Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

renly baratheon Archive

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April 2018

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Renly Baratheon: Queer Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Power is a dangerous thing to assign motive toward. Its allure is so strong that it tends to skirt the good/bad spectrum in weird ways, as the seemingly noble can turn out to be completely full of it. People, just or evil, often find themselves drawn to power for the very same reasons.

As someone who’s championed the #StandWithStannis movement from the moment D&D committed character assassination against the One True King, I’m never been a huge fan of Renly Baratheon. He’s a terrible brother. He’s the kind of guy you might have fun with at a rave, but you probably wouldn’t count on him to show up to help you move apartments. Donal Noye’s observation that, “Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day” (ACOK: Jon 1) pretty much tells you all you need to know about the man.

Except one big detail. Renly is gay. I could say that fact doesn’t matter, or affect any of his decisions, but of course it does. LGBT people don’t live in a world where that fact doesn’t affect the macro order of things, especially one’s employment.

Renly challenged the status quo, not as the rightful claimant, but as the most desirable one. He was not the grumpy choice, the sadistic child option, or one that would split apart the Seven Kingdoms. He didn’t have a great claim, but he had a big army.  Under the old way of thinking, that wouldn’t have been enough, but gay people are used to encountering that kind of mindset that tries to keep a hold on the future. Renly wasn’t about to let the dated patriarchal structure dictate his ambitions.

Those who deny the existence of privilege often do so by pointing to a lack perceived “added bonus” for being white or male, ignoring the institutional benefits that stem from a system controlled in perpetuity by the patriarchy, a concept that occasionally manifests itself through the term, “boy’s club.” That concept has altered my approach to career opportunities since I came out, giving the stakes a heightened sense of importance each time one comes around. I am aware that there are plenty people out there who will never give me serious consideration strictly on the basis of my gender identity. Plenty of politicians want to make it so companies can legally discriminate against LGBT people. The playing field has never been fair.

The Westerosi power dynamic shares a similar fondness for nepotism. Kings are born, not chosen. Robert’s Rebellion changed that to some extent, but it wasn’t really until the legitimacy of his offspring came into question that the subject of the line of secession became a point that could be debated. Suddenly an opportunity presented itself.

Enter Renly.

Stannis & Joffrey claimed the Iron Throne by right of birth. Robb & Balon took a more isolationist, regional approach based off theory that King’s Landing was too much of a mess to properly govern over their regions. As for Renly, well, he just kind of wanted it. He said some stuff about how he’d be the best king and all, which probably wasn’t true, but that’s not really that important. What matters is that someone, namely House Tyrell, gave Renly a chance. LGBT people don’t get that many chances.

Can we fault Renly for seizing the greatest opportunity of his life? Some might point to the mess he made, costing Stannis the throne, or how he probably wouldn’t have made a very good king. The fact that Stannis was more qualified to rule Westeros is not that important when you consider that the throne is not decided on merit. The sole consistent qualifier is that the person should be the eldest male heir. Once that certainty was tossed out the window, there really weren’t any merits from which that question should be decided. That’s why war started.

People point to Renly as selfish, ignoring that being king is selfish. Selfish people rule Westeros just as they rule every institution of power. By comparison, queer people don’t rule over all that much. Renly tried to change to that.

There is a counterargument in the sense that as Lord of Storm’s End, Renly was already in a position of power, but this is not particularly relevant. Complacency is the enemy of activism. Few in the LGBT community are interested in settling for the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges when there’s so much progress left to be made. We don’t want to be told to be satisfied. Renly didn’t either.

Renly would not be my choice to rule Westeros, but I admire his drive. He saw something he wanted, went for it, and likely would have succeeded if he hadn’t been executed by a shadow baby. As a fellow member of the LGBT community, I admire his drive. It’s tough to throw yourself out there, knowing some people will laugh and think of you as a fool just because of who you are.

I don’t love Renly, but I’m glad Westeros’ most prominent gay character made a play for the Iron Throne. Life is about opportunities, including the ones you create on your own. Renly knew a thing or two about taking what he wanted, even he’d rather play at tournament than lead men into battle. At least that was his choice to make.

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Monday

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July 2014

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Game of Thrones Finally Acknowledges The One True King Stannis Baratheon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

One of the downsides, perhaps the primary one, of adapting an epic book series is that certain characters are naturally going to get less screen time than they deserve. Game of Thrones has taken this to a whole new level, mostly out of necessity. While George R.R. Martin is content to have characters disappear for multiple books at a time, this isn’t really realistic for a television program.

