Pure Iron or True Steel
Stannis Baratheon is a controversial character to both fans of the series and characters within the series themselves. While never having his own POV we do gain many different perspectives and opinions on Stannis from various POV and non POV characters within the series. This essay will incorporate many of these opinions and perspectives in order to build up a more complete picture of the man.
Artwork by John Picacio
I believe that the perspective of Ned Stark is a necessary include as he could provide one of the more neutral opinions on Stannis Baratheon as he was neither a friend nor an enemy to the Lord of Dragonstone.
“Ned found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis Baratheon, who had once held Storm’s End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting in sight of his walls.”
Here we are shown that Ned finds it difficult to think of things that a man such as Stannis could possibly be afraid of given all that Stannis went through in the rebellion. This passage also highlights Stannis’ hard and unyielding nature as Ned reflects that Stannis survived a year under siege, subsisting on leather and rats, while the Redwynes and Tyrells feasted in front of the walls of Storm’s End day after day. It speaks to Stannis’ nature if he was able to suffer through that kind of siege and still refused to surrender or break.
The fact that Ned even went so far as to follow his honour and attempt to place Stannis on the throne instead of the more popular Renly or the expected Joffrey says something as well. However, it speaks more to Ned’s honour than it does to his belief that Stannis would make for the better king.
As a veteran of both the battlefield and the politics, Tywin Lannister shows a very neutral opinion of Stannis at certain points in the series. For a man he considers his enemy, he almost compliments Stannis.
His father frowned. “I have felt from the beginning that Stannis was a greater danger than all the others combined. Yet he does nothing. Oh, Varys hears his whispers. Stannis is building ships, Stannis is hiring sellswords, Stannis is bringing a shadowbinder from Asshai. What does it mean? Is any of it true?”
The fact that Tywin considered Stannis the greatest threat over Robb, Renly, and Balon really does speak volumes about Stannis. Robb had won the victories, Renly had the largest army, Balon had gone unbloodied, and Stannis had the least men and was not as popular as his brother or Robb Stark yet still Tywin considered him the greater threat than all the others combined. Despite the lack of men and popular support, the fact that Tywin was wary of Stannis seems to be an acknowledgement of Stannis military discipline and unyielding commitment to his cause and duty.
“This is Stannis Baratheon. The man will fight to the bitter end and then some.”
Tywin’s opinion of Stannis is further continued here in his assessment that Stannis would rather fight to the bitter bloody end than surrender further adding to the common belief in Stannis’ unyielding personality.
For a man he is currently waging war against, Tywin shows a remarkable level of respect for Stannis’ abilities as a leader when others in court would usually scorn the Lord of Dragonstone for his behaviour. In fact, I’d go so far to argue that Tywin showed a lot more respect for Stannis’ abilities than Robert ever did.
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games/Anders Finer
While technically a prisoner of Stannis after her defeat at Deepwood Motte, Asha provides a key insight into Stannis as he continues his campaign in the North.
“Whatever doubts his lords might nurse, the common men seemed to have faith in their king. Stannis had smashed Mance Rayder’s wildlings at the Wall and cleaned Asha and her ironborn out of Deepwood Motte; he was Robert’s brother, victor in a famous sea battle off Fair Isle, the man who had held Storm’s End all through Robert’s Rebellion. And he bore a hero’s sword, the enchanted blade Lightbringer, whose glow lit up the night.”
In this passage, Asha highlights the belief that Stannis’ men at arms appear to have in Stannis despite their lords’ misgivings. Despite their being enemies and her a prisoner, Asha still positively describes Stannis’ various victories over the course of his military career. It appears that even Asha gleams why, in spite of various setbacks, Stannis’ men continue to follow him when surrender would be much easier.
“His eyes were sunk in deep pits, his close-cropped beard no more than a shadow across his hollow cheeks and bony jawbone. Yet there was power in his stare, an iron ferocity that told Asha this man would never, ever turn back from his course.”
Here we see that iron is again used to assess Stannis’ strength of character and his commitment to his cause.
It seems clear to me that Asha has a great deal of respect for Stannis’ military skills and accomplishments. Even in spite of her now being his prisoner she does not succumb to negativity or accusations but instead positively assesses Stannis and his men, albeit silently.
