by SeannieWan Kenobi,
for The Princes That Were Promised,
Renly Baratheon, the third son of Lord Steffon Baratheon of Storm’s End, is a difficult nut to crack. The young man that so resembles his much older brother Robert’s physical traits and looks can be studied through a few different lenses.
There is Renly Baratheon the Member of King Robert’s Small Council. This character is frivolous and seems to pursue the pleasures found in the southern parts of Westeros more than he pursues glory and stability for his older brother’s reign. This character has a clandestine relationship with the famous Knight of Flowers, Ser Loras of House Tyrell, who served Renly as squire at Storm’s End. This character throws lavish parties, costume balls and seemingly never takes anything seriously. He finds humor in any situation and has a deep undertone of cynicism below his easy smile and laughing eyes.
There is also Renly Baratheon the man who spent his childhood under siege in Storm’s End. During Robert’s Rebellion against King Aerys Targaryen and his son Rhaegar, Renly’s other older brother Stannis was charged with holding Robert’s home keep of Storm’s End. Even though Storm’s End is one of the most easily defended keeps in the Realm because of its incredibly high curtain walls and location against the Narrow Sea, the allied forces of The Reach surrounded the ancient stronghold and kept any food and supply from reaching the people that were trapped within. Renly was a boy of six during the siege and the things that he saw during that time truly shaped the decisions he would make as a man grown. Smallfolk starving, cannibalism, betrayal, punishment of cruel and unusual means from Stannis to keep control and order, the visions and understanding of these horrors surely stayed with Renly as he grew up. Though Renly in The Small Council doesn’t come across as an insightful and wise man who saw the horrors of an extended siege and came to understand the necessity of them all, perhaps beneath that undercurrent of cynicism there is another layer of wisdom and a desire to never see such horrors again.
Renly Baratheon the Usurper is the version of Renly that the character ultimately embraces. This Renly makes claim to the Iron Throne from the South and is anointed and crowned by the Warden of the South, Lord Mace Tyrell, and the powerful Houses and armies that were loyal to the Tyrells. Was this decision to claim the Realm for himself based on his youth and the politicking he learned at King’s Landing? Or was this idea placed in his head by his lover and friend, Ser Loras Tyrell? We never really know truly as there is no Point of View for us in the South to show Renly’s decision and any hang-ups he may have. We aren’t able to see the conversations between Renly and Loras, or Renly and Mace, or even Renly and Lady Margaery- the young Tyrell girl that Renly marries to shore up the alliance with the South.
These different and sometimes conflicting versions of the same minor character of A Song of Ice and Fire aren’t so glaring that they take anything away from the story. In fact, the different characters Renly seems to play add an aura of mystery to his character. The different characters of Renly add another dimension to an already incredibly built and populated world.
However, Renly Baratheon’s schizophrenic personalities don’t help people such as John and me, especially when we task ourselves with analyzing and understanding what should be, in all honesty, quite a simple exercise. #TPTWP wish to dig into Renly and define two dimensions of the young Lord of Storm’s End. After hours of reading Renly passages and writing important observations, we learned that our understanding of WHY we can’t figure out Renly’s intentions and characteristics may, in fact, be more important than an understanding OF Renly’s intentions and characteristics.
Intentions and characteristics are two dimensions of Renly that we are unclear of as readers of ASOIAF. Perhaps Renly Baratheon, as a literary character, is the perfect cross section of George R. R. Martin’s prose? The character illustrates the worries that people such as John and myself- and nearly all the fandom of ASOIAF- wrestle with while awaiting The Winds of Winter, as well as the criticisms dissenters to the fandom and the series have of Martin’s writing.
Speaking first to Renly Baratheon’s intentions- I say they are unclear but many can argue that they are, in fact, crystal clear. Renly is crowned King of Westeros in Highgarden. But was that his intention from the moment we met Renly at Castle Darry? If it was, why did he plot to bring Margaery to court to seduce Robert? While King Robert lays dying, Renly offers Ned a great number of men for support in order to make sure Ned has control of the transition of the Iron Throne from Robert to his son Joffrey. An argument can be made that Renly would ensure Ned had control so that he could make his case to the Protector of the Realm that he, Renly, would be the best choice to rule as King. I wouldn’t make that argument… but it can be made.
There is no doubt that once Ned refuses Renly’s suggestion to take Robert’s children in hand and get them away from Queen Cersei, Renly’s intentions are changed. His focus becomes taking the Iron Throne for himself. I would even go so far as to say that Renly assumed Ned would refuse his help, ergo Renly knew he would be claiming the Throne himself and have to win it with warfare.
I dislike using HBO’s adaptation of the material to assist in making a point on ASOIAF, but I believe the conversation between Robert and Renly while hunting boar in The Kingswood (1.7 You Win Or You Die) is probably accurate to both Renly’s feelings towards his brother’s rule and his motivations to take the reigns himself. Still, this scene and conversation are non-canon as far as ASOIAF, so it is but a guess and an interpretation.
