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CAllDSmith

Robert Baratheon a Possible Reinterpretation

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I'm going to begin with a preface: I'm not saying Robert was a good king, I'm not saying he was a great king. But looking at him for a second time, rewatching Mark Addy's performance and looking at some of the thing's brought up on his brothers' tvtropes pages I think there could be a bit more to the king than first meets the eye. Also, I am of course not a psychiatrist or an expert in that field but I am someone who has suffered from depression and has had many friends and acquaintances who have also suffered from that ailment. I look forward to your civil conversation on my thoughts. (I also will be adding quotes for evidence later as I'm unable to browse through all my books atm.) 

Previous Interpretation: Robert Baratheon was a drunk, lecherous man who could not have kept his marriage vows to Lyanna and who could never have been an effective king. He was a good fighter but a terrible husband and king. His actions while king led to the downfall of his house and the War of Five Kings 

New Interpretation: Robert was a man with depression. One who had suffered greatly in life and found that no matter what he did, people he loved suffered. He was forced into a situation that he did not want and lost people he loved and called friends whenever he did lead. He found life hard, did not think himself up to the task, but thought that his successors would be worse. He drank, whored and hunted to cope and was genuinely trying to kill himself on many occasions just for it all to be over. 

 

In my experience, and from what I've been told by professionals, depression can have a biological component as well as an environmental one and the House Baratheon genogram partially supplied by the books ,both canon and semi-canon, could point to a genetic component. However, at first I'm going to focus on the immediate situation of Robert Baratheon. 

First, his father (Steffon Baratheon) was fourteen when his own father (Ormund Baratheon) died in his arms during a war that was certainly bloody enough to have scarred many grown men during the period as well as other youths. He then had to handle the tragic loss of his father, the trauma of war, and the burdens of becoming the head of his family and lord of the Stormlands. While there have been attempts at studies to show that people may have been more resistant to PTSD than people today these studies are not conclusive. Aegon the Dragonsbane and Viserys II also show that natural responses to trauma are not absent from the setting; Robb Stark and Viserys the Begger King also show that teenagers are still not fully equipped to handle great burdens and stresses at their age. Steffon's difficult situation would then be compounded by marriage at 15/16 and becoming a father at 16/17. No matter how much his marriage to Cassana Estermont may have been a happy one the stresses of marriage and parenthood are difficult ones even for someone in their twenties let alone at 16 with every other issue they had to deal with. 

This presents a genogram of children raising children, most likely an explanation for why Renly didn't come along until 277 since World and Stannis don't mention a large amount of miscarriages and stillborn brothers in between. Steffon and Cassana don't seem to be bad parents, or at least they tried not to be, it is entirely likely that they recognized at twenty-three they weren't going to be the best parents they could be so they fostered Robert out to apparently one of the best dads in Westeros at the time. Yet, even with only Stannis to take care of their second son still seemed to be neglected. Stannis doesn't mention his relationship with his father that much, but he does mention a great-uncle Harbert who tried to convince him to leave Proudwing and Maester Cressen says he favored him.  

All of this comes to a head one stormy day when the Windproud went down in Shipbreaker Bay. That day broke Stannis's faith in the gods, but we never hear about how it impacted Robert- presumably because Ned was there when Robert was dealing with it. We now have a young Robert, sixteen a man grown, burying both of his parents and responsible for his fourteen-year old brother Stannis and his infant brother Renly. And what does Robert do? He gets the hell out of dodge and goes back to Jon Arryn despite his fostership having technically ended. Also notice that it's around this time that Robert fathers Mya Stone and begins to build up this mental image of Lyanna as the perfect woman. (Not too different from Robb's own situation with Jeyne Westerling and Steffon's situation with Cassana.) 

This is a good moment to discuss Robert's relationship with Lyanna. Regardless of how faithful Robert would have been to her, and how much he actually knew her, we cannot deny that Robert loved his version of Lyanna. This brings us to the tourney of Harrenhal and what followed. Robert seems to have been enjoying himself, and not to have any enmity to his 2nd cousin Rhaegar, this is implied from his drinking with Richard Lonmouth and Lonmouth promising that the both of them would beat the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Then Rhaegar happened. Okay, 2nd cousin and heir to the throne is possibly insulting your fiancee what do you do? You spin it as him obviously giving her the compliment she deserves and probably get over it, Robert was good at forgiving most people. What follows is his cousin kidnapping and raping (from Robert's perspective) the woman Robert loved followed by King Aerys murdering Robert's future brother and father in laws, his adopted father's heir, and other men that Robert was probably good friends with and then calling for Robert and his best friend's heads. Robert faces the problems of war, watching another probable good friend (Denys Arryn) killed in front of him, as well as killing a good many people on his own. Then the Trident comes and Robert finally gets to kill Rhaegar, but also loses almost a dozen friends just to Barristan's sword. He fails to bring justice to Aerys, wins the war through treachery, He also has to confront the fact that he is complicit in the murder of two children. And then Lyanna dies and it was all for nothing. All the loss, the fighting, the murder and the one thing Robert wanted out of all of it is gone. The impact of all of this really comes through when Robert talks to Ned in the barrows "Rhaegar won, he's dead and with Lyanna". It was reading that part again that started me looking at him differently, this is a guy who genuinely wants to be dead more than he wants to be alive. 

