NOV / DEC 2014: BY LIANNE M. BERNARDO
When readers are introduced to House Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a sense of prestige that goes with their name as they are the ruling house in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Yet strangely enough the blood-related brothers of this family—Robert, Stannis, and Renly—have never had a moment in the books where all three are in the same room. Everything readers know about their relationship is hearsay from other characters who know them and from the brothers themselves.
An early hint of their terse relationship comes from Robert himself, who often says in A Game of Thrones that he considers Ned to be a brother more than his own blood brothers. When they were boys, he and Ned were sent to Jon Arryn as wards and grew up together; Robert even fell in love with and was promised to marry Ned’s sister Lyanna. Robert doesn’t talk much about his brothers, relying on Ned after Jon Arryn’s death for support on all matters relating to the care of the realm. Even on his deathbed, Robert entrusts the care of his son and the regency to the realm until Joffrey comes of age to Ned… not to his brothers.
Stannis, the middle brother, has a differing relationship with his brothers. Robert was away so he was never truly close to him, but when he speaks of his older brother, it’s with an awareness of their difference: “Laughing. Drinking. Boasting. Those were the things he was best at. Those, and fighting. I never bested him at anything.”
Later, when faced with battle plans, he remarks that he is “not Robert” as a war leader. Stannis’ regard for his older brother is also marred with bitterness, as Robert never properly bestowed recognition of his worth: Stannis played a major role during the war and afterwards served as Master of the Ships in the Small Council during Robert’s reign, but was slighted in other ways. Firstly, when the war was over, Robert didn’t assign him to Storm’s End, the ancestral stronghold of the Baratheons as was his right when Robert was crowned king. Instead, Storm’s End was given to his younger brother while Stannis was given Dragonstone, the ancestral landing of the Targaryens, which he took back during the war. Robert gave Dragonstone to him because he wanted a Baratheon securing the old Targaryen stronghold but Stannis did not see it this way; Storm’s End had all the revenue and was his by birthright while Dragonstone didn’t have much to offer. The second slight came after Jon Arryn’s death; rather than offering Stannis the position of Hand of the King and all the responsibilities that came with it, Robert offered it to Ned, who did not know of Stannis’s feelings, so accepted it.
Stannis has an antagonist relationship with the youngest, Renly. In Stannis’ mind, his actions undermine Stannis’s position as the older brother after Robert’s death. Renly, meanwhile, is guided by the notion that he would make the better king than Stannis, who is unwavering and not very well liked by many, even Robert: “Why the oldest son, and not the best-fitted? The crown will suit me, as it never suited Robert and would not suit Stannis.” Indeed, in some ways Renly seems better suited for the role of king: although he didn’t fight in Robert’s Rebellion, he learned the game of politics, making him far better prepared to deal with and compromise when it comes to conflicting House interests, qualities Stannis thinks are not enough to earn a throne.
The brothers are quite different. Robert’s only interests are eating, drinking, fighting and whoring. Stannis is the opposite in his appetite, to the point that he doesn’t approach the marriage bed unless he absolutely has to. Renly is all about visual beauty, extravagance, and how others perceived him, and his sexual preferences are completely different from that of his two brothers.
Despite these differences, they also share one common trait: their unyielding stubbornness. Robert was quite adamant to kill Daenarys Targaryen even though she lived far away from Westeros. If not for Ned’s cautious influence, Robert may have gotten himself killed during the tourney for the Hand of the King. Both Renly and Stannis are unable to put aside their differences, their ambitions, and their pride to join forces against the Lannisters. Their stubbornness in the end is costly, as later events in the series show.
The Baratheons provide us with a different take on family dynamics in Westeros. They are not like the close-knit Starks, nor like the Lannisters, who are bound together by a stern patriarch and the family name. The Baratheons are brothers in name only, and even their family name does not matter much in their minds. It will be interesting to see if their entire House will even survive the series’ remaining novels. ♥