I feel as if not enough people talk about the Baratheons. The Baratheons as a family, as brothers. And it’s understandable because they don’t behave in that way; from the very first book they’re removed from one another in a literal sense, (Renly judges Robert and allies himself with the Tyrells, Stannis is on Dragonstone) this separation pierces their relationship to a bitter extent, ultimately resulting in the murder of one brother by another. I know asoiaf is full of shock and scandal and I suppose we’re all desensitised to immorality, but you can’t escape the fact Stannis murdered his brother, his own flesh and blood.
And this is in Westeros, where brotherhood is almost a constitutive value of the state: take the Nights Watch, the realm’s last defence has lasted thousands of years not because of funding or fortresses but because of the belief in the bonds of brotherhood. The men of the Night’s Watch have none of the grandeur or breeding of the Baratheons: they’re poor men, bastards, rapists, runaways, but their status as black brothers is enough to keep the night that never ends at bay. The Kingsguard, too, aspires to create bonds of brotherhood. The Brotherhood without banners, again, not truly related but a singular force for good in the bleak lives of the common folk. The Baratheons have nobody else in their family besides their brothers, they are the royalbrothers so-to-speak.
And we readers don’t even react to Renly’s death with the extreme sadness, or the repugnance you’d expect of fratricide. Sure, we mourn Renly but we ultimately accept that Stannis killed him. And why? Because we don’t see the Baratheons as true brothers.
But we should abhor it. We should mourn far more than the loss of Renly. We should mourn the loss of the Baratheon dynasty, because they could have been magnificient. Their characterisations are obvious to the point of symbolism: Robert: the warrior king, brash and sexual and a fury on the battlefield; Stannis: intelligent, just and stoic- unpopular but relentless in pursuing the good of the state; and Renly; the charming baby of the family, able to capture the hearts and minds of the people with his beauty and clemency. Their qualities are diverse but harmonious: together they form a trinity: military strength, reason & justice and passion. Those three attributes are what’s needed for a successful regime, be it monarchic or otherwise. The will and happiness of the people (provided for by renly) creates a legitimate and prosperous state and hampers revolts or mutinies. A just legal system (thanks stannis) and well-considered policies ensure economic longevity. Military strength (good ol’ robert) creates security.
Together, not alone, they would’ve made the perfect King. Hell, Clausewitzstates passion, reason and chance are what’s needed for effective military and political strategy.
But, this is Westeros, and we are all songs in the end. Robert’s warmongering skills are useless in peacetime, Renly falls to praise and money, and seeks brotherhood with a more beautiful ‘soft’ family, missing all the grit and realism of his blood brothers. Stannis, though a true statesman equipped with reason, uses a drastic new religion to plug the gap left by his lacking military and people skills. They fail because they separate.
And that I think, is why Robert only formed a stop-gap in the war, rather than establishing a lasting monarchy and peace. He was only a third of the trinity, only one branch of a set of antlers. Sure, his was the fury, but he’d forgotten to add the ours into the bargain, forgotten, tragically, that sacred westerosi notion of brotherhood, so swept up was he in waging a war. Left alone without reason to guide him, he fell into gluttony and waste. Stannis and Renly were all that were left, crowned Kings in their own right, but naivity and optimistic popularity never had a chance against unwavering legal convictions. Renly and Stannis were two stags left from three, leaderless, and when you think of two stags, well, they’re bound to butt heads aren’t they?
The Baratheons were true brothers, more than the Night’s Watch or the Brotherhood without Banners- they were blood brothers and as a unit possessed characteristics that would’ve made them unbeatable. But they were swept up in that perennial Westerosi court vice of pride and self-interest when together they could’ve been the united fury that swept Westeros away from the madness and incest of the Targaryens and into peace and prosperity. The tragedy of the Baratheon brothers is their lost potential and their failure to see the glory of their own brotherhood