mask, the ending had the good guys win with Philippe, the good twin, switching places with Louis XIV put in the iron mask passed off as Philippe. In the book, Louis wins and Philippe is sent back to the dungeons. It showed the film’s creators completely missed the point Dumas was trying to get across: the age of chivalry is passing because men of honor are at a disadvantage in today’s modern amoral world. Beniof and Weiss completely miss the points Martin is trying to get across, and fill it with the Hollywood tropes that drove Martin to write the series in the first place.

    2. I like your article but one nitpick. I don’t think the stone beast breathing shadowfire refers to Stannis as he is already mentioned before as the blue-eyed king who cast no shadow, and that would just make it redundant. Besides, if it is a stone dragon, what would the lie be? It is a real dragon? It would be plain to see if it isn’t a real one. Besides, the lies being slain are supposed to have big political impact like Aegon being fake and Stannis not being AA.
    Here is my take: a dragon in prophecy usually refers to a Targaryen as hinted in Dunk and Egg. Sansa’s alias is “Alayne Stone,” Rickon is hiding on Skagos which means “stone” in the Old Tongue, Arya hides Needle under a stone in the steps and men who hide their emotions are referred to as stone faced. I think stone dragon=hidden Targaryen. The last lie she would be involved in slaying is the lie of Jon being Ned’s bastard.

    3. As for Melisandre burning someone, I think Gerrick Kingsblood is more likely as the main ingredient she is looking for is kingsblood, and Gerrick’s surname is literally “kingsblood.” Although, I think it would be just an offering with no intent to resurrect Jon.

    • 1. Agreed.

      2. Here’s my interpretation – Stannis isn’t really Azor Ahai (the lie being his sword), and the dragon that he’s going to summon is wrong in an ontological sense, and that Dany is going to slay both of these lies, by demonstrating that Stannis isn’t Azor Ahai and by slaying the dragon.

      3. I don’t think Melisandre sacrifices people for no reason.

      • Andrew says:

        2. But the dragon is connected to Stannis as Azor Ahai, that lie has been already addressed, and again, the issue of redundancy. The lies point to three individuals or cases. Each of threes presented present three separate cases. The last of the each three sets of three visions also have something to do with Jon if you look at them: Rhaegar whispering Lyanna’s name and blue flower growing in the Wall.

        3. She was willing to sacrifice Mance’s infant son. On top of that, she sacrificed Alester for good winds. She would likely find a reason.

        • 2. Sorry, why is the redundancy important?

          3. No, Jon Snow thought she was.

          • Andrew says:

            2. Why would Dany need to be given a vision of Stannis twice? In the trios of prophecies given, with bride of fire and daughter of death, each prophecy in each trio deals with a separate person. For example, in daughter of death we had Viserys, Rhaego and Rhaegar. The visions in each group are supposed to be unrelated.

            3. The point is she is not above sacrificing if she feels it is for the greater good.

      • TakatoGuil says:

        I like to think the lie is Dany as “fire and blood”. She’s gonna do dark things in TWOW, and thus be a stone beast breathing shadow fire (stone being hardening, shadow fire being evil purposes), but ultimately have redemption and be “mother of dragons” again. Possibly through Jon Snow as Azor Ahai.

        • Ian says:

          2) So a thought I had before while listening to the AA Podcast (for all who haven’t heard it, it’s worth a listen) and sort of linked to what Steven and Andrew are saying:

          Do you think that it’s possible that the resurrection of Jon Snow might be an unintended result of Shireen’s sacrifice?

          I don’t know how that would involve Dany though…Or given the “slayer of lies/stone” idea, are you suggesting, Andrew, that Dany would have direct involvement with the Jon’s revival?

      • darrylzero says:

        No love for Aegon with greyscale as the stone dragon breathing shadow fire (Blackfyre)? I know he seems like a sure fit for the mummer’s dragon too, but I can’t get that out of my head.