As with any character in fiction- well written or not- Renly Baratheon’s intentions are intertwined with his characteristics. So when we think of the subtleties and implications of Renly’s character based on the text, we come to the conclusion that he is a homosexual. This is never explicitly revealed or confirmed but it is a hidden truth just below the surface of the narrative. Interesting that Renly’s sexual and romantic preferences are easier to pick out than his character’s motivations.
Regarding Mr. Martin’s writing, is Renly’s homosexuality written as a character trait to mask the Iron Throne being his character’s motivations? Probably not. That would require some very elaborate planning and more elaborate writing to disguise something that doesn’t need to be disguised and something that really shouldn’t be disguised.
John and I have talked about Renly’s character flying under the reader’s radar; his actions had no effect on our liking or despising the character. I don’t dislike Renly Baratheon but I dislike that I don’t dislike Renly Baratheon. I can’t think of many characters that I don’t have feelings for one way or another. We do find Renly to be interesting, John less so than myself. However, this interest comes from our misunderstanding of his motivations, not from anything his character says, does or believes.
‘Renly Baratheon wants to be the King of Westeros because he wants a peaceful realm and he believes he is the best suited to make that happen.’ – Somebody that attempts to define Renly’s intentions.
True- I can’t argue that. But we don’t know this until he has made his claim and has started his purposely lethargic military campaign. It is in a Catelyn chapter after he is crowned that he admits probably what he has believed all along: that he is better suited for rule than his brother Stannis and will be better at ruling than his brother Robert. So in hindsight, we can look at his characteristics throughout A Game of Thrones and say to ourselves, ‘OK, I understand why he tried to oust Cersei and replace her with Margaery. I understand why he was being proactive before Robert was dead and why he offered Ned Stark swords to solidify his title as Protector of the Realm.’
Except… I don’t.
Renly is immature and cynical and described by both other characters that know him and the author that created him as being concerned with masquerade balls and colorful fabrics and the lavish celebrations that he was known to throw. The Renly Baratheon we read about in 3/4 of A Game of Thrones is not a man that would claim to be King… at least not for noble and selfless reasons.
Renly’s brother Stannis speaks to the motivation behind his own claim being his DUTY and not his DESIRE. We believe Stannis Baratheon when he says this because everything we know of his character supports this being his motivation. In his mind, which is in fact, the reality of the succession, he was the heir to his older brother Robert as Robert’s children were not of his body and therefore, not actually his children. The motivation is simple and perfect and works better than any other King’s claim.
So was Renly’s character a front? Was he playing the Game of Thrones deep and heavy?
Lol, no. No way.
At least, I don’t think so. If he was, he would have to have planned for Robert and Stannis and the Lannisters. Things broke a certain way and Renly was presented with an opportunity. And when he took that opportunity, it isn’t as if his love of celebrations and feasts went away. What we know of his character thus far does not change. As the King of Westeros in Highgarden, he did the same things he did as Lord of Storm’s End, Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, Master of Laws at Kings Landing and younger, handsome brother to the King.
On the other hand, I can believe that Renly Baratheon’s motivations matured and became nobler once he took the bull by the horns, so to speak. I do believe that, actually. But I can’t find anything in the text- scenes with Renly in them, characters speaking about Renly, or Renly’s own actions- that support a long game to steal the Iron Throne. As far as Renly knew, five people were ahead of him as heir to the Crown, so if he did believe he was the only person suited to rule and bring peace to the Realm, there would be a lot of violence required to get these five heirs out of his way. This negates the idea of Renly playing a long game and I challenge Renly Baratheon fans to prove me wrong. They won’t be able to and frankly, it’s doubtful there even are any Renly Baratheon fans. The character is muddled and hidden beneath the surface in an uninteresting way- and there is nothing wrong with that. Renly’s legacy is far more superior than his life and his short reign.
It may very well be that Renly Baratheon is less of a character and more of a plot device to move the narrative to a certain place. Late in Act II, a handful of characters pay homage to Renly by saying he was the best of the Five Kings and that he was the man that should have been King. The characters that were touched by Renly Baratheon would have died for him and that is somehow believable as it is read in the text, despite the reader never seeing the character of Renly Baratheon that inspires such loyalty even long after his death. The characters that had sworn their swords to Renly Baratheon truly believed they were a part of something that was bigger than themselves. That the sum of themselves was far better than the addition of the individuals.
George R. R. Martin didn’t necessarily write a character that would leave a lasting legacy and inspire the legions and legions of nobility and smallfolk to follow him to the end and be completely lost once he was gone. But George R. R. Martin made sure to write that this character did leave a lasting legacy and did inspire hundreds of thousands of the Realm. The interesting thing is that it somehow works. At least, the glaring contradiction of the character to the readers and the character to other characters doesn’t harm the saga. It doesn’t even seem to harm the character. I’d reiterate that it doesn’t give me feelings of Renly Baratheon that go one way or the other.
There is no question in our mind that Renly Baratheon is vital and more important than 90% of the characters of ASOIAF even as he flies under the reader’s radar more so than 90% of the characters of ASOIAF.
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