If ever there was a family that needs some SERIOUS therapy, it’s the three sons of Steffon and Cassandra Baratheon: Robert, Stannis and Renly.
We cannot discount the destructive influence on the elder two of witnessing their parents die at sea in a storm. They literally stood on the ramparts of Storm’s End, hoping to see Mum and Dad come home…. only to see Mum and Dad’s ship be broken apart, knowing everyone on board would drown in the raging seas. (Except Patchface. Why Stannis kept him around is perplexing – the ultimate masochistic reminder of his parents’ fate?!)
Renly escapes this trauma, only to have his own trauma of growing up raised by his brothers (one literally distant and the other emotionally distant) and his castellan.
Nearly all the problems engulfing Westeros right now following the War of the Five Kings, not to mention that actual war itself, could have been avoided had these three brothers been able to actually talk to each other…. y’know, with words and stuff.
Robert: Great King or Great Failure?
So girl. Why do you hate Robert Baratheon? Wasn’t he a great king? Didn’t he give the Seven Kingdoms 15 years of peace and prosperity?
Robert Baratheon was not a good King. Jon Arryn was a good Hand, and Robert’s only point of political intelligence was appointing his surrogate father to that role and letting him get on with it.
Robert wasn’t chosen to be the Rebellion’s figurehead because he was a great politician. He was chosen because he was a great warrior with the right bloodline: if Aerys II, Rhaegar, his son Aegon and his brother Viserys were ousted, the eldest son of House Baratheon had the best claim to the Iron Throne as the grandson of Rhaelle Targaryen. This would keep Targaryen loyalists semi-happy, but avoid all the tainted craziness within the existing Targaryens. The Mad King was clearly unfit for rule. His heir had just kidnapped (apparently) the Stark girl and disappeared for around a year while civil war raged. Aegon was just a baby. Viserys was already showing signs of mental instability like his father at a young age. If the Rebels were going to get rid of the Targaryens, Robert was the next best thing and like Daemon Blackfyre before him, he was able to attract people to the Rebels’ cause by being an undoubtably skilled warrior.
Jon Arryn, and arguably Rickard Stark, Hoster Tully, and perhaps Tywin Lannister and the unnamed Princess of Dorne (depending on how far back you think Southron Ambitions/Team Replace The Targs really goes,) were smart enough to realise that the toxic masculinity of Westeros would lap up what Robert Baratheon appeared to be: the epitome of The Warrior. “Muscled like a maiden’s dream,” able to wield a great warhammer with one hand that Ned Stark, no tiny twink himself, couldn’t lift with two, a noted melee champion, big drinking, hard partying, skirt chasing, all round Boy’s Boy…. Robert Baratheon in his prime was The Guy that Westerosi men looked to and said “Yep. Son, be like him.”
But… what’s the darker side of Robert Baratheon, even in his prime?
We know from the books that Robert was an angry, unpredictable drunk who beat and raped his wife Cersei Lannister on a regular basis. Robert imagines that he wouldn’t do this if he had got Lyanna back, but let’s be honest… what we know of young Robert from the books suggests he would be exactly the same man. Hard drinking, beating his ‘mouthy’ woman, taking his husbandly rights whether she was consenting or not…. the image of Lyanna that Robert cherishes bears no resemblance to the real young woman he says he loved, and Ned tells him this. He would have beaten and raped Lyanna just as much as he did Cersei, and he would have given himself the same excuses: she didn’t know her place, she told me what to do, she nagged me, etc.
Robert’s treatment of Cersei shows us exactly who he is: an angry little man with poor impulse control. A drunk with no insight into his behaviour. A pig.
Moreover, what is Robert’s real beef with Rhaegar? Maybe subconsciously Robert realises that Lyanna probably loved Rhaegar more than him, and that sparks his hatred of Rhaegar and all “dragonspawn.” But more consciously is the way that Robert speaks about Lyanna’s supposed capture: “She was stolen from me. He stole her from me.”
Lyanna isn’t an object that can be stolen! She’s a person. But that’s just it: to Robert, women aren’t people. They’re sex objects, mothers, wives, pretty things to look at, warm bodies to fuck. But they aren’t people, they don’t have personalities or drive to do anything other than please him. To be fair to Robert, this kind of attitude is prevalent across Westeros. It’s shit, but it’s the “norm.” It’s a norm that needs changing, and Robert Baratheon is not the man to lead that change because he sees nothing wrong with it.