  12. Nick S says:

    One thing that has me confused about his sacrifice of Shireen is that, with her death, it doesn’t matter whether or not Stannis takes the throne. And, while I’m sure he would understand that the fate of the world comes before crown-rights, with Shireen’s death there would be nobody to take the throne after Stannis’s (unless Robert’s bastards become legitimized, something I don’t see happening).
    Stannis is pretty pragmatic and forward-thinking, so I guess I’m kind of confused as to how it is dutiful to kill the only person that, in Stannis’ eyes, has a right to the throne

    • Faber says:

      If Selyse never bore another child, Stannis would eventually “do his duty” and sire a bastard whom he could then legitimize.

      • Grant says:

        He’d be more likely to keep trying for one with Selyse out of a sense of duty and if another child was never born he’d do the dutiful thing and declare whichever relative would be closest to be heir.

    • Yish. H says:

      This has always bothered me about Daenerys: assuming that it’s true that she’s now sterile, her taking the throne merely postpones another Game of Thrones for one generation (until she dies), since once again there will be no more Targaryens.

      • Jennifer says:

        At the end of ‘Dance of Dragons’ Dany is struggling to survive on the mountain, starving and dehydrated and she bleeds. Presumably menstrual bleeding meaning she can bear children again.

        • BloodofMyBlood says:

          Or the fact that she has been riding on a god knows how hot dragon (which has left her blistered ) for an undisclosed amount of time. But yes it could go either way

        • David Hunt says:

          “Presumably menstrual bleeding meaning she can bear children again.”

          It is my understanding that most women of child-bearing age who have problems with infertility still experience a regular menstrual cycle, so Dany experiencing this is no indicator. In her last ADWD chapter, Dany confirms that this is case for her by trying to remember when the last time it happened was. I can’t quote text where I am, but it was obvious that she expected a regular timing to it and was worried that it seemed the wrong time in the Moon’s cycle. IMO the facts that the blood comes at the wrong time, and she can’t remember when the last one was are a better indicator that she is fertile. I think that she’d just miscarried Dario’s kid.

      • Grant says:

        Having children didn’t necessarily prevent political disaster from happening. Setting aside the last events of Dany’s chapter in ADWD, if she takes the throne again what happens after her death depends a lot on how stable things are and how well she manages setting up the next monarch.

    • Stannis might call a Great Council to determine succession. He might do his duty with his wife more or would sire a child elsewhere out of duty. Perhaps he might legitimize one of his brother’s bastards, if he takes the IT Edric would probably return. Personally I hope Edric ends up being legitimized so the Baratheons don’t die out.

  13. John W says:

    In the legend of AA is there any significance to needing three attempts before succeeding or is it just GRRM’s love of threes.

    I wonder if there are three events that need to happen before Stannis awakens the dragon?

    • I think it’s more a legacy of fairytales, and in general how human psychology works with story structure:
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfThree

      • BloodofMyBlood says:

        So, in reading this rule of threes it leads me to wonder. Is the second failure of Stannis, repeating almost the same foolishness of Renly attempting to be a king but never deserving it( though admittedly the circumstances are very different but at the core the same), that we are now lead to our last and final iteration of the attempted crowning? Perhaps this was just GRRM needing to satisfy his rule of threes so that we now are able to see our last, presumably successful, attempt at the Iron Throne? Now who this will be for certain I’m not sure (probably Danerys), but all the same I find it pretty interesting in light of reading of the rule of threes trope. Though honestly I could just see this being another way of GRRM throwing off the scent of his true intentions by making us think that he is a rule of threes junky.

  14. Benjamin Holm says:

    The issue with Stannis faking his death in that way, to me, is that I can’t believe that the Boltons would be stupid enough to believe the Manderlys alone, especially if the Freys are ALL dead. Bolton knows about the Manderly’s shaky loyalty to him; if they return by themselves with no Freys around as well to vouch for what happened, there’s no way he trusts them. If all the Freys are dead then there’s going to be a STRONG suspicion of collusion or funny business between Stannis and the Manderlys.

    • Ramsay is exactly that stupid.

      But if we’re talking Roose – what exactly is he going to do about it? Stannis’ army is missing, Manderly has the sword, the Karstark ravens are report all is good. What evidence does he have of any foul play?

      • Grant says:

        It would make sense for him to be cautious and suspicious, but beyond that there isn’t much he can do.