While Melisandre remains one of Stannis’ most fervent followers and top advisors, I believe that it was important to include her opinions on Stannis all the same. However, there is the distinct possibility of bias in her opinions.
“In truth, the young lord commander and her king had more in common than either one would ever be willing to admit. Stannis had been a younger son living in the shadow of his elder brother, just as Jon Snow, bastard-born, had always been eclipsed by his trueborn sibling, the fallen hero men had called the Young Wolf. Both men were unbelievers by nature, mistrustful, suspicious. The only gods they truly worshipped were honor and duty.”
From this passage it is clear that Melisandre and Maester Cressen had similar opinions regarding Stannis being overshadowed by his older brother, Robert. She goes on to acknowledge that Stannis is an unbeliever and suspicious. She also recognises that Stannis’ true allegiance lies with his duty.
It is important to acknowledge that despite her current commitment to Stannis and her advisory/lover role in his court, Melisandre seems to make an extremely accurate assessment of Stannis’ character despite it going against her beliefs.
Varys and Littlefinger
I thought it would be prudent to include the opinions of these two characters given their aptitude for discerning the nature of people. Additionally, given their presence on the Small Council, Varys and Littlefinger would have had a unique insight into Stannis’ behaviour and personality during the years they served with him.
“The man [Stannis] is iron, hard and unyielding.”
“They are quite a pair, Stannis and Renly. The iron gauntlet and the silk glove.”
It seems that both Varys and Littlefinger essentially come to the same conclusion that many others have when it comes to Stannis. They see a man of iron, hard and unyielding.
“There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.”
“Stannis is less forgiving. He will not have forgotten the siege of Storm’s End, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dare not. Every man who fought beneath the dragon banner or rose with Balon Greyjoy will have good cause to fear. Seat Stannis on the Iron Throne, and, I promise you, the realm will bleed.”
Varys goes one step further with his opinion on Stannis, describing him as a truly just man and highlighting why that is something to be feared by people.
Although, given their duplicitous natures, both Varys and Littlefinger have reasons which could colour their opinion on Stannis. Varys, given his distaste for magic and his long term goals, does not want Stannis anywhere near the Iron Throne and could be using his words to inspire Tyrion to mount the very best defence of King’s Landing possible. His use of the words “gauntlet” and “terrifying” are likely intended to create a specific image of Stannis as a man of war and someone to be feared. Whereas “silk” could imply a smoother transition and more comfortable rule under Renly. Similarly, Littlefinger does not want Stannis to sit the Iron Throne as he would pose a tremendous threat to his long term plans, corruption, and power base. Littlefinger even asks Ned to forgo informing Stannis in favour of Renly and Joffrey, and even uses the threat of war to try and convince Ned to abandon his course of action.
However, it is a very real possibility that both men are giving their true opinion on Stannis to others not because he is a likely threat to their plans but because that is actually how they see Stannis.
Artwork by Tei Iku
I believe that including Jon’s opinion on Stannis is necessary as he is one of the few POVs that are new to interacting with Stannis, could provide the least bias, and give new insight into his character since he came North to defeat the wildlings. However, as Stannis is responsible for saving the Wall and the Night’s Watch from complete destruction, there is the real possibility that Jon’s opinions on Stannis may be biased.
Stannis turned to study him. Beneath his heavy brow were eyes like bottomless blue pools. His hollow cheeks and strong jaw were covered with a short-cropped blue-black beard that did little to conceal the gauntness of his face, and his teeth were clenched. His neck and shoulders were clenched as well, and his right hand. Jon found himself remembering something Donal Noye once said about the Baratheon brothers. Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. Uneasily, he knelt, wondering why this brittle king had need of him.
It’s clear from this that Jon’s opinion on Stannis has been especially influenced by Donal Noye’s assessment on the Baratheon brothers despite having never really interacted with Stannis on a personal basis before. However, it is notable that Jon first notices Stannis’ clenched physical appearence before reflecting on the Donal Noye quote.
“Your brother was the rightful Lord of Winterfell. If he had stayed home and done his duty, instead of crowning himself and riding off to conquer the riverlands, he might be alive today. Be that as it may. You are not Robb, no more than I am Robert.”