And when this was brought up on /r/asoiaf recently, this is what I had to say about Robert:
But this is quite common with alcoholic, violent men: it’s never their fault. She made me hit her. The booze made me say those things. I can’t help it. I’m an alcoholic, you have to feel sorry for me.
Sit in any courtroom in the world and listen to the infuriating bullshit that violent men come up with to justify their conduct. What we see in Robert Baratheon is what you see in the Broadmeadows or Heidelberg or Melbourne Magistrates’ Courts family violence division every single day: an unpleasant, unrepentant violent man with alcohol abuse issues who refuses to take personal responsibility for his actions, and lacks the insight to understand how his conduct affects the people around him.
Not only did I grow up with that kind of man ruining my childhood, but I worked with that kind of man – as a client, whether for family violence intervention order matters or for criminal offences, and as the other party in intervention order proceedings.
These guys continue to act like this because society ignores the culture of misogyny, sexism, toxic masculinity that contribute to the thinking of a violent man. It’s easier for society to pretend that individual people are a problem, rather than dealing with the fact that social norms, attitudes and endemic misogyny are the reason that these people develop and get away with their abuse for so long. I highly recommend the final report of the Royal Commission into Family Violence if you want more detail and research on this issue.
Rhaegar was not a peach himself, but Robert is the kind of guy you will meet, have probably already met, in the real world. He’s Brock Turner, he’s Charles Saatchi, he’s Chris Brown. The list goes on.
So no. I don’t have any sympathy for Robert Baratheon. At all. I’ve met him way too often in real life.
I can understand Robert, but I don’t like him. Men like Robert Baratheon scare me and they should scare you too. The absolute impunity that they feel – their conduct is beyond reproach, and their violence against women is so ‘normal’ to them that you’re the weird one for questioning their behaviour. And god forbid you suggest they take personal responsibility for their behaviour at any stage… sheesh!
Robert’s relationship with his brothers
Robert seems to deal with his grief about his parents by… getting the hell out of Storm’s End and not looking back.
He is fostered in the Vale with Jon Arryn, alongside Ned Stark, and quickly latches on to Ned as his new brother. This made me realise something interesting the other day: in his quiet, reserved nature, Ned is very much like Stannis – he just doesn’t have the giant chip on his shoulder against the world that Stannis does. Did Robert intentionally gravitate towards a replacement brother in Ned who was just like his actual brother, who he didn’t like, in Stannis? Similarly, Robert’s egregious life of the party behaviour is similar to the descriptions we have of Brandon Stark, the wild wolf. Does this also explain why Ned became so fond of Robert – another brother to be a wild wolf to his quiet wolf?
While we know from the text that Stannis and Robert had ISSUES (to put it mildly….) we don’t really know what was going on between Robert and Renly. The impression that I have is that Robert didn’t really see Renly as his baby brother, but as a distant relative – I imagine young Renly received similar confused, distant treatment from his idolised oldest brother that Joffrey received from his “father.” The occasional pat on the head, a present sent from King’s Landing (chosen and arranged by Varys – just like Edric Storm received yearly,) and when he was a man, a seat on the Small Council to ensure that all Baratheon brothers were represented in government, regardless of talent or competence.
Think of another family who lost a parent at around the same age that Robert was thrust into the role of Lord of Storm’s End – the Tullys. Catelyn Tully had to become the Lady of Riverrun when she was 12, after her mother died in the birthing bed. Not only did this mean that Cat had to run the household, manage the accounts, order the staff and functions of the keep, and arrange the storage of grain, food and clothing for all within Riverrun, but she had to be a surrogate mother to Lysa and Edmure. Cat and her siblings are distant now, but as children… they were close. They functioned as a family. The Baratheons didn’t.
Robert was clearly not interested in being a surrogate father to Stannis and Renly, and I think Stannis never wanted Robert to take on that role – he just wanted Robert to be his brother. Renly though… who knows? Little Renly was made Lord of Storm’s End as a small boy by his generous but careless big brother, while Stannis was sent off to cold and isolated Dragonstone to fume on what he perceived (perhaps rightly) as punishment for failing to capture the remaining Targaryens.