  15. Paul says:

    This is why I like reading your work Steve, you just plain get it. I wasn’t angry that Stannis burned Shireen in the show, I was angry that it didn’t mean anything. Stannis has all the makings of a tragic Shakespearean-style anti-hero. But if he’s just some psycho that burns his child alive for “ambition” it really undercuts any sense of tragedy. I hope things play out similar to how you’ve described it, it certainly sounds a lot more like Martin’s style. Even if a few details are different, I’m very excited to see this powerful tragedy!

    • John says:

      I don’t see how anyone can watch Dillane’s performance over the course of the show and believe that the show is depicting Stannis as “some psycho that burns his child alive for ambition.”

      • Benioff and Weiss can. That’s basically how they see Stannis and how they describe him in their “Inside the Episode” videos. Minus the psycho part.

      • Paul says:

        I love Stephen Dillane, I’m not talking about his performance. I’m talking about Stannis as a character, as written by D&D. Like Steven has said, without any great achievement the power of Stannis’ tragedy is completely undercut. He goes from being a Shakespearean figure to a “psycho who burns his child alive for ambition.”

        I find Stephen Dillane fantastic, all the more so since he’s working with weaker material. Without the excellent words of GRRM, Dillane managed to convey so much of the character of Stannis Baratheon. I’m sad to see him go.

  16. Jennifer says:

    Brilliant. I am also a longtime reader and new poster. Thank you, Steve for all the great analyses. This one is the best. And I totally agree with the last sentence, very well put.

  17. Grant says:

    My biggest gripe wasn’t that Stannis would do this in the show, it’s that the writers so obviously contrived events so that he’d have to do this. They just have Stannis bring along Shireen on campaign for no reason so she can be there to be sacrified and they just have Ramsay* and his men be able to sneak into the camp, do all that damage and get away without a scratch, all just so that they can write Stannis being forced to burn Shireen.

    There was nothing about the format of the show that demanded this. If they wanted to bring to a close a lot of Stannis’ story, why not just have him defeated at Winterfell, his own fate unknown and have him just barely make it back to the Wall where he’s forced to sacrifice Shireen to fight the White Walkers next season?

    *Also creating more of the problem that Ramsay is a blatant Sue character who doesn’t suffer anything like the setbacks other, more convincingly dangerous characters did even though he’s constantly pushing his luck.

    • jpmarchives says:

      Spot on. And I think Steve is right – it’s the moments the show cares about, not how we get to them, which is why a man burning his daughter alive is more shocking than a detailed explanation of why. Add to that the impossibilty of Ramsay’s raid, the cartoonish “half our army snuck off in the night” desertions and the played-for-laughs death of Selyse, you have a scenario which really doesn’t sit well or make sense. Relying purely on moments isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a tv program, but when you have source material as solid as this it still feels like a waste.

      And Ramsay is just part of the machinery of television. A status quo was developed in the last four seasons wherein Joffrey is a monster we all love to hate and Sansa is his hapless victim. Given the viewing figures to deliver what is popular, they attempted to recreate that with the stakes raised even higher with Ramsay as a terminator and Sansa his unwilling bride.

      • Grant says:

        Of course fans quickly got bored of it, an overly quick reaction not helped by a lot of the details that make the Sansa chapters important to read got cut. Recreating what people were sick of, with an extra helping of rape for shock value and just having anything attempted by Sansa go very wrong wasn’t a bright move.

        • jpmarchives says:

          The enormous viewing figures seem to imply that this is exactly what the show audience wants. GOT has become the show in which bad things happen to good people – fans film their friends reactions, talk about how cruel GRRM is in interviews and back slap each other about how intelligent and different GOT is for subverting expectations.

          My problem with this attitude is that unlike D and D, it’s not the shocking moments which I remember most about the books. It’s the world, the characters and the political intrigue. So much of it has been discarded now in pursuit of the next shocking moment, to keep people talking about the show and to keep viewing figures sky high.