The harsh words had blown away whatever sympathy Jon might have had for Stannis. “I loved my brother,” he said.
It seems clear from this passage why Stannis’ abrasive and brutally honest nature wins him few friends. Even Jon loses sympathy for Stannis for the way he callously assesses Robb’s death.
Stannis gave a curt nod. “Your father was a man of honor. He was no friend to me, but I saw his worth. Your brother was a rebel and a traitor who meant to steal half my kingdom, but no man can question his courage. What of you?”
I do find it quite funny how he compliments Robb beforehand though.
“It was justice,” Stannis said. “A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act, the good. Each should have its own reward. You were a hero and a smuggler.”
While he says this to Davos I thought it was quite prudent to put it here as it gives a clear indication as to how Stannis assess people. He says that Robb was a traitor and rebel who essentially got himself killed but he also points out that Robb had undeniable courage.
“How can I lose men I do not have? I had hoped to bestow Winterfell on a northman, you may recall. A son of Eddard Stark. He threw my offer in my face.” Stannis Baratheon with a grievance was like a mastiff with a bone; he gnawed it down to splinters.
Even here Jon has come to the common assessment that Stannis tends to nurse grievances.
“They tell me that you are the nine-hundred-ninety-eighth man to command the Night’s Watch, Lord Snow. What do you think the nine-hundred-ninety-ninth might say about these castles? The sight of your head on a spike might inspire him to be more helpful.” The king laid his bright blade down on the map, along the Wall, its steel shimmering like sunlight on water. “You are only lord commander by my sufferance. You would do well to remember that.”
And who would know one better than Slynt? “A turncloak would tell you what you wished to hear and betray you later. Your Grace knows that I was fairly chosen. My father always said you were a just man.” Just but harsh had been Lord Eddard’s exact words, but Jon did not think it would be wise to share that.
I do find it quite interesting that despite Stannis’ threats to behead him due to their idealogical differences over giving the Night’s Watch castles to Stannis’ men, Jon still continues to advise Stannis and be honest with him. To me that seems to say that both men are equally stubborn yet hold a begrudging respect for one another.
“His Grace is growing fond of you.”
“I can tell. He only threatened to behead me twice.”*
“Melisandre laughed. “It is his silences you should fear, not his words.”
My assessment of the relationship between Jon and Stannis seems to be confirmed by Melisandre who seems to believe that Stannis has begrudging respect for Jon.
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games/Lukasz Jaskolski
No, thought Jon. You closed that door. Longclaw descended. “Can I have his boots?” asked Owen the Oaf, as Janos Slynt’s head went rolling across the muddy ground. “They’re almost new, those boots. Lined with fur.”
Jon glanced back at Stannis. For an instant their eyes met. Then the king nodded and went back inside his tower.
While this encounter is one of the more popular passages in the series for obvious reasons (“Edd, fetch me a block.”) it also tells us something of how Jon and Stannis now see one another. It seems to me that Stannis has come to accept and respect Jon’s command. Granted, there is a chance that I’m reading a little too much into a single nod. To me, the nod is a silent measure of approval of Jon’s orders and a respect for his swift carrying out of Janos Slynt’s sentence.
“Once the free folk are settled in the Gift, they will become part of the realm,” Jon pointed out. “These are desperate days, and like to grow more desperate. We have seen the face of our real foe, a dead white face with bright blue eyes. The free folk have seen that face as well. Stannis is not wrong in this. We must make common cause with the wildlings.”
“A rebel and a turncloak, aye, and a bastard and a warg as well. Janos Slynt might be gone, but his lies lingered. “I know what they say.” Jon had heard the whispers, had seen men turn away when he crossed the yard. “What would they have me do, take up swords against Stannis and the wildlings both? His Grace has thrice the fighting men we do, and is our guest besides. The laws of hospitality protect him. And we owe him and his a debt.”
From the way Jon speaks of Stannis to Bowen Marsh it is noticeable how much of his opinion of the king has changed. Jon goes so far as to display to Marsh that the Watch should be grateful to Stannis for saving them and Jon also defends Stannis for allowing the wildlings through the Wall, and for attempting to create alliances with them despite their previous attempts to invade the North.