What could be different if Robert had tried to be a big brother to Stannis and Renly? What could have been different if Jon Arryn had forced his ward to take a more active role back home? Would Stannis be less angry with the world, and see things in less black and white terms? Would Renly be less eager to follow his ambition to civil war?
Would they actually talk to each other and work together, like the Tyrells do?!
We’ll never know!
Grumpy Cat personified: Stannis the Mannis
Now, for reasons that I can’t even explain to myself, I find Stannis (in the books and the show) to be quite sexy. A total dingbat arsehole who needs to learn how to let it go, but sexy nonetheless.
Which makes NO SENSE AT ALL because he’s the grumpiest dude in the Seven Kingdoms. If ever there was a man who could hold a grudge, it was Stannis Baratheon. He holds a grudge against Rhaegar for his parents’ deaths (it’s not like it was Rhaegar’s choice to send them off to Volantis to find a Valyrian bride for him!) and he holds a grudge against Robert for stripping him of Storm’s End and giving him Dragonstone. He holds a grudge against Renly for receiving Storm’s End (which wasn’t Renly’s choice.) He holds a grudge against Robb Stark for being crowned by the Northerners, he holds a grudge against Tywin Lannister for being a ruthless war criminal (Stannis has a fair point on that one….) and … well, you get the idea.
Perhaps it’s because Stephen Dillane is, unintentionally, so Stannis you can’t help but laugh. GOT was just a job for him, he doesn’t regret it but he doesn’t love it and he didn’t understand the enthusiasm fans have for it.
Asked what he got out of Game of Thrones, he replied: “Money.”
Asked if he got any professional or personal satisfaction from the series, he reportedly said: “Er, no.”
I dunno. (Personally, I would pay good money to see Stephen Dillane do a panel at a comic con with other actors who are far more into the ASOIAF fandom, like Gethin Anthony or Finn Jones. The contrast between them would be a riot.)
The closest we see Stannis to having fun is when he’s correcting people’s grammar. Which is possibly show only. But still awesome.
There’s no denying that Stannis can be funny – often in the sense of laughing at him rather than laughing with him… and for someone like Ser Davos Seaworth to be so devoted to Stannis, there must be something worthy inside that grumpy cat.
We are given this impression of Stannis an unwavering iron, who would break before he bends, isn’t interested in compromises. But… is that the truth?
No. BryndenBFish published a much longer piece on this topic the other day – go read that.
Stannis adapts, takes advice, reaches compromises. His demeanour might be cold and stern, but he is the best politician of all the three Baratheons – despite Renly’s perception that he, all fine clothes and parties, was much better at making people like him than stern Stannis.
Stannis might not be well liked in the Seven Kingdoms, but he is very much respected. Born 264 AC, Stannis was just 18 when he held Storm’s End through the siege of the Tyrell army during Robert’s Rebellion in 282-283 AC. Then at 25 when he led the Royal navy to the Iron Fleet’s only defeat at sea in history during the 289 Greyjoy Rebellion. Not to mention taking Dragonstone at 19 for his newly crowned brother.
My point is: Stannis’ military acumen is sufficient to gain the respect of the lords of Westeros, in the same way that Robert’s impressive skill on the battlefield won their hearts and minds. He led these battles by example – he starved with his people, he led the assault on Dragonstone, and his ship was in the midst of the Iron Fleet.
People might not rate his personality much, and there’s a justifiable level of “huh?!” about Stannis’ proposed policy to outlaw prostitution (really dude…. not a great idea. Decriminalise sex work, prosecute sex trafficking.)
But the nobles respect Stannis. In contrast, Renly is charming and popular, but he isn’t respected. Where Renly (and Loras) go wrong is in assuming that all of Westeros shares the views of the 17 year old Knight of the Flowers: Stannis doesn’t joust in tourneys and doesn’t show off his military skills, therefore he has none. This is not true. Stannis is old enough and smart enough (like Ned Stark) to reserve his martial skills for the actual battlefield, and leave the jousting to the little boys playing at being soldiers.
The division between Renly and Stannis is as much about their relative maturity as it is about their personality. I feel that Renly resents being raised by his withdrawn and sullen older brother, while the life of the party Robert was off partying and then becoming King. Then Stannis goes off to Dragonstone to
sulk be wroth, and Renly is left with castellans, septas and liege lords to raise him. Then in the meantime Stannis gets the shits at Renly as much as he hates Robert because Renly doesn’t reach out to him…
Boys. Sort your shit out. Have a hug. It’s therapeutic!
