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Game of Thrones' Stannis is kind of a jerk, but he's a good dad

Stannis's daughter Shireen observes her dad.
Stannis's daughter Shireen observes her dad.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Todd VanDerWerff: Zack, I dig your connections between this series and Star Wars, which is already a science fantasy to begin with. It's hard to escape the long reach of that franchise when you're doing anything genre-related nowadays, so it makes sense, too.

But I think there's one big connection you could tease out even more: as with Star Wars, Game of Thrones is about how children live in the world their parents have created for them.

When Andrew was listing characters who have been point-of-view characters in the books a few weeks ago, a lot of them were Stark children. In fact, the number is four, counting Jon. (The other three are Arya, Sansa, and Bran.) And even as these kids have seen their father, mother, and older brother killed and their family all but decimated, they're soldiering on, on the outskirts of society, waiting for the opportunity to return and declare themselves epic fantasy heroes.

Really, everybody on this show is dealing with parental issues. Tyrion feels guilt over the death of his mother (whom he never even met) and utter hatred of his father (whom he killed). Jaime and Cersei are driven, to different degrees, by the need to please Tywin. Daenerys is still marked by being the child of a man she never knew, while Jon's lack of knowledge about his mother haunts him (and also possibly points to the true secret behind this whole story).

That's why I keep coming back to the small scene between Stannis and his daughter, Shireen, which I haven't seen many people discussing. In a lot of ways, it's just a sweet scene meant to punctuate a brutal episode with something nice. Stannis's insistence that his daughter, no matter how scarred, is the princess and his child is one of the warmer moments we've seen from the character, and the stunned look on Stephen Dillane's face when she hugs him is worth the whole thing.

But it's also a sort of indication of what good parenting might look like in this universe. Stannis is a cold, distant father, but he knows the right thing to say when it counts. A lot of that is rooted in his own pride, but he's still there when Shireen needs him to be. That's not true for most of Game of Thrones' other characters, who are either orphans or might as well be.

The weight of legacies hangs heavily over the whole show, of course, but it feels as if it's more prominent with this season in particular. Now that Tywin's dead, there are no longer any great patriarchs or matriarchs in the Seven Kingdoms. (There's Lady Olenna, but she's so far off to the side that she needs to conduct her skullduggery in secret.) Mace Tyrell is ineffectual. Balon Greyjoy might as well not exist. And Prince Doran over in Dorne is defined mostly through inaction (which is cool but also does not a memorable character make).

In short, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are adapting A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons as stories about how you live in the world when you finally have to start cutting your own path through it. Many of these characters have defined themselves as the children of their parents for so long that becoming orphans can utterly wreck their previously structured worldview — as I would argue happened to Arya and Sansa. Or it can free them in ways they hadn't even thought of before — as when Tyrion finally broke free of his family name and headed east.

That's why I think it's good to have that scene between Stannis and Shireen, no matter how minor. There are functional family relationships in this world. They're just not as dramatically interesting.

Read the recap. Come back for more thoughts tomorrow.

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