“Be quiet,” Stannis snapped. “Lord Snow, attend me. I have lingered here in the hopes that the wildlings would be fool enough to mount another attack upon the Wall. As they will not oblige me, it is time I dealt with my other foes.”
Stannis raised a hand for silence. “Explain your meaning.”
“Your father’s bannermen seem to have no liking for my cause in any case. I must assume they see me as … what was it that you called me, Lord Snow? Another doomed pretender?” Stannis stared at the map. For a long moment the only sound was the king grinding his teeth. “Leave me. All of you. Lord Snow, remain.”
“That was the last thing Jon Snow would have wanted, but before he could object, the king said, “Where would you have me lead these stalwarts if not against the Dreadfort?”
From this series of quotes we see that Stannis has come to value Jon’s opinion. He asks Jon’s advice on how to win more men and where to lead them in his next battle. Stannis even goes so far as to dismiss his other councillors, save for Melisandre, in order to receive Jon’s advice uninterrupted. Additionally, while it is not explicitly stated in this part of the text or earlier, Stannis actually heeds Jon’s advice and spares the life of Mance Rayder.
Despite his abrasive nature and aggressive attitude towards the young Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, it seems as though Stannis has won the respect of Jon Snow. The feeling appears to be mutual as although Jon spurned Stannis’ offer of legitimisation, Winterfell, and a marriage to Val, Stannis seems to have come to respect Jon and appreciate his council. It does seem to speak to Stannis’ character that he was able to win over Jon Snow but there is a chance that gratitude and Jon’s desire for justice for his fallen family may have influenced his opinion of Stannis somewhat.
Maester Cressen I thought it vital that we should include the opinion of the man who helped raise Stannis, Renly, and Robert after the deaths of their parents, Maester Cressen. However, as Cressen has known and loved Stannis for a long time, there is the possibility that his opinions on Stannis could be biased.
“The man shook his head. “It is as you warned him. They will not rise, Maester. Not for him. They do not love him.”
No, Cressen thought. Nor will they ever. He is strong, able, just… aye, just past the point of wisdom… yet it is not enough. It has never been enough.
Here we get some of the first insights into Stannis from Cressen’s perspective. It is shown that while Stannis appears to be a strong, able, just, and wise lord/king, he does not easily inspire love and loyalty from others.
“No, Cressen thought, a man like that would give no false hope, nor soften a hard truth. “Ser Davos, truth can be a bitter draught, even for a man like Lord Stannis. He thinks only of returning to King’s Landing in the fullness of his power, to tear down his enemies and claim what is rightfully his. Yet now…”
It is also clear from this that Stannis is solely occupied with claiming what is rightfully his and destroying his enemies.
Stannis Baratheon, Lord of Dragonstone and by the grace of the gods rightful heir to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, was broad of shoulder and sinewy of limb, with a tightness to his face and flesh that spoke of leather cured in the sun until it was as tough as steel. Hard was the word men used when they spoke of Stannis, and hard he was. Though he was not yet five-and-thirty, only a fringe of thin black hair remained on his head, circling behind his ears like the shadow of a crown. His brother, the late King Robert, had grown a beard in his final years. Maester Cressen had never seen it, but they said it was a wild thing, thick and flerce. As if in answer, Stannis kept his own whiskers cropped tight and short. They lay like a blue-black shadow across his square jaw and the bony hollows of his cheeks. His eyes were open wounds beneath his heavy brows, a blue as dark as the sea by night. His mouth would have given despair to even the drollest of fools; it was a mouth made for frowns and scowls and sharply worded commands, all thin pale lips and clenched muscles, a mouth that had forgotten how to smile and had never known how to laugh. Sometimes when the world grew very still and silent of a night, Maester Cressen fancied he could hear Lord Stannis grinding his teeth half a castle away.
From Cressen’s own description, Stannis’ physical appearance perpetuates the common conception of Stannis being a hard and unyielding man who seemed almost immune to humour and joy.
The youngest of Lord Steffon’s three sons had grown into a man bold but heedless, who acted from impulse rather than calculation. In that, as in so much else, Renly was like his brother Robert, and utterly unlike Stannis.
