Friday, April 19, 2013

Renly Baratheon: The King That Should Have Been

Welcome to the second part of our series of debates on the potential rulers of the Iron Throne.  We have similar feelings towards most of these characters, so for each of these pieces, one of us is stuck supporting a position that we don’t agree with.  Hopefully our Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire topics make this more engaging than your freshman speech class was and perhaps you’ll even find some shades of gray where you previously had only seen black or white, legitimate or invalid, and noble or sordid.  We turn now to the youngest Baratheon brother, Renly.  SPOILERS through Season 2 and A Clash of Kings to follow.

We’ve been calling this article “RenFest”, because we’re soooooo clever.


When we talk about Renly Baratheon, we almost inevitably start the conversation with “poor old Renly” (it’s totally not weird at all that this is a habitual thing chat). It’s just generally sad that the most handsome, charming, and functional Baratheon was brutally  murdered at the hands of his brother/brother’s sorceress. We’re sad for Loras, we’re sad for Brienne, and we’re sad for the hopes and dreams of the Tyrells and other bannermen that were crushed when that shadow baby ate his soul. Will everyone be ok? Sure. Would everyone have been better off had Renly lived and taken the Iron Throne? Yes.

Renly is Robert’s brother, and along with Stannis and a handful of bastards, the only living blood relative of the dead king. Although he is the younger brother, I would argue that Robert’s decision to seat him at Storm’s End, the ancestral seat of House Baratheon is not insignificant. Although Stannis is the older brother, it seems clear that Renly would have been chosen by Robert to lead in the event of his death. Storm’s End is a powerful hold, even called impenetrable. With this castle as the base for the strong army that Renly assembles, he is a formidable military force, and fighting him would cause any other contender to lose a disastrous amount of resources, especially in the face of the coming winter.

Luckily, Renly shares Robert’s better traits, and lacks the especially problematic ones. Although he enjoys tournaments and hunting, he is not driven by the need to fight or whore as Robert was. He is charismatic without being overbearing, he is able to listen to the counsel of others and at least make them feel like he is considering their point of view. While Robert chose to ally himself with the Lannisters for cash, Renly chose to ally himself with the Tyrells for resources. Wise man. (Don’t get me started on this women being currency thing). He pulled together a strong group of bannermen, and has backing from powerful Houses whose support could help get everyone through the tough winter ahead.

The Lannister gold isn’t edible, and they can’t buy anything at all if the fields are put to the torch. Renly is also popular with the smallfolk, because of his looks, intelligence, and charisma, and given the recent unrest in King’s Landing, we can see how important it is that the monarchy have at least some pull with the commoners.

From a more pragmatic standpoint: sure, maybe Renly is more or less a pawn of the Tyrells at this point, but is that so bad? They are actually probably the best House to be leading Westeros at this point. They have resources that outweigh even the Lannisters, plus all of the cunning with less of the cruelty (at least so far). Also, no evidence of incest at this point, always a plus. If Renly is just the next step in their game, I’m not sure that makes him a worse candidate for the throne. The Iron Throne is up for fucking grabs right now, and quibbling about the truest blood claim will not carry the day. It’s all about the power to grab the throne and the resources to hold it through the coming winter. The Tyrells have it, and Renly is the perfect figurehead for their operation.

Loras said it best, “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”



The last three men to sit atop the Iron Throne have been poor examples of what kings should be.  This is part of the reason why there are so very many people claiming to be a “king” after the death of Robert Baratheon.  Each king (or queen) makes their claim supported by notably different reasons, birthright (Stannis, Daenerys, Joffrey), power (Balon, Joffrey), and vengeance (Balon, Stannis, Robb, Daenerys).  And then there’s Renly Baratheon.  

Renly could argue that his primary motivation for his kingship is revenge for the Lannisters orchestrating the death of his brother, who also has no legitimate heirs.  However, Renly could still exact revenge on the Lannisters by throwing his support to his elder brother, Stannis, and thus allow the true Baratheon house to take back the throne.  Stannis has the same announced goal as Renly, but he also carries a legitimate claim.  By every law in Westeros (which Renly should be very well aware of, having served on Robert’s small council as Master of Laws), the throne should go to his Stannis.  The concept of birthright is perhaps the most important ideology in Westeros.  For Renly to claim the throne for himself, he is casting aside the idea that holds their entire feudal system together.

Okay, fine.  Renly’s next argument could be that he has successfully rallied a number of Baratheon bannerman and cemented an ally in House Tyrell through his marriage with Margaery to create a very powerful southern army.  Power is how Robert won the throne to which he had no claim, and it is as good a reason as any, right?  While Renly may be the figurehead of a strong army backed by a slew of important resources, how much of this power is actually held by him?  

While it appears that the feelings Loras had for Renly were genuine (from his eternally angst-ridden lines throughout the book series), the Tyrell family clearly took advantage of Loras and Renly’s relationship to further the power of their own house.  First, Renly was used to try to replace Cersei with Margaery (with Renly likening her looks to Lyanna Stark), who would then be Robert’s queen and place Tyrell heirs in the line of succession.  Upon Robert’s death, the Tyrells “made” Renly a king by marrying Margaery to him and giving him the strength of Highgarden.  Renly would never be able to make a claim to the throne without their support.  Because the viewers and readers do not get a look into how this is done, we can never know exactly how much agency Renly had in the brief campaign for him to be king.  Based on the Tyrells’ actions following his death, all signs point to Renly acting as a pawn for the Tyrells’ desire to finally have a member of their house on the throne.

Renly is a good choice for the Tyrells because he’s such a likeable man.  His likeability is what allows him to convince bannerman who should support his brother (including the Florents, who are tied to Stannis by his marriage to Selyse).  He’s young, attractive, relatively intelligent, and is at least a passable knight.  This does not mean that he should be or would even make a good king.  He has never fought in a war before and does not share the same lust for battle that served Robert so well.  Being the youngest Baratheon brother, he is relatively unimportant (part of the reason why nobody was really concerned about his “secret” relationship with Loras) and he would never have received any training to prepare him to win wars and then hold the throne and repair the broken realm.  

During Catelyn Stark’s visit to secure a potential alliance with Renly for Robb, she is extremely concerned about their chances of success, musing, “for they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.”  They are all glory and honor and games.  If we are to trust Catelyn’s impression, which is echoed by other characters (sans Loras) throughout the series, Renly was a pretty and popular man, but he lacked the makings of a true king.



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