Wednesday, April 10, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Baratheons

Baratheons show why you should stay out of family feuds
At the beginning of HBO's Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon appeared to be on top of the world. Robert was King of Westeros. Robert had won the kingdom with his strong right hand, which he used to wield a war hammer so heavy most other people couldn't lift it. Robert had personally killed the previous heir to the throne, Rhaegar Targaryen, hitting him so hard with the aforementioned war hammer that the encrusted rubies on Rhaegar's breastplate were being found in the river months or even years later. Robert had his godfather Jon Arryn as Hand (Prime Minister), his two younger brothers Stannis and Renly as council members and his best friend Ned Stark as backup in case anyone started to act funny. 

Robert married the realm's most beautiful woman, Cersei Lannister. Robert could thus count on his father-in-law's support. Tywin Lannister is the realm's richest and most ruthless leader. With the exception of a brief revolt by the Westeros Appalachia equivalent, Cthulhu worshiping pirates from the Iron Islands, Robert brought and kept the peace. Or so it seemed. Unfortunately for Robert his desire and ability to win the throne and avenge himself upon the people who had stolen his true love Lyanna Stark and murdered his best friend's father and brother were always greater than his desire and ability to rule ably, pay attention to details, or sniff out enemies smart enough to avoid direct confrontation.

Robert didn't realize or care that his wife not only didn't love him (a common event in arranged marriages) but also more importantly didn't respect or fear him. Cersei cheated on Robert with her brother Jaime, cuckolding her husband three times. Robert never noticed, being too busy cheating on his wife, hunting and drinking. Robert also didn't notice that the Realm was deeply in debt to Tywin Lannister and the Iron Bank, neither of whom were known for their forgiving nature.

Jon Arryn and Stannis both noticed that none of Robert's children looked anything like Robert, something unusual for any father, but damn near impossible for a Baratheon, who are noted for dominant features of black hair and blue eyes. Littlefinger, who also knew Cersei's secret, had his lover Lysa, Jon Arryn's wife, murder Jon and tell Ned and Catelyn Stark that the Lannisters did it. Rather than share his suspicions with his brother Robert, whom he disliked, Stannis fled home and brooded. Cersei evidently grew tired of Robert. She tried on multiple occasions to arrange his death, finally succeeding almost by accident, when during a hunting trip a drunk Robert misjudged the speed and distance of a wild boar and was virtually torn in half by it. 

Dying, Robert turned over power to his new Hand, Ned, asking him to act as regent for Joffrey until he came of age. Neither Robert nor Ned had Baratheon or Stark troops within the capital city. There were a number of Lannister troops throughout the city. Renly Baratheon advised Ned to move quickly and (with Renly's help) arrest Cersei and her children. Ned declined from an excess of honor and because he didn't want to help Renly become king. Ned thought that the rightful heir was Stannis.

Besides Ned and Stannis, nobody wanted Stannis as king. Stannis was a very rigid man who chopped off the fingers of a man who saved his life, because the man was also a smuggler. Stannis was said to have the personality of a lobster. Renly fled home to raise his own army, most of whom by right should have been following his older brother Stannis. Stannis was also slow moving at first. He didn't send any help to Ned in King's Landing or initially spread word of Cersei's adultery and Joffrey's unfitness for the throne. So not only did Renly "steal" many of Stannis' bannermen, Renly also allied with the more numerous Tyrells, who were eager to make Margaery Queen of all Westeros by marriage to Renly--even though Renly was FAR more interested in Margaery's brother, Loras. 

After a failed attempt to make his younger brother get in formation, Stannis had Renly killed with a shadowbaby, a bit of magic born from doing the do with the magician and priestess Melisandre. Because they hated Stannis and most especially Stannis' wife, the Tyrells never considered allying with Stannis. Besides, Stannis was already married. But Joffrey wasn't. The Tyrells joined the Lannisters and helped them defeat Stannis at the Battle of the Blackwater. Stannis was never a serious threat again. 

Having failed to win the throne through force of arms Stannis attempted to win popular support. Stannis was the only throne claimant who heeded the call for assistance from the Night's Watch, arriving just in time to smash a wilding attack. Stannis and Jon Snow didn't necessarily like each other but they did respect each other's toughness. Whatever else he was Stannis was a hard man. Unfortunately for Stannis his legendary stubbornness, devotion to duty, and rigidity overwhelmed his good sense and paternal love. Trapped in a snowstorm while attempting to retake Winterfell from the usurper Boltons, Stannis accepted Melisandre's suggestion that a sacrifice of King's Blood in the form of his young daughter Shireen would cause the Lord of Light to stop the storm and melt the snow. 
After Shireen's death, the snows stopped and began to melt. However disgusted by their lord's actions the better part of Stannis' army deserted him. His wife also committed suicide. With nothing left to lose and really nothing left to fight for, Stannis stubbornly continued to the battle. The Boltons quickly slaughtered Stannis'  outnumbered forces. Stannis himself was killed by Brienne, who was a Renly sworn Kingsguard before his death.

So House Baratheon is no more. Its only chance at rebuilding lies in Gendry, the unacknowledged bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Gendry knows his heritage now. Of course given that all of humanity, or at least the portion of it that lives on Westeros is endangered by the White Walkers, Gendry has more pressing concerns. One of those concerns could be Arya Stark.

House Baratheon's weakness was that its three leaders (Robert, Stannis, and Renly) all had some real dislike for each other. Stannis was quick to take offense at everything, held grudges, and rarely bothered to explain himself-qualities somewhat shared by his big brother Robert. Robert had a quick temper, was too hedonistic, and ignored obvious events. Robert allowed himself to be surrounded by Lannisters and corrupt people with their own power centers. Robert didn't make any allowances for Stannis' pride, just as Stannis found it difficult to accept other POV. Stannis was contemptuous of Renly's inexperience and perhaps his lifestyle as well. Renly lacked experience but thought that good looks and Tyrell swords would allow him to become king. If Renly had joined forces with Stannis or Stannis had reached out to Robb the War of The Five Kings would have concluded differently. As a result of these failings, the House that had everything lost it all.
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