In this passage, Cressen reflects on the differences between Stannis and his brothers, highlighting their oppositional differences. Where Renly was bold and acted impulsively, Stannis was more measured and calculating.
Stannis had never learned to soften his speech, to dissemble or flatter; he said what he thought, and those that did not like it could be damned.
It’s clear from this that Stannis is largely unconcerned with flattery or soft words and that he largely prefer brutal honesty over kind and false words. This behaviour may actually explain why so many lords and ladies dislike Stannis as in the courts of Westeros, flattery and soft words are part and parcel for treating with nobility. A man who ignores such etiquette is unlikely to find many friends in court who favour flattery in preference of truth.
“I will not treat with Renly,* Stannis answered in a tone that brooked no argument. “Not while he calls himself a king.”
“Not Renly, then,” the maester yielded. His lord was stubborn and proud; when he had set his mind, there was no changing it.
Here Cressen further highlights Stannis’ proud and stubborn nature, that when his king had made a decision there was no changing his mind.
“Your god can keep his grace,” said Lord Stannis, who did not share his wife’s fervent new faith. “It’s swords I need, not blessings. Do you have an army hidden somewhere that you’ve not told me of?” There was no affection in his tone. Stannis had always been uncomfortable around women, even his own wife. When he had gone to King’s Landing to sit on Robert’s council, he had left Selyse on Dragonstone with their daughter. His letters had been few, his visits fewer; he did his duty in the marriage bed once or twice a year, but took no joy in it, and the sons he had once hoped for had never come.
In this passage Cressen highlights Stannis’ lack of belief on R’hollor, in stark difference with his wife. He goes on to highlight Stannis’ discomfort around women, even his wife, and that he acted with duty in his marriage and not with affection.
Stannis, my lord, my sad sullen boy, son I never had, you must not do this, don’t you know how I have cared for you, lived for you, loved you despite all? Yes, loved you, better than Robert even, or Renly, for you were the one unloved, the one who needed me most.
“You go too far, woman,” Lord Stannis said. “He is an old man, and he’s served me well.”
And I will serve you to the last, my sweet lord, my poor lonely son, Cressen thought, for suddenly he saw the way.
Here, in his final moments, we get a one of Cressen’s most important insights into Stannis. As a child Stannis was the unloved and sullen brother who was overshadowed by Renly and Robert, that he needed the most love out of the three brothers so Cressen cared for him, loved him, advised him, and served him for years because he saw that Stannis truly needed him. One of the smaller tragedies of the series is that Stannis will never know how much Cressen loved him in spite of his rigid and cold behaviour. That Cressen thought of Stannis as a son. In my opinion, Stannis witnessing the death of his parents as a child had a deep and profound effect on him. Their deaths made him a much colder and harder man.
Despite his behaviour and attitude, Cressen manages to effectively convey who Stannis is as a person. He is a hard, proud, just, and humourless (at least from many people’s perspectives in Westeros) man who inspires little loyalty from most. However, at least from Cressen’s perspective, Stannis (while never truly showing it) may be a deeply wounded man haunted and forever altered by the deaths of his parents.
Still, despite Cressen’s perspective, Stannis does come across as a massive arsehole in this chapter given how he treats Cressen. I know it’s not exactly a neutral perspective but I wanted to show that I’m not so hyped on Stannis that I can ignore the obvious.
“Is it his fault the old man died?” Stannis glanced into the fire. “I never wanted Cressen at that feast. He’d angered me, yes, he’d given me bad counsel, but I did not want him dead. I’d hoped he might be granted a few years of ease and comfort. He had earned that much, at least, but” he ground his teeth together-“but he died. And Pylos serves me ably.”
However, on later reflection, Stannis does tell Davos that he wanted Cressen to have a few years of comfort, that he’d earned that much for his long service. Despite his behaviour towards the old maester, there were in fact unspoken yet noble intentions planned for Cressen.
As Stannis Baratheon’s most stalwart supporter and one of the king’s most trusted councillors, Davos Seaworth is a necessary include in this post. However, as Davos owes Stannis a lot there is a good chance that his opinions on the king will be biased.
