We saw a couple of deaths last night on Game of Thrones. Both characters are still perfectly healthy as of the end of A Dance With Dragons. One of the deaths we saw last night was no one’s fault, except of course for the guy who threw the spear. (Or was it a dagger? I intend to watch the episode again.)
The other death was deliberate, planned and organized, and possibly pointless.
In the first season, Maester Aemon told Jon Snow about why the Night’s Watch men can’t have families. “Love is the death of duty,” he said. Given a conflict between their responsibilities in guarding the realm, and their responsibilities in caring for their wives and children, most men tend to choose the latter.
Earlier this season, we saw Stannis tell his daughter all about how he moved heaven and earth to save her life when she was a baby infected with greyscale. It was a very sweet moment, and I understand how a lot of fans could get all emotionally invested in Stannis and his family all of a sudden. I didn’t join them in waving the banners for Team Stannis, but I did expect better of him. I spent all this time thinking he’d fight for his child when she needed him, or that he would at least struggle more with the decision to set her on fire.
To his credit, he does have the courage not to look away when his only child is burning.
I wonder if he actually expects to wait for Davos to return from Castle Black with more troops before they storm the gates of Winterfell, or if he fully intends to plow ahead with or without Davos and his reinforcements. He didn’t want to ask Davos to stand quietly aside while they burned Shireen. He had no trouble expecting Selyse to watch their daughter burn to death, and it turns out that Selyse actually wanted to keep her ugly little girl alive. Either way, I wonder what Stannis thinks will happen between him and Davos when he has to tell his faithful Hand that he let the Red Woman burn the princess.
Now we’ve seen what that wretched bastard Ramsay fucking Bolton had in mind when he said he’d show Stannis what kind of fight it would be: he and his merry band of 20 good men snuck in at night, set a bunch of tents on fire, and ran away. Great way to show the Rightful King how fierce and formidable those Northerners are. Seriously, though, having most of your food go up in flames is a bad situation for an army planning an invasion, so I can see how King Stannis would decide desperate measures were in order.
In his case, duty is the death of love. Given a conflict between his desire to take the throne, and his drive to protect his family, the throne wins.
According to Benioff and Weiss in the after-episode commentary, they learned about Shireen’s death from GRRMartin, so we’re fairly sure the princess does eventually die in the books. And they tell us that a big question concerning this turn of events is: “What if you’re wrong?” We should be wondering whether Stannis and Melisandre will even accomplish anything by killing that sweet little girl with fire. Won’t it be tragic if King Stannis ends up with nothing to show for having sacrificed his only child, except a pile of ashes?
I think it’s also notable that Shireen was the family’s only child. Stannis is the only one of his three brothers to have even one child with his wife. Robert Baratheon sired bastards all over the Seven Kingdoms, but Cersei chose to turn the realm inside out rather than have a baby that looked like him. Renly was married to a perfectly healthy (and presumably fertile) young lady for a couple of weeks before he died, but he was in no hurry to get her pregnant, so he died without issue. Stannis was the only Baratheon who had a legitimate heir to his claim. He and Melisandre just threw away his only heir. Which means that, if he succeeds in getting the throne (I doubt he’ll live that long, but I’m thinking of what his plans are), he will probably need to find himself another wife to give him more babies. If Selyse were able to have more living children after Shireen, she would have had them by now. Selyse may be fearing for her own life now that her daughter’s been sacrificed.
This is why I couldn’t get emotionally invested in Stannis. He told us he cared about his only child, and then he let the Red Woman convince him there was no way forward except by setting fire to the princess. I admire him for standing there and watching while his daughter died in agony, but I’m not impressed with the choice he made.
By the end of the episode, I couldn’t help but think, compared to Stannis: Cersei wouldn’t do this. Her children are in danger because of her stupidity (I mean, for one, they’re in danger because they never should have been conceived in the first place), but she would never willingly and knowingly sacrifice her children for the sake of power.