          It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense for Talisa to be present for the RW, or for Tyrion to know where he’s going when crawling around in the tower of the hand, or why LF would push Lysa Arryn without a scapegoat, or why Sansa or the Boltons would agree to a marriage… I can go on and on. All that matters is the impact of the moment. “OMG! I can’t believe they killed off empatheticcharacter#12. I hate this show but I can’t stop watching!”

          Look at the reviews – look at the blogs. This is the attitude that millions of show watchers have. And it will only get worse.

          • Grant says:

            That assumes that people were there to watch Sansa and Joffrey when I don’t think there’s much to suggest it. The most common reaction I saw to Sansa in the show, much like Sansa in the books (and a little more justified) was that people were sick of her. They wanted to see Ned, Robb, Arya, Jon, Jaime, Tyrion, Daenerys and later Stannis and Davos. And what was the reaction that I saw to Sansa in the North, especially after season 4 ended on the implication that she was learning to be a political actor herself? Irritation with her plot.

            And yes, events like this get people talking. And, in my case and in the case of people I personally know, ultimately leaving. There’s no way to know until next season whether or not that’s going to be true of the general audience, but I don’t call it a good sign.

        • John says:

          Maybe those things didn’t actually make no sense?

          • Is that double negative meant to be a positive? Or is that supposed to be a non-standard language variant, as in “I ain’t seen no sense here!” The latter would make much more sense…

    • You’re very welcome!

    • Villain Sue, thy name is Ramsay. Exactly, 20 good men was some of the worst and most contrived writing I’ve ever seen.

  18. Dr. Toboggan says:

    Another side-point: I think this same line applies to the theory that Melisandre would sacrifice Shireen in Stannis’ absence to bring Jon back to life. As we’ve seen with Thoros of Myr and Moqorro, human sacrifice is not necessary for R’hlloric healing and resurrection. Rather, human sacrifice has only ever been mentioned in context of waking dragons (only Melisandre) and performing weather magic (both Melisandre and Moqorro). If R’hlloric resurrection is to be part of Jon Snow’s rebirth, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t involve Melisandre using the same ritual that Thoros of Myr used. Moreover, from a thematic perspective, Melisandre sacrificing Shireen doesn’t cost her anything.

    Many fine points you’ve made, but I wouldn’t rule out Melisandre burning Shireen at the Wall to resurrect Stannis, who she believes to be dead.

    This would certainly be good drama: Stannis’s most amazing plan yet works spectacularly at Winterfell, but backfires horribly at the Wall. Not to mention, Stannis would ultimately be responsible: he’s known all along that it was wrong to get involved with Melisandre, that he is in some sense doing a deal with the devil (a devil in a red dress), and we’ve heard elsewhere that magic is a sword without a hilt, there’s no safe way to grasp it…

    So I don’t think it’s out of the question. Also, Thoros’s ritual was a simple funeral prayer, he had no idea it would actually raise Beric from the dead. We don’t know if Melisandre would consider that option.

    • Why wouldn’t she? He’s a Rhllorite, she’s a Rhllorite.

      • Dr. Toboggan says:

        I got the impression that Thoros was just praying over Beric, and it accidentally revived him – not deliberately performing a magic ritual, at least the first time. So Melisandre may well consider using her evil magicks to resurrect Jon Snow, but might not know that this prayer could work also.

        • Grant says:

          I’m pretty sure that was introduced so that it would be established for Melisandre to do the same, but there is the problem that Thoros makes it clear the prayer he used was one he’d used many times before without ever seeing this result. Maybe her flames will tell her, or maybe she’ll perform the same rites without expecting this and become convinced that Jon is AA when she sees him resurrected.

          • I’m pretty sure we’re only going to get one line of resurrection. Thoros passes it to Cat who passes it to Jon. Sacrifice Ghost to put “Jon” back in his body. Mel’s biggest part will probably be protecting Jon’s body and Ghost until they can get everyone together.

