Season 5 of Game Of Thrones is proving to be the deadliest yet. Not even halfway through the season's 10 episodes, and there have already been three characters killed who are still alive in the books: Mance Rayder, burned at the stake by Melisandre in the season premiere, and both Barristan Selmy and Grey Worm, murdered by the Sons of the Harpy in the most recent episode. For the first time ever, viewers who have read George R.R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series are just as nervous as the non-book reading fans. It's natural to worry which other characters might suffer an unexpected fate — and I'm afraid that Stannis Baratheon may be next to die.
The only remaining Baratheon brother has proved to be a more effective leader than any of the succession of Lannister children who have sat the Iron Throne. After losing the Battle of the Blackwater, he decided to ditch the game of thrones entirely and instead head north to the Wall. Protecting the Seven Kingdoms from the threat of the White Walkers is more important to Stannis than squabbling over a chair. That's the stuff of kings right there.
Viewers have probably warmed to Stannis more than ever this season, mostly thanks to the unexpectedly tender scene between the stern king and his adorable daughter Shireen last week. Sadly, nobody can ever be happy on this show without something horrible happening to them soon after. (Witness: Robb Stark, who found out he was going to be a father... and then watched his wife, his unborn child, his mother, and himself all murdered at a wedding. Harsh.) So now that we've seen this softer side of Stannis, we should be very, very worried. (Book spoilers to follow!)
And there's reason to fear for Stannis's well being. The most recent book in Martin's series, A Dance With Dragons, ends with the king's fate ambiguous after a battle at Winterfell. In a Schrödinger's Cat-type situation, Stannis is simultaneously both alive and dead until we open the box. (The box in this analogy being the next book, The Winds Of Winter.) In Jon Snow's final ADWD chapter, he receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton, known to book readers as The Pink Letter after the Bolton's family color. (ASOIAF fans have a penchant for colors: the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, the Pink Letter...) In it, Ramsay claims to have defeated and killed Stannis — as well as discovered Mance Rayder's plot to free "Arya" and had the King Beyond the Wall cloaked in the skins of his accomplices. (It's a long story.)
We don't actually see the battle at Winterfell, nor do we witness Stannis's fate, whatever it may be. Ramsay may very well be lying... but if he's telling the truth, and if showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss know Martin's plan for TWOW, they may decide to go ahead and actually show their audience the king's death rather than keeping us in suspense for the entire 10-month hiatus between seasons.
It's not like Ramsay is the only danger that Stannis is facing, either. Having now encountered and been rebuffed by both Stark girls she swore to protect, Brienne of Tarth decided the only thing left to her is her mission of revenge against Stannis for murdering her beloved Renly. Benioff & Weiss made a point of showing us Brienne reaffirming her vow to kill Stannis, putting those two characters on a collision course completely absent from the books.
Oh, and of course there's always the horde of encroaching White Walkers that could crash through the Wall and kill everyone at any moment. Between the ice zombies, the psychotic bastard, and the vengeful warrior, Stannis has got a plethora of targets on his back.
And he's not the only Baratheon we should be worried about. The tender scene between Stannis and Shireen could have been setting us up for the death of the daughter just as easily as the father. Queen Selyse wanted to leave her scarred child at home on Dragonstone, but the Lady Melisandre insisted she be brought along to the Wall. Why exactly was she so keen to keep Shireen close by?
The Red Priestess's penchant for burning people with king's blood should make us very concerned for Shireen's continued well-being. If Melisandre were to receive news — true or false — that her beloved king had perished in battle, she wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice the girl to the flames in a misguided attempt to resurrect him, like how Thoros of Myr resurrected Beric Dondarrion. If it turned out that Ramsay was lying and Stannis was alive, only for him to return to the Wall and learn that his trusted advisor had burned his daughter alive...? Well, that would be a tragic, gripping end to the season right there.
Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that in the Season 5 trailer, there's a fleeting glimpse of Selyse lying on the snowy ground, staring at something in apparent despair:
What would trouble the usually stoic queen more than the horrific death of her only child? Even the most callous of us would be appalled at the sight of an innocent young girl burning alive.
It's hard to know who to be more worried about: Stannis or Shireen. Either way, chances are high that at least one Baratheon won't be making it out of Season 5 alive.
Images: Helen Sloan/HBO (4)