I honestly believe that Robert's "dragonspawn" quote and his treatment of Viserys and Dany is a case of trying to justify everything that has happened to himself. If Viserys can be let to live, maybe there was a way to have avoided all of those deaths and pains. Maybe Robert didn't need to kill Rhaegar (making him a kinslayer in some form.) or have so many friends die? Robert never wanted to be king or to rule, but it was the only thing he could do in order to justify his Rebellion. 

I think for all Stannis sees Robert as always being perfect, Robert saw himself as a failure, only good at swinging a hammer, whenever he tries to do anything else he loses friends and family. So here he is, 284 lost his friends, the life he was expecting to have, and the woman he loved. Yet, the world expects more of him. That's tough, he then goes through (within a year of finding out the woman he loved is dead) a wedding with Cersei Lannister. That entire time he was probably thinking about how much he wanted it to be Lyanna and how it was not the way he imagined it. (Ned wasn't even there I don't believe.) He then got rip roaring drunk to cope with that issue and accidentally called Cersei Lyanna. Yeah, that's a shitty situation, but it's pretty understandable given the circumstances. And Cersei isn't exactly an innocent party here considering she was with Jaime that morning. So now Robert is married to this woman who is not fundamentally a good woman, who he has wronged and he doesn't even know what he did or how. Robert doesn't have any real friends at the beginning of AGOT, he hasn't seen Ned in almost ten years, he's not close with Stannis, Renly certainly doesn't love him, Jon's like another father but he's pushing ninety. Robert's only outlets where he is trying to get positive feedback in life are hunting, whoring, drinking, and eating. The first one gives him some physical feedback and he has to focus on that task, no room for thought of anything else. Whoring, he is paying for professional women to make him feel as if they love him and care for him meaningfully. Drinking, he's a clear alcoholic in a family that doesn't have a history of alcoholism like the Lannister's do. It reads similar to his great-great-uncle Daeron choosing to fall into the niche of drunken wastrel instead of mad oracle. Eating,  this guy eats to excess but more importantly he doesn't exercise. His workout routine was probabyl entirely geared to lifting his big hammer and hitting things with it. Ned, his bestfriend, is surprised at how fat he has grown, implying that Robert prided himself in "being muscled like a maiden's fantasy". I would propose that all of this adds up to Robert filling a void with excess, numbing the pain with alcohol, and not taking pleasure in the things he used to enjoy. 

Which leads us to the last few weeks of his life. Robert's want to participate in the melee is not a normal occurence, he has tourneys all the time, and he's not a great jouster, so if he were holding a tourney why wouldn't there be a melee every time? And if there's a melee every time why is Robert out of shape and why doesn't his armor fit if he's participating? Obviously he's not. Something has kept Robert from doing one of the things he supposedly loves, possibly the one thing he thinks he's good at, and it's obviously not Cersei. I would theorize that Robert has two reasons for taking part in the tournament right now, The first is because he never felt so alive as when he was winning the crown, or so dead as after he had won it. (Another hint that he might have been feeling depressed for a long time.) With Ned back he's trying to get that feeling of being alive back, reliving his glory days and forgetting the bad ones that have come. The second is hypothetical, but I think Robert wants to die (The irony being that Cersei was apparently plotting to have him die in that melee.) and it's the fact that no one would actually hit him that gets him to back down. Robert's conversation with Ned here sounds like the confessions of a man on his deathbed. He apologizes for Ned having to kill Lady, confesses he never wanted to be king, he thinks he's a bad king, and admits that he wants nothing more than to leave it all behind and go risk his life as a sellsword. He doesn't want to sell his hammer for money, he wants the opportunity to try to feel alive and possibly die. He goes on to say that he and Ned still have many years to make him a good king, that sounds like some of the things I've said after my best friend talked me out of suicide, affirming that I was planning to keep living. Robert also shows his old self later when his battle voice comes out. The happiness that follows this chapter is the high point of the chapter and Robert's life, it all goes down from here. Robert has perhaps the biggest fight of his life when he fights with Ned about assassinating Dany. He threatens his best friend's life and though Ned doesn't say it, it's clear they're both going over that talk about whether Robert is actually better than Aerys. Robert then has to deal with all of the fallout of the Lannister-Stark feud and in that moment he seems to admit that he's not doing a good job. Robert's answer to the problems of state is leave Ned in charge and run off hunting ,after having struck Cersei, Robert knows what he's doing there. Ned is now in charge of handling the fallout of what Cat did, in theory Ned could have sent someone after Jaime Lannister, had any of the Lannister guards arrested, or solved the problem on his own. Robert has gone on one of the cycles that often plague people with depression, the wave of highs where everything seems good and then the bottom falls out to a new low. 