  19. BloodofMyBlood says:

    Another thought: I can definitely understand the gripe with Shireen’s sacrifice being for seemingly nothing. No one will argue that it is at least a hard to accept that Stannis would do such a terrible thing for the sake of gaining something so relatively trivial as a chair made of swords. But how do we know that, ultimately, Martin’s end game isn’t the same? The way I see this is as the difficulty of adaptation from the page to the small screen. Each season offers 10 hours of potential time to cover an ENTIRE BOOK of source material. That’s ten hours to portray the entire subtle context of Stannis’ eventual downfall. Of course they had to crop the story in a way which makes it very different from the books. In the same way that D&D couldn’t take even 15 or 20 minutes to portray Stannis’ interaction with the hill tribes, because perhaps their part in the story is not so integral as some may believe, they also can’t spend an entire hour of screen time on Stannis having one victory against the Boltons, then perhaps a small defeat, then maybe a subplot of bantering and making a deal with the anti-Bolton contingent, then finally making the hard choice to sacrifice his daughter for slightly more significant and “logical” reasons. This show isn’t called “Hanging with the Mannis” or “A Song of Duty and Entitlement”, it’s called “Game of Thrones”. I assume (possibly making an @$$ of you and me) that because Stannis is, in the grand scheme of the story, a bit part with more coverage then most bit parts, his arc is more pliable and disposable. Note that, though the arcs of Dany and Jon and Cersei are notably different than they were in the books, they are definitely more spot on than that of Stannis. Perhaps this isn’t “laziness” on the part of the shows writers so much as it is a necessary divergence and condensation of the source material out of sheer lack of time necessary to cover all potential nuances of a character’s existence. And like it or lump it, a TV show is about ratings. That is just the nature of the beast. Do you think that GOT would have lived as long as it is has if half of all the shows time was spent on building ONE character’s complexity? Particularly considering the fifty bazillion (I know it’s not a real number) characters that GRRM introduces us to in his expansies universe. I can see it now, “Season 17, Episode 10: Dany (40 year old Emilia Clarke) sits on her throne in the great pyramid of Mereen and listens to her subjects woes…that is all…”

    So in summation of the longest single paragraph in posting history, I feel for Stannis fans truly. I can see where if you clung to the hope of him being a bigger player in the game of thrones, you were disappointed. But I just personally disagree that D&D really dropped the ball on this one. Maybe some subtle tweaks could have been made along the way to make some storylines gel a bit better, but unfortunately if the producers spent as much time tweaking their scripts prior to completing them, as George does, then we’d be waiting for each season of GOT for four years a peice. Now which would be more disappointing? That long of a wait, or the loss of some character depth for a character who really ended up being a device for progressing the story toward the real purposes of its existence?

    This being said maybe Stannis is alive and will chive on as the greatest leader and ruler that Westeros has ever and will ever know.

    • jpmarchives says:

      It’s a little difficult to swallow that reasoning considering D and D have imposed a 7 season series seemingly on themselves, whilst GRRM and execs at HBO have expressed an interest in the show running longer. In regard to Stannis this year it’s easy to interpret their treatment of the character as the start of a rush to the finish line.

      • BloodofMyBlood says:

        Well I do understand your sentiments on that. I can also see how people see it as being rushed. The one thing I really see that rings true about this show arc is that it confirms what many of us assumed, Stannis is NOT AA. I honestly expect that all the other material that D&D will have to cover in the remaining seasons be it 2 or 3, will require the entirety of the 30 hours. So though I see why people are displeased, I can chalk it up to necessary evil. I believe we can, at least, all agree that the only way Stannis’ (and Mels) stubborn ass could accept that Stannis wasn’t AA was a colossal fail like this. * Kills daughter, realizes he just another douche*

    • Crow's Eye says:

      “Each season offers 10 hours of potential time to cover an ENTIRE BOOK of source material.”

      Except that’s not accurate. They used two seasons of the show (3 and 4) to cover one book (SoS). Then they used one season of the show (5) to cover two books (FfC and DwD).

  20. malgus says:

    It doesn’t matter if “if I am right, and TWOW significantly diverges from Season 5 of Game of Thrones, there’s going to be a lot of unhappy fans who’ll feel they didn’t get the full experience, but rather the televisual equivalent of a premature ejaculation.”

    The fault is not D&Ds. George should have finished his books in the past 20 years and then they would have the completed picture to draw from rather than, as you mention, bullet points.