Davos held up his gloved hand. “My fingers will grow back before that man bends to sense.”*
It seems clear from this quote that even Davos seemed to view Stannis as an inflexible man.
“King Stannis is my god. He made me and blessed me with his trust.”
“You’ll have your gold when we take the treasury in King’s Landing. No man in the Seven Kingdoms is more honorable than Stannis Baratheon. He will keep his word.”
Everything I am, I owe to him. Stannis had raised him to knighthood. He had given him a place of honor at his table, a war galley to sail in place of a smuggler’s skiff. Dale and Allard captained galleys as well, Maric was oarmaster on the Fury, Matthos served his father on Black Betha, and the king had taken Devan as a royal squire. One day he would be knighted, and the two little lads as well. Marya was mistress of a small keep on Cape Wrath, with servants who called her m’lady, and Davos could hunt red deer in his own woods. All this he had of Stannis Baratheon, for the price of a few finger joints. It was just, what he did to me. I had flouted the king’s laws all my life. He has earned my loyalty. Davos touched the little pouch that hung from the leather thong about his neck. His fingers were his luck, and he needed luck now. As do we all. Lord Stannis most of all.
These two passages serve as a clear indication of how positively Davos views Stannis. Despite the taking of his finger joints, Davos’ interactions at this point in time seem to be nothing but positive. Davos and his family seem to have benefited greatly during their time in the service of Stannis. This certainly lends credence to the idea that Stannis rewards as justly as he punishes when it comes to good service regardless of birth or status.
Davos saw the looks that passed between the lordlings as he rode past them to join the king. These were no onion knights, but proud men from houses whose names were old in honor. Somehow he knew that Renly had never chided them in such a fashion. The youngest of the Baratheons had been born with a gift for easy courtesy that his brother sadly lacked.
Even here, Davos agrees with the common assessment that Stannis lacks the talent, or more likely the will, for polite courtesy towards lords and knights.
And Stannis laughed. A sudden gust, rough and full of scorn. “I told you, Melisandre,” he said to the red woman, “my Onion Knight tells me the truth.”
“I see you know him well, Your Grace,” the red woman said.
“Davos, I have missed you sorely,” the king said. “Aye, I have a tail of traitors, your nose does not deceive you. My lords bannermen are inconstant even in their treasons. I need them, but you should know how it sickens me to pardon such as these when I have punished better men for lesser crimes. You have every right to reproach me, Ser Davos.”
Much like in his treatment of Jon Snow, Stannis seemly to greatly appreciate the honest council that Davos provides him with, that even when Davos reproaches or or even outright defies him, Stannis ultimately appreciates it as shown by the quote below.
“If not for my Hand, I might not have come at all. Lord Seaworth is a man of humble birth, but he reminded me of my duty, when all I could think of was my rights. I had the cart before the horse, Davos said. I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.”
Additionally, I find that some of Stannis’ behaviour towards Davos shows the unique, implicit yet unspoken level of trust he puts in Davos. Despite Davos’ lowborn origins, he remains one of Stannis’ most trusted advisors and his elevation of Davos to the office of Hand of the King is something staggering to behold in a society rife with nepotism and cronyism.
“I shall bring justice to Westeros. A thing Ser Axell understands as little as he does war. Claw Isle would gain me naught… and it was evil, just as you said. Celtigar must pay the traitor’s price himself, in his own person. And when I come into my kingdom, he shall. Every man shall reap what he has sown, from the highest lord to the lowest gutter rat. And some will lose more than the tips off their fingers, I promise you. They have made my kingdom bleed, and I do not forget that.”
“It is not a question of wanting. The throne is mine, as Robert’s heir. That is law. After me, it must pass to my daughter, unless Selyse should finally give me a son. I am king. Wants do not enter into it. I have a duty to my daughter. To the realm. Even to Robert. He loved me but little, I know, yet he was my brother. The Lannister woman gave him horns and made a motley fool of him. She may have murdered him as well, as she murdered Jon Arryn and Ned Stark. For such crimes there must be justice. Starting with Cersei and her abominations. But only starting. I mean to scour that court clean. As Robert should have done after the Trident.”
