So I watched Game of Thrones last night, and it was generally an entertaining episode. I liked what happened in Meereen, especially the dramatic return of Drogon and the incineration of a whole bunch of Sons of the Harpy.
However, there was one major aspect of the story I didn't like, and given its magnitude, it really put a dent in my enjoyment of the episode and the series generally.
Stannis letting Melisandre sacrifice his daughter Shireen. To be perfectly blunt, that's incredibly out of character and straight-up character assassination.
Here's a handy graphic showing what happened in the books, courtesy of @lenlovecraft on Twitter:
The creators have generally done a good job consolidating and simplifying a huge, complex book series into something that would work for television. I understand that even with a season per book, there's still a lot of material that would need to get left out.
However, there's a difference between that and giving a character a personality transplant. Stannis's overriding cause is the rule of law and dynastic legitimacy. His older brother Robert's "trueborn" children aren't really his and his actual children are all bastards, so that means Stannis is the legal king. Renly challenges Stannis for the kingship and refuses to back down, so Stannis kills him. He continues the war even after the defeat of his army on the Blackwater, even after one of his in-laws comes up with a peace proposal (marry Shireen to Tommen) behind his back, because of rule of law. He abandons his seat of power to defend the Wall because defending the kingdom against an external threat (the 100,000 wildings and the White Walkers driving them on) is another means of gaining legitimacy--instead of getting the throne to save the kingdom, he saves the kingdom to get the throne.
And should anything happen, Shireen is Stannis's heir. In the pre-released Theon Greyjoy chapter of The Winds of Winter, Stannis explicitly tells his henchman Justin Massey to continue the fight to seat Shireen on the Iron Throne even if Stannis himself is killed in the coming battle with the Boltons.
“It may be that we shall lose this battle,” the king said grimly. “In Braavos you may hear that I am dead. It may even be true. You shall find my sellswords nonetheless.”
The knight hesitated. “Your Grace, if you are dead — ”
“ — you will avenge my death, and seat my daughter on the Iron Throne. Or die in the attempt.”
Does this seem like something a man who would kill his only daughter, his only heir, would say? Given his wife's fertility problems (all those miscarriages in jars), if anything should happen to Shireen, House Baratheon is dead.
People are claiming that Stannis in the books and Stannis in the show are not the same character, and that people who complain are "Book Puritans." However, are there any characters besides Stannis that get personality transplants like this? Every other character is generally the same as they are in the books, but Stannis, instead of being an atheist obsessed with the rule of law and justice (because in the absence of gods, justice must come from men), is now a crazed religious fanatic.
In the discussion on the alternate-history forum of the episode, someone posted a video in which the showrunners claim Renly would have made a great king (instead of a selfish narcissist who'd set a VERY dangerous precedent--do we want a civil war every time the king dies?). See 3:30 and 4:30, especially the latter. If they hate Stannis for killing Renly and have been character-assassinating him from the very beginning (I haven't watched much of the show pre-Season 4, but I remember complaints that he was too in the thrall of Melisandre), well, they're incredibly, incredibly petty. We're talking "Paul Verhoeven butchering Starship Troopers because he read one chapter in the book and didn't like it" levels of pettiness here.
However, some points in the showrunners' favor:
*I heard on Twitter that George R.R. Martin himself actually said to do this. It's confirmed in this video here. Martin is the creator of the book series and thus the ultimate authority on what's canon and what's not. However, Martin said it happens in a later book. If that's the case, what I think will happen is that Stannis's men who remained at the Wall get the letter claiming Stannis is dead and Ramsay is coming and decide to sacrifice Shireen unilaterally to call down some Red God juju lest they all get flayed alive. Another theory I've heard is that Melisandre burns Shireen to resurrect Jon Snow as the real Azor Azhai. Either way, Stannis does not do this and that's the important part.
*If Shireen must die, there's still a way to do it that's not so grossly out of character for Stannis. We've seen Melisandre work magic from the blood of Robert's bastard Gendry, who has the "king's blood" she needs. This she accomplishes by drawing blood with leeches. There might not be leeches in the North, but they could always do good old-fashioned bleeding. Shireen is eager to do this to help her father (per her pre-burning speech) and Melisandre praises her for her zeal. The first bleeding causes some kind of minor miracle, so Melisandre does it again and again. Shireen starts to weaken and sicken, but she's eager to help and it is working. Eventually Stannis puts his foot down, but Shireen is now really anemic and between that and the harsh conditions, dies.
That sequence would have all the tragedy of what happened without Stannis being so murderous and out-of-character.
Furthermore, this only happened because Ramsay's "twenty good men" plan actually worked, which is incredibly unlikely. Given Ramsay and his Northerners' knowledge of the terrain and Ramsay's sheer audacity I could imagine them doing something besides getting killed trying to kill Stannis (which I thought would happen), but they were way, way too successful. They get in and out of the camp (where they've never been before) without losing a man, they destroy the siege engines and the food specifically, etc. Ramsay is capable, but this is getting into Villain Sue territory.
So yeah. Poor story decisions (Ramsay the Ubermensch) breeding more poor story decisions (Stannis murdering his own daughter).
Still, it's mostly been a great show so far and I'm definitely going to watch the season finale.
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