    • Dr. Toboggan says:

      Or, HBO should have waited til the notoriously late book series was finished before starting production.

      • Nah, HBO’s only concern is keeping and adding subscribers. Holding off on a potential show in the fear that if it becomes really successful and the author can’t get a book out in five years it might disappoint readers falls firmly under “not our problem.”

  21. Volantene Republican Army says:

    Like some others here I’m a long time read but first time poster. Let me first say that I enjoy your analysis and am not disappointed this time.

    I do disagree however with your conclusion on Stannis’ arc. I’m with you all the way up to the fall of the wall and sacrificing Shireen to wake the stone dragon (or perhaps some other magical effect, like ending Other induced snowstorm maybe).

    But I don’t know that Stanis’ arc necessarily ends in tragedy, with Shireen sacrificed for no reason and Stannis dying a failure. Indeed, you talk a lot about how the scenario that you sketched out would be a great tragedy, and it would be. But I don’t understand why his arc necessarily has to go in a dark direction.

    The reason that comes to mind is that he thinks he’s the Azhor Ahai reborn, when obviously that’s Danny. And once he’s confronted with the fact that Danny, with dragons, is the Azhor Ahai and not him, he will see that all that he’s done, including sacrificing Shireen, has been meaningless.

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s obvious that Stannis isn’t the Azhor Ahai, or at least part of the Azhor Ahai. And I certainly don’t think it’s going to be obvious to Stannis that he isn’t the Azhor Ahai, even if Danny has dragons.

  22. What ploy did Henry IV pull at the Battle of Shrewsburry? I’ve tried to find some to explain your reference, but had no luck.

  23. tranJess says:

    He isnt 100% dead on the show.I believe he is dead and they are done with him,but it is far from official.
    All the supposed confirmations,are in far from confirming his death.In fact, in the BTS, they seem to be going to great lengths to say
    everything about this scene EXCEPT that he’s dead. They talk more about
    Stannis and Brienne’s head-spaces, and how Brienne doesn’t see the
    monster in Stannis that she thought she would, and how Stannis is
    actually very “human” and “brave” in this moment.
    I believe he is dead,but it is so not official.

    • He’s not dead. The only real death we haven’t seen on screen was Syrio and that was because it was necessary for Arya not to see it for her emotional progression at the time.

    • tranJess says:

      BTW,Stephen Dillane was awesome.He was so professional despite i dont think he was crazy about all the show’s hype.They tried so hard to make Stannis uninteresting but he was so good that he made Stannis popular.
      I guess you book readers imagine him while reading…Sean Bean category.

      To book readers-Which characters you have their show picture while reading and which you dont?

      • Punning Pundit says:

        Peter Dinklage is and always will be Tyrion. I have to mentally make him much uglier when I read, but it never sticks.

      • GOT rocks but GOT sucks says:

        Show look-Stannis(Stephen Dillane IS Stannis,watch his rare interviews,it is actually Stannis portraying Dillane),Sandor,Tyrion,Eddard Stark,Tywin (i wonder if Charles was even acting-best casting desicion EVER),Cersei,Joffrey
        Not show-Mellisandre(blonde),Theon(his performance is fine,i just have a different picture in mind),Ramsey,the Mountain (a not so dump version of him),Daenerys,Baelish

      • Crow's Eye says:

        Show Daario has nothing whatsoever to do with book Daario. The Daario in the book has crazy died hair and a gold tooth and is super flamboyant. Show Daario wears brown a lot.

      • I keep thinking of Stephen as Stannis. He and Charles may have been the two best actors. That makes it more unfortunate what they did with Stannis as he was so well portrayed. Same with Jon and many of the other characters, despite hair color with the Starks and Tullys.

  24. Good book analysis as usual but I think you’re a bit off on the show not understanding Stannis at all. He’s not all ambition but this is a guy who aches for recognition. He’s no good at being the kind of guy who inspires love but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t yearn for it. Throw in the easy charm of both his brothers and how irksome that can be and it’s easy to understand how he was convinced he is “the” guy to save the world.