The biggest victim of this so far has been Stannis Baratheon, King Robert’s rightful heir. His prominence in season two and the splitting of A Storm of Swords into two seasons makes a statement like this puzzling, especially since Stannis isn’t even a POV character. The problem is that the show has hardly done the one true King justice, while allotting large amounts of screen time to characters who are just as absent from chunks of the source material.

The main problem is that Stannis’ portrayal in season two doesn’t do the character justice, though Stephen Dilane was a strong casting choice. Book Stannis is a strong leader with a firm sense of right and wrong who helps uncover the Lannisters’ deception along with Jon Arryn. In the show, he’s introduced as an easily manipulated power hungry religious loon. The show backs off of this a bit in season three, but the much of the damage is done. At least in the viewers’ mind.

Until the season four finale, it was difficult to talk to fans of the show who hadn’t read the books about the one true king. Using strictly television logic, Stannis’ survival past the Battle of the Blackwater is puzzling. He’s portrayed as the “big bad” to Tyrion and Renly and those types of characters tend to die in season finales. And yet Stannis prevails.

The show’s lax characterization of Stannis deprives the character of his rich personality, which makes him one of the books’ strongest characters. While it’s easy to judge Stannis solely by Ned’s characterization, his maiming of Ser Davos, and his devotion to Melisandre, that just scratches the surface of his personality.

Stannis’ defense of Storm’s End during Robert’s Rebellion is consistently referred to as indicative of the middle Baratheon’s personality as a whole. He had it far worse than any of the other commanding usurpers and was perhaps the only one other than Ned Stark who could’ve held off the Tyrell’s under such dire circumstances. His rigidness proved to be an asset.

Which explains why he’s considered unlikable, but it’s easy to forget how little that actually matters. Stannis might not have been a friend of either Ned Stark or Jon Arryn, but he commanded their respect. The Tyrell’s were the only significant supporter of Renly who didn’t defect to his cause and that was a foregone conclusion anyway.

Stannis commands loyalty even in places where the reader/viewer isn’t supposed to expect it from. Ned refused to back Renly because Stannis was the rightful heir, a move that cost him his life. Davos supports him even after Stannis maimed his hand. He works with Jon Snow even after he was rebuffed on his offer to legitimize him as the heir to Winterfell.

Stannis grows quite a bit as he grapples with his sense of duty to the realm. We see him as more than a man seeking his right to rule, but rather as someone who understands that he is the only person who could actually bring order to Westeros. This point is eloquently featured in the show when Davos and Stannis visit the Iron Bank of Braavos in perhaps the show’s only deviation from the books that served to benefit his character.

While it’s slightly upsetting that the episode dedicated to the Wall didn’t end with Stannis’ arrival, it was great to see him have his moment of triumph after a turbulent two seasons. Since season four didn’t fully catch up with Jon’s plotline, this can sort of be excused. Fans have much to be excited for in the upcoming season as Stannis’ relationship with Jon Snow supplies the meatiest storyline of A Dance With Dragons. By saving The Wall, he shows that he’s the only one who doesn’t crave power solely for the sake of power. He chases justice.

Games of Thrones has an opportunity to let Stannis shine opposite one of the series’ most popular characters, which in turn should raise his image in the eyes of the fans of the shows. Hopefully the show won’t use him as a foil for Snow, who is occasionally at odds with Stannis but manages to gain his respect and eventually helps him rally northmen to his cause. I wouldn’t put it past the show to elevate the Snow legitimization conflict, but that in it of itself would be a further bastardization of Stannis’ character.

Looking to the future of the series, it appears as though Stannis could find himself deeply involved in the eventual Targaryen conflict if the R + L = J theory holds up and if The Onion Knight is successful in retrieving Rickon Stark from the cannibal island. Preview chapters of The Winds of Winter show Stannis’ looming decision regarding the fate of one Theon “Reek” Greyjoy, which will undoubtedly shed more light on Stannis’ overall sense of justice.

Stannis is a perfect example of the depth of characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. While Martin never goes too far out of his way to give the spotlight to the one true king, he’s much more of a three dimensional character than anyone at King’s Landing would have us believe in the first two books. While conventional logic would suggest that Stannis has about a zero percent chance at having a happy ending at the end of the series, Martin has a tendency to keep the reader guessing. Perhaps the Lord of Light will stand with Stannis. I know I will.

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