Now as you may know, recently season 5 of the Game of Thrones television adaptation came to its end. And oh what an end it was, with the final two episodes seemingly existing for the sole purpose of ruining everything that four seasons of goodness built up. Season five, I fear, will go down as the season in which the show both diverted into almost complete fan fiction and finally broke free from the chains of the great writing and seminal character of its source material to revel in rushed plotlines and shitty character decisions.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the absolute tidal wave of excrement that the show buried Stannis Baratheon in. Recently, I watched a super cut made up of every Stannis scene from season 5, and oh boy is that an eye opening exercise. I thought what they did to him was unforgivable just watching the show in order, but watching just the Stannis scenes is just like indulging in pure authorial schizophrenia. Allow me to share this journey with you as I lay out the journey of King Stannis in season 5, scene by scene. By the end, you will come to see if you haven't already, that not only is the writing of Stannis in this season an insult to the amazing character of the books, its an insult to common sense and logical character progression.
SEASON FIVE BEGINS.
- Stannis is at the wall. Stannis offers Mance Rayder a pardon if he will bend the knee. Mance Rayder refuses, and he is burnt alive until the intervention of Jon Snow, who gives Mance a quick death out of respect.
- Stannis lays out his plan to conquer the North to Jon Snow and offers Jon legitimization as Jon Stark, lord of Winterfell. Nothing egregious so far.
- Selyse apologises to Stannis for not giving a boy and only a disfigured girl. It is clear in her interactions with Shireen that Selyse gives all of zero fucks about her daughter. This fact has been more than established in earlier seasons too. (Keep this in mind, it will be important later)
- Jon Snow is elected Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. We get zero reaction scenes from Stannis.
- Stannis looks on approvingly as Jon Snow executes Janos Slynt for refusing an order. Apparently, he has quickly gotten over Jon Snow refusing his offer and openly defying him by executing Mance Rayder.
- Stannis and his daughter Shireen share a moment of heartfelt bonding in possibly the best scene of the season. Stannis relates how he stopped at nothing to save his daughter from grayscale and called in every maester on his side of the world to save her life, because she is his daughter and the princess Shireen of House Baratheon. Awww. Awesome character development and acting all around. Don't worry, they will go out of their way to shit all over this scene later. Keep in mind also that Shireen got the idea to come see her Dad from the fact that her mother gives zero shits and is ashamed of her.
- Stannis has a scene with Samwell Tarly. He asks him about his encounter with the White Walkers and remarks that he has much dragonglass at Dragonstone. He tells Sam to keep studying, because he is serious about defending the realm from the White Walkers. Seeing how the end of season 5 goes for Stannis, your guess is as good as mine what the fucking point of this scene was.
*NB: This is about the point that everything goes to hell.*
- Stannis marches from Castle Black to Winterfell, insisting on taking his family with him. Funny, in the books he leaves them behind. Don't worry, I'm sure they won't ruin this story at all and it's just a small change.
- Snow sets in and Stannis starts losing horses and men. Melisandre comes to Stannis and suggests HEY! LET'S BURN YOUR DAUGHTER! In an actual moment of sound writing, respect for the character and logic, Stannis pretty much tells Melisandre to go to hell.
- Oh, but wait! It's the very next scene Stannis is involved in! Ramsay Bolton and his 20 stealth ninjas of plot convenience have snuck into camp completely undetected and burnt the food stores! In the span of ONE FUCKING SCENE Stannis reverses completely and now thinks burning his own daughter is a fantastic idea. If I listed all the reasons why this is ridiculous and completely against character it'd be a 10,000 word essay. Even ignoring the books entirely and just treating the show on its own merits it makes no sense. The brilliant Stannis/Shireen scene is immediately rendered moot and useless. The PREVIOUS SCENE involving Stannis refusing to burn Shireen is rendered moot and useless. Putting aside the ridiculousness of Ramsay and his 20 stealth ninjas, what happened here is just an extension of the losses Stannis had already suffered, to which Stannis said "no fucking way I'm burning Shireen" to. The show expects us to stomach the fact that Stannis must have some sort of 'lost horse quota' in his head. Once it gets over a certain arbitrary figure, his stance magically shifts from "no how, no way" to "I'd like one grilled heir please".
- Stannis sends away Davos and burns Shireen alive as a sacrifice to R'hllor. Oh lordy lord. Stannis has apparently endured many gigantic changes of character in a few scenes. These amazing changes include losing all semblance of intelligence and command foresight (Gee, maybe my men won't like me burning Shireen and might desert) and an amazing vanishing regard for his legacy and love for his daughter, both of which were ESTABLISHED BY THE WRITERS CLEARLY A FEW FUCKING SCENES AGO.
- Oh, and wait. Selyse is so grief stricken over her daughter being burnt alive. The daughter she has previously given no fucks about. Zero fucks. Established character development. Now she cares. And Stannis, who has been previously established to be the GOOD parent, gives no fucks and watches her burn. Because reasons. These reasons likely include such bullshit as 'we're having Brienne kill him and don't want the audience to sympathise' and 'we don't like Stannis so fuck that shiz we're axing the fucker and want you to accept that'.
- Half the men desert. Selyse kills herself over the daughter she gave no fucks about. Melisandre runs away. Stannis marches to Winterfell anyway. Sense. Storytelling.
- The remainder of Stannis' forces is assaulted by a horde of Bolton cavalry. A few questions here. Where the fuck is Bolton storing all those horses in Winterfell? A few seasons ago it showed Winterfell ain't that big and Theon conquered it with about 50 men. I guess he's storing them in the same places he's training Ramsay and his 20 men in the secret arts of being plot armored ninjas. More importantly, why is Stannis, the greatest military commander in Westeros, not organising his men? Line of pikemen anyone? Anti-cavalry formation? OF COURSE NOT. We're just going to have him look like a putz as he does a suicide mission and half his men run away into the woods.
- Nope. You don't get to see the battle. You just get to see Stannis army annihilated and the complete triumph of the plot armored Boltons. Oh, speaking of plot armor, HERE'S BRIENNE OF TARD! You can literally hear Benioff and Weiss fapping furiously as Brienne miraculously finds Stannis in the middle of nowhere with no Bolton soldiers noticing her and then strokes off her duty boner by apparently executing Stannis. FOR RENLY! The usurping fuckwit with no legit claims to the throne! In the span of ten minutes into the season finale, the legitimate heir to the throne and central character so well written in the books is wiped from the series with a sad whimper, accomplishing nothing and having his entire series arc come to a ridiculous end.
- Yes. In the span of five episodes and about 8 actual scenes, Stannis transforms from proud king, grizzled war commander, tactician and loving father to OMG TOTAL FANATIC BURN SHIREEN DISREGARD TACTICS ACCEPT DEATH OH MAH RENLY GOOD GOLLY GAWRSH.
As you can see, I largely left out the books from my appraisal here, just because I want to make it clear that this story arc is terrible on its own terms, even setting the books aside. If you add in the books, all of this just becomes even more baffling and horrible. Stannis in the books would look upon this sad imitation with disdain and scorn, and I recommend everyone go and read them immediately just to get a taste of the true, multilayered, deep and fantastic character that George RR Martin has created and that Benioff and Weiss have all but shat on. Perhaps the saddest thing is, Stephen Dillane gave this writing more than it deserved with a truly fantastic performance, so good at points that it even makes you question if the writing is indeed so terrible (but believe me, it really is).