  25. twibble67 says:

    I think they had this problem with Daenerys and Tyrion as well, and have for a long time. Throughout my reading of ASoIaF, before watching the show or reading any blogs or opinion pieces about it, my thinking on Daenerys lined up with what I later learned BryndenBFish and Meereenese Blot said they believe Daenerys’ arc in ADWD was. To me, a large part of Daenerys’ arc is like that of Walter White: a beaten-down, disempowered person for whom a seemingly-unfortunate event leads to a sense of empowerment which then gives way to vindictiveness, ego, and violence. Tyrion has always had far more unsavory aspects than a simple propensity for prostitutes, and by the time of ADWD he seems to be driven largely by anger and spite. I like Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage and I get why many are charmed by them, but I don’t like how Benioff and Weiss have simplified and whitewashed their motives. That, along with the removal of the various players involved in the “Meereenese Knot”, has made the show’s trek through Essos far less interesting to me and it’s turned Daenerys into some traditional “chosen hero who can’t really fail or even be hated or challenged by anyone who isn’t cartoonishly evil”. Very few characters exist to really challenge her and every character who supports her does so for pure reasons, rather than various interests having different reasons for supporting her, many for unsavory reasons, as in the books. Apologies for rambling, but I think the way they’ve adapted Daenerys’ storylines and the storylines of those who support or oppose her has been rather poor.

    • Exactly. They’ve engaged in mass character exaggeration so they can create a more clear-cut story, with clear good and evil characters, while the series was largely about deconstructing these tropes. Hence, Renly and the Tyrells are portrayed as clear heroes rather then the villains with good publicity they are in the books, while Stannis, an honorable Anti-Hero/Anti-Villain who has the potential to be a good King but isn’t supported because of his bad image and the fact he wants to purge a very corrupt system they try to make a clear villain.

  26. Not only did they ignore the basic structure of a tragedy, they also ignored basic logic. Even if Stannis were completely driven by ambition and lust for power, he would also have to be a complete idiot to think that burning his only heir – and just to win one battle and because he’s lost some provisions and the weather is bad – can in any way be good, rather than disastrous, for his prospects of winning the throne or holding it.

  27. Amestria says:

    This is excellent.

  28. AMD says:

    What if the stone dragon where grayscale? Sacrificing Shireen backfires in that it unleashes her dormant greyscale into a full epidemic that Dany then somehow exorcises? Granted I can’t really think of this being a lie, I guess Stannis = AA would be it.

  29. […] install Rickon as a puppet Warden. With the Winterfell plot going as fast as it is (a lot of fans have problems with this too) it seems like Sansa will have to be at least near Winterfell for the start of […]

  30. […] Yet another reason why I don’t think the Boltons are winning the Battle of Ice. […]

  31. […] and bearing the scars of the life energy he’s given away; as I’ve speculated, I believe that Stannis will be brought to a moment of tragic realization, even as he carries out […]

  32. Jangley says:

    Agree with your post almost entirely. I recently read another essay (can’t for the life of me remember where it was) about the Red God and how fire always ‘consumes. If thats a true analogy, and going by Stannis’s vision of him seeing himself be consumed by the crown it probably is, then his pursuit for the IT will probably take everything from him before the end.

    The one thing I’m not sure about is Stannis sacrificing his daughter to defeat The Others. For one The Others probably aren’t what they seem. GRRM has stated that he thinks traditional fantasy has been over used; ‘we don’t need anymore dark lords’ ‘we don’t need anymore good guys dressed in white and bad guys dressed in black’ and ‘the only struggle worth writing about is the one of the human heart’, and for him to put in a malevolent undead horde of zombies and ice monsters that kill everything with no reason or motive seems abit contradicting of what he’s previously said, as well as whats happened in the books themselves in regards to characters (although thats a topic for another discussion). Instead could it be that Stannis sacrifices his daughter fighting Daenaerys? You’ve already referenced her vision in The House of the Undying of ‘a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow…from a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire…mother of dragons, slayer of lies.’ I was under the impression that Stannis is one of the lies Daenaerys needs to slay, and that they would come into contact at some point. If Stannis dies at Winterfell fighting The Others him and Dany can’t come into contact and this can’t happen, and the whole vision of (what appears to be) him in The House of the Undying seems a bit pointless as he’ll already be dead.