Best dressed but most stupid: Renly
Renly was unhorsed so violently that he seemed to fly backward off his charger, legs in the air. His head hit the ground with an audible crack that made the crowd gasp, but it was just the golden antler on his helm. One of the tines had snapped off beneath him. When Lord Renly climbed to his feet, the commons cheered wildly, for King Robert’s handsome young brother was a great favorite.
Yes. Renly was popular with the smallfolk and younger nobles in King’s Landing. The guy had style, charm, the good looks of the Baratheon house and all the easy manner that his older brother Stannis lacked.
But was he a good politician? Could he have been a good king?
The answer is undoubtably NO.
When Renly decided to crown himself with the backing of Highgarden, he revealed his vain ambition and his foolishness on two points:
- He wasn’t able to tell, or perhaps could tell and didn’t care, that he was being used to advance the cause of House Tyrell. Margaery was to be Queen. Loras to the Kingsguard. Mace to the Small Council and ultimately Hand of the King. No doubt Garlan and Willas would have Small Council positions too – perhaps replacing Stannis as Master of Ships and Littlefinger as Master of Coin? This was all the plan. To achieve all of this, House Tyrell needed a malleable Baratheon – one of copper, not iron or steel.
- He was willing to throw the most fundamental law of Westeros, royal succession passing from eldest male to eldest male, under the bus so he could be king right now. The real foolishness of this is that if Renly had joined with Stannis and outed the Lannister twincest, as I’m sure he was well aware of it, then he would have been his brother’s heir anyway.
Mace Tyrell wanted his grandson to be king one day, but Renly Baratheon wanted to be king right now. He wasn’t prepared to wait for Stannis’ reign to be over before he could have his turn. And this is why I suspect that Renly wasn’t quite as stupid as we might think – he knew that the Tyrells were using him, and he was OK with that as he planned to use their ambition too.
Maester Cressen mourned the boy that was, but underestimated the vanity of the man that boy had become.
It was just the sort of notion that would appeal to Renly Baratheon; a splendid new order of knighthood, with gorgeous new raiment to proclaim it. Even as a boy, Renly had loved bright colors and rich fabrics, and he had loved his games as well. “Look at me!” he would shout as he ran laughing through the halls of Storm’s End. “Look at me, I’m a dragon,” or “Look at me, I’m a wizard,” or “Look at me, look at me, I’m the rain god.”
The bold little boy with wild black hair and laughing eyes was a man grown now, one-and-twenty, and still he played his games. Look at me, I’m a king, Cressen thought sadly. Oh, Renly, Renly, dear sweet child, do you know what you are doing? And would you care if you did? Is there anyone who cares for him but me?
Renly knew exactly what he was doing. And that’s the problem.
He might have been the nicest king, and thrown the best parties, and had a jolly time… but he was not respected by the nobility. The Tyrells and Reacher lords flatter him only because they can see a pathway to power for themselves. But unlike Robert and Stannis, Renly had never seen active battle. As much as his knights were accurately described by Catelyn Stark as “knights of summer,” Renly was also a king for summer. He had ideas about war, but had never been to one, and I don’t know that he would have had the stomach to go through with the real cost of war. For instance: would Renly have let his beloved Loras take the front line, which Loras was determined to do in order to win glory for himself, if there was a real risk of Loras being injured or dying? I don’t think so. Renly was willing to throw nameless, faceless knights to their death to advance his cause, but I don’t think he had the stomach to lead from the front or send his friends and lover into danger. Unlike Stannis or Robert, Renly only knew about battles from songs and tales. Much like Sansa, Renly’s ideas of being king are all a little detached from reality.
Renly wasn’t realpolitiking his way to power. He was following a fairytale, one spun by Loras at the instigation of Olenna and Mace Tyrell. He was aware that he was being used, and was using the Tyrell armies in return, but he didn’t really understand why the realm didn’t automatically bend the knee to him.