“These pardoned lords would do well to reflect on that. Good men and true will fight for Joffrey, wrongly believing him the true king. A northman might even say the same of Robb Stark. But these lords who flocked to my brother’s banners knew him for a usurper. They turned their backs on their rightful king for no better reason than dreams of power and glory, and I have marked them for what they are. Pardoned them, yes. Forgiven. But not forgotten.”
“I stopped believing in gods the day I saw the Windproud break up across the bay. Any gods so monstrous as to drown my mother and father would never have my worship, I vowed. In King’s Landing, the High Septon would prattle at me of how all justice and goodness flowed from the Seven, but all I ever saw of either was made by men.”
“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 know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. 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?”
From the quotes seen above it seems that Stannis is extremely candid with Davos and that he seems to appreciate being able to speak freely with his Onion Knight. He shares his fears, his doubts, and intentions with the man he knows will not flatter or lie to him. This to me seems to speak volumes about Stannis character as without Davos he would not have anyone to council him in the way he requires most, with brutal and unfiltered honesty.
However, where quotes will not suffice, actions certainly will. Stannis clearly inspires some level of near fanatical loyalty in Davos. Given all that Davos has suffered, he still finds a way to keep on going for his king and his family. He lost his luck, four sons have died, he has nearly died several times, he has been imprisoned twice, and still he manages to keep on going for both his king and his family.
Despite all he has suffered through because of him, Stannis has somehow won the absolute loyalty of Davos Seaworth and this certainly says something about the characters of both of these men that they rely on and and trust one another this much.
Some Final Thoughts…
From the various perspectives that I’ve collated together it is clear that there are some fundamental truths about Stannis Baratheon at several stages in the series. When we first meet Stannis Baratheon he is a proud, hard, and just man obsessed with duty and his rights, dismissive of court etiquette, courtesies, and flattery, and a tried and true battle hardened commander. However, as the series moves on and the perspectives change so too does Stannis. He was crushed on the Blackwater and retreated to Dragonstone to lick his wounds and plot his next move. Without a strong army behind him he grew desperate and isolated. He was willing to do the worst to him his war. However, Stannis was saved by who I would describe as his only true friend, Ser Davos Seaworth. Davos reformed the broken Stannis, defied him and counselled him in his hour of greatest need. He stopped Stannis from doing the unthinkable and gave him new purpose. Davos reminded Stannis of his duty to the realm and showed him how a king should act, how a king should rule, and how a king can win. Reformed with a new fire (R’hollor unrelated) Stannis sailed North to save the Night’s Watch from the might of Mance Rayder’s wildling army. He did his duty to the realm and he won. He won against a numbers twenty times the size of his host. With a much needed victory and renewed purpose, Stannis set his sights against the Boltons, Ironborn, and the Freys while preparing for the true enemy coming down from the far north.
For me, it goes without saying that Stannis would have been a horrible yet likely efficient king if he had succeeded in ACOK. He would have been unpopular with various high lords, the smallfolk, and probably the religious. He possibly would have inspired continued civil war and rebellions. However, Stannis at the end of ASOS and throughout ADWD is a new man reformed with greater purpose. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still the same abrasive, discourteous, and hard man that we all know but he’s no longer lost in self pity, pride, or obsession. He’s a man who shows the ability to bend, to heed advice from councillors, and has more of an ability to put pragmatism ahead of the law and his duty. He’s no longer hard, black iron; he’s now showing the capacity for becoming true steel. It also goes without saying that Stannis would be nothing without his various advisors. Without the intervention of noble Davos Seaworth or dutiful Jon Snow, Stannis would have failed long ago and died as just another failed pretender.
Stannis Baratheon will always be a controversial character, both loved and despised by both the fan base and the people of Westeros. He is a deeply complex man that can inspire all out hatred or a bizarre amount of fanatical loyalty from his followers. If he leaves behind the self pity, the ego, the pride, and the hypocrisy, and continues his character growth, with the right councillors behind him, Stannis Baratheon may just turn out to be the man that Davos Seaworth believes he is.
Special thanks goes to /u/BryndenBFish for all the help and resources he provided me with over the course of this essay. It was a great help.