    It’s purely speculation, but perhaps Stannis views Daenaerys army and the power of her dragons when she finally arrives in Westeros and realises he can’t possibly win without divine help, and therefore decides to sacrifice his daughter; only to find nothing happens and he has been tricked this whole time. Maybe then he walks out to meet her in combat similarly to the way he met the Boltons in the TV series knowing he’ll be killed, and is consumed in dragonfire with the rest of his army or something. Anything could happen but it seems like the books give hints that he’ll come into contact with Dany at some point, which can’t happen if he dies at Winterfell.

    Brilliant essay either way 🙂

    • I’m sure that the Others have their reasons for wanting to destroy the human race.

      That, however, doesn’t change the fact that they are trying to destroy the human race. And it’s pretty clear that the human race has every reason to fight back. People with genocidal intents always had their “reasons”, that doesn’t make them good guys.

      So, no, I’m not buying the “the Others aren’t that bad” theory. From everything we’ve seen, yes, they are.

  33. Jangley says:

    With regards to The Others the thing is we haven’t actually seen that much of them, sure the prologue in Game Of Thrones paints them to be pretty bad, they kill The Nights Watch and Sam has an encounter with them and it seems like they do a lot of killing in general. That being said do we actually know if they want to commit genocide towards the human race? All we have to go on is prophecies from various characters, some of which follow the Lord of Light which is far from a benevolent God/Deity/type of magic/ Lovecraft style A moral being/ completely made up entity, as well passed down accounts of The Long Night from generations ago that also seem to be a bit contradicting and vague. As for genocide, they let Craster live as long as his provides them with sons, and the books hint that they could have destroyed Mance and his army if they wanted to but instead herded him south towards the wall so they’re not just mindlessly killing.

    Personally my jury is out on them. They could just be a force of nature hell bent on covering the world in an everlasting darkness, although with the complexity of everything/everyone else in the book I’d find that pretty disappointing, especially as there’s no Lord of the Rings force of good fighting against them. But GRRM could just put them as a destructive force with which everything else thats happened seemed pointless against if he wanted to. It would be nice to have a bit of complexity with them in the next two books, or maybe just a bit of insight into what they want and what they are doing if nothing else. Check out Alt Shift X’s video on it if nothing else: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ih_ZAGCfMY0 ‘doesn’t it make sense for The Others to have built The Wall, you know, the creatures made from and who can build things out of ice?’ and see if that changes your mind.

    • I may listen to that a bit later, though I’ve heard those theories before, but: Does it make sense for the Others to have built the Wall – that thing that prevents magical beings, such as Others and wights, from crossing it? Not to mention has a special in-built gate that can only be opened by a member of the Night’s Watch? I’m going to say no, it doesn’t make sense for the Others to have built the wall.

      The Others not killing humans in a disorganised and random way, and not always killing every single human being they could have, doesn’t really speak to them not being genocidal. Genocides are usually conducted in an organised way, and no genocide in human history included killing or attempting to kill every single person of the target population as soon as it was possible to kill them.

  34. […] alert, sorry, but I really enjoyed this essay on how Stannis Baratheon’s arc is playing out in the Song of Ice and Fire series and how Game of […]

  35. […] preferring results > themes. Is Ramsay et al. going to get defeated outside of Winterfell? Yes. But Benioff and Weiss are perfectly willing to have Jon and Sansa do it instead of Stannis, or to […]

  36. beto2702 says:

    All good, but wouldn’t Stannis dying would suggest that Winterfell falls (again). I am more of the idea of Shireen’s sacrifice helping a bit or not helping at all but Winterfell surviving (Storm’s End-Stannis all over again).

    So, Stannis survives with Winterfell long enough for WW to be defeated. Then Stannis is made 1000th Lord Commander of the NW to harvest self-hatred for killing his daughter for the rest of his life.

  37. […] given that Edric Storm is almost certainly going to be the future Lord of Storm’s End when Stannis’ line ends, this is a bit of a […]

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