Some laws are too important to break. Of all the claimants in the War of the Five Kings, Stannis is the only one that talks about ruling as a duty, and being beholden to the laws of the land as king. Joffrey, Renly, Balon Greyjoy and even Robb Stark to an extent think that they can rewrite the map of Westeros and rule book to suit themselves. But Stannis gets it: Aerys II was overthrown not because of some romantic notion of rescuing Lyanna. Aerys was overthrown because he broke the feudal social contract. Renly’s pitch to be king broke it as well, which is why he was never the rightful king.
“He is a child still,” Stannis declared, his anger ringing loud in the empty hall, “a thieving child who thinks to snatch the crown off my brow. What has Renly ever done to earn a throne? He sits in council and jests with Littlefinger, and at tourneys he dons his splendid suit of armor and allows himself to be knocked off his horse by a better man. That is the sum of my brother Renly, who thinks he ought to be a king. I ask you, why did the gods inflict me with brothers?”
Being queer in Westeros
GOT was justifiably criticised by the queer community for taking a non-stereotypical gay couple and making them a caricature. I think it is a case of unintentional homophobia – D&D thought they were doing so good and being so woke in having such a focus on Renly and Loras’ relationship, and Loras’ sexuality in later seasons but…. all they did was pander to a homophobic stereotype of how gay men behave which was nothing at all like the characters on the page. Instead of the devoted knight of the books, Loras post-Renly’s death becomes this guy who talks about drapes and clothing, screws his way through the stableboys and boy whores of King’s Landing, and is wholly and solely defined by his sexuality. That’s the problem that many ASOIAF fans have with Loras on screen: not that he’s gay, but that he isn’t anything more than The Gay Character. Loras in the books is the finest knight in the Seven Kingdoms – he’s the best warrior since Jaime Lannister. He begs the chance to defend the smallfolk of the Riverlands from the Mountain. He teaches Tommen to ride and joust. He is treated as the leader of the royal armies in recognition of his martial skills. Where is that guy on screen?
And then the show added in the Faith’s crusade against homosexuality which was a choice.
While gay men aren’t out in Westeros, there’s also nothing in the books to indicate that it was the source of shame that it was for real world medieval history (which is a case of GRRM getting it right and choosing NOT to go down a typical path – something he could have done with the gratuitous misogyny and sexualised violence against women in Westeros, but he didn’t…)
It’s really clear from TWOIAF that as far as Westeros is concerned, it’s not really a big thing if a man sleeps with another man (lesbians don’t seem to exist, at least not within the records of Westerosi history which is all about men and their deeds…. hmph.) There’s multiple references to men who are out: John the Fiddler (aka Daemon II Blackfyre) spends most of The Mystery Knight trying to get in Dunk’s pants, Laenor Velaryon was well known to spend time with his knight friend and not his wife Rhaenyra Targaryen, Daeron Targaryen (son of Aegon V) wiggled out of his betrothal to Olenna Redwyne on the basis that he would never be able to consummate the marriage. Plus there’s the modern sexually diverse characters: Oberyn Martell is openly bisexual, fans speculate that the Blackfish, Brynden Tully, may be asexual or gay to explain why he never married, and of course there’s Renly and Loras, the least closeted couple of all time.
In fact, the only indication we have on paper of the views of Westerosi society towards homosexual men are the comments of the then Grandmaester when the Small Council discussed the suitability of Laenor Velaryon as a husband for Rhaenyra Targaryen, given his known sexuality:
I do not like fish, yet if fish is served I will eat it.
Hilarious, but to the point: so long as a man can spend enough time with his wife to beget an heir and a spare, no one will worry too much about the fact that he spends the other 90% of his nights with his male lover. We see this brought on screen in season 2, when Margaery offers to Renly that they bring in Loras to “get you started” – she was determined that she would bear a Baratheon heir, but knew full well that her husband wasn’t interested in this rose, but the other.
So while the Faith is unlikely to be ragingly approving of homosexual relations, there’s no indication that the Faith Militant are going to engage in a Queer Inquisition in the books as we were shown in the screen.
TLDR? Show Loras was robbed, and could have been a much more interesting character like he is in the books. Same for Renly.
Renly and Loras: true love for the ages… or something more sinister?
You know when you have these realisations and you wish you could go back to blissful ignorance?
yeah. That’s been me lately. I should not have started thinking about too deeply about Renly and Loras’ relationship. Specifically…. when did it start?
We’re repeatedly told that Renly is in looks and personality a younger Robert – except gay. So if the Tyrells know (because let’s face it, the whole kingdom does) that 15 year old Robert (and 34 year old Robert, still) was a huge skirt-chaser…. then it might be a safe bet that 15 year old Renly is a breeches-chaser. A safe enough bet to gamble sending your extremely beautiful, gay 10 year old son to Storm’s End to squire, even though you could have just as easily sent him to squire with any of your loyal liege lords in the Reach, just to see what happens.
Is this a plan of Mace Tyrell, or his mother, Olenna, Queen of Thorns? Either way – UGH. You are horrid people.
So who was manipulating who here? I swing between Renly grooming Loras to be his fuckboi, and Loras being pimped out and Renly manipulated by Mace and Olenna.
There’s something definitely not quite right about their relationship, even though it seems initially to be wonderful and beautiful.
A strong, loving, committed relationship between a 17 year old Loras and a 22 year old Renly isn’t that problematic. It’s quite sweet, and consistent for 17 turning 18 year old Loras holding on to his first real love as “when the sun sets, no candle can replace it” as he joins the Kingsguard.
But… they’ve been lovers for years, right? So when did they start? When Loras was 10 and Renly 15? 11 and 16? 12 and 17? 13 and 18? 14 and 19? etc.
At which point is it not alarming how much younger Loras is…. and who is really manipulating whom? Remember, the age of majority in Westeros is 16. Below that, you’re still a child. So Loras was a child within the eyes of Westeros (as well as our modern eyes) for most of his relationship with Renly, whether they were friends as well as squire/lord, or lovers. That’s alarming. Renly is barely more than a boy himself, but he is old enough to know better. Like his oldest brother, Renly isn’t necessarily thinking with his upstairs head…
The show has Olenna’s line about “no stableboy in the Seven Kingdoms being safe from Renly Baratheon” and while there’s no explicit indications in the text that Book!Renly was aggressively pursuing every pretty young boy in the Stormlands when he was 15 (in the same way that Robert aggressively pursued every pretty young girl in the Vale when he was 15!) it hit me the other day: what if Mace sent Loras to squire for Renly in the hope that his pretty young son would catch the eye of the king’s much younger brother?
I just can’t shake that feeling – although I admit it is only a feeling, with no textual evidence to back up the increasing tinfoil I have that the Tyrells intended to use Loras’ attractiveness and sexuality to further a social climbing agenda via Renly Baratheon.
It certainly explains how the Tyrells ended up benefiting so much from Renly’s epic case of the stupids later on…
Steel, Iron and Copper…
So was Donal Noye right? A man who hadn’t seen the Baratheon brothers since the siege of Storm’s End was lifted in 283 AC?
Donal spoke to Jon Snow of the men and boys that he knew back in the day, and what he had heard of them since through the grapevine: Robert the great warrior and jolly king, Stannis the stern and disliked, and Renly the happy partyboy.
But it is Stannis that is the true steel in the Baratheons. He could do with a personality overhaul but he represents the best of House Baratheon: the one who could and should be king.
Robert disgraced himself by never growing out of his frat boy antics. Boozing and whoring is “cute” when you’re a man of 18-20 (apparently…) but it’s far less appealing in a king in his mid 30s. Even less appealing is the constant morose whinging about how “Rhaegar stole Lyanna from me” – repeating it doesn’t make it true. Robert was never able to accept that he couldn’t get everything he wanted just because he wanted it. In this respect, Renly is just like his oldest brother – I want to be king, so I should be.
Stannis is different. He doesn’t want the Throne (or so he says…) but he will fight for it out of duty. When faced with defeat at the Blackwater, Stannis heads North to fight with the Night’s Watch against the oldest enemy that the rest of the realm has forgotten. Stannis is the Mannis… but his own personality failings are such that he is not likely to sit upon the Iron Throne either.
The best blend of the Baratheons would be the gregariousness of Robert, the tactical planning of Stannis and the charm of Renly. Such a man does not exist as far as we know – Gendry might have the looks, but he doesn’t even know he’s a stag, and Edric Storm is a loose plot end unlikely to be explored in depth.
The Baratheon house has fallen, and it’s really all the fault of these Brothers Baratheon who weren’t able to overcome formative trauma and be a family.