Robert hunts for days and days, finds his prey killed, and tries for a boar instead. He's looking for some kind of positive feedback, something to make him feel alive and that he's actually good at something. He also drowns himself in drink. He ends up being gored by the boar, and actually doesn't seem too upset that he's dying when Ned sees him. He admits his mistakes, things he already knew, and charges Ned to do better than him. Robert's life story kind of reads as the stereotypical a"gifted in elementary school depressed and anxious as an adult". He apparently was always succeeding when he was young, but never learned how to solve problems he couldn't hit. He never learned how to deal with failure or difficulty and found himself spiraling in a constant feedback loop of failure, coping, and more failure. Sometimes it feels like it's better to not try than to try and make things worse. 

This leads me to make two final points about Robert Baratheon and his life. The first is that he is not an idiot, like most Baratheons he has the good looks and the athletic ability and at first just looks like a boisterous bruiser only good at hitting his problems away and not talking to them. I would say that this is the mental image of himself he has, He did have the problem that he came into a bad situation at a young age (He was only twenty-one when he won the throne,) after losing a bunch of friends, his parents, and the woman he loved all in a short period of time. The foundation of his reign was him needing a mental health day, and never actually getting it. It's honestly amazing Renly ended up even appearing as well-adjusted as he did. I would say that Robert probably could have done the job if he had never had to marry Cersei and was able to just keep Stannis as his heir. 

A final point, Robert as a parent, he is not a good parent to Joffrey, but considering his examples of parenting were a sixteen-twenty-four year old and a man that was closer to a grandfather he could have done wore. The fact that Joffrey ended up wanting to be like him (despite not really getting that) and that Tommen and Myrcella still ended up being decent people probably shows he wasn't as bad as his father-in-law or his wife. There's also the bastard factor. Robert apparently doted on Mya and wanted to bring her to court, until Cersei threatened to kill her, and did kill another pair of Robert's bastards. Cersei made her entire life goal tearing down everything Robert built up and made. I would say that Robert could have possibly pulled himself together if he hadn't married Cersei and had been able to bring Mya to court. Having something to live for, someone to live for, a goal besides simply preventing Cersei from ruining the realm might have pulled him out. Sure, there is the situation with Edric, but I honestly believe that was him protecting the boy and himself from whatever Cersei would try to do to him. And finally, I honestly believe Robert distanced himself from Renly and Stannis because of personality differences, but also because he was scared of getting too close to anyone that might die because of his mistake, but also because they reminded him of his failures. Renly was basically his son and he essentially abandoned him, and he and Stannis had not been able to help each other through their griefs. 

 

I know this is a lot, and most of you are probably are going to disagree with me and it sure is a work in project, but please let me know what you think.

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I don't think you're wrong. One of the things that makes ASOIAF so great is that the majority of the characters aren't simply black or white, obviously with a few exceptions. (Ramsay, Euron, etc.)

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4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

I'm going to begin with a preface: I'm not saying Robert was a good king, I'm not saying he was a great king. But looking at him for a second time, rewatching Mark Addy's performance and looking at some of the thing's brought up on his brothers' tvtropes pages I think there could be a bit more to the king than first meets the eye. Also, I am of course not a psychiatrist or an expert in that field but I am someone who has suffered from depression and has had many friends and acquaintances who have also suffered from that ailment. I look forward to your civil conversation on my thoughts. (I also will be adding quotes for evidence later as I'm unable to browse through all my books atm.) 

Previous Interpretation: Robert Baratheon was a drunk, lecherous man who could not have kept his marriage vows to Lyanna and who could never have been an effective king. He was a good fighter but a terrible husband and king. His actions while king led to the downfall of his house and the War of Five Kings 

New Interpretation: Robert was a man with depression. One who had suffered greatly in life and found that no matter what he did, people he loved suffered. He was forced into a situation that he did not want and lost people he loved and called friends whenever he did lead. He found life hard, did not think himself up to the task, but thought that his successors would be worse. He drank, whored and hunted to cope and was genuinely trying to kill himself on many occasions just for it all to be over. 

Or both are true in part. 
Certainly the original interpretation, or variations on it, fits all the facts we have. And the new one does not invalidate the old one.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

This is a good moment to discuss Robert's relationship with Lyanna. Regardless of how faithful Robert would have been to her, and how much he actually knew her, we cannot deny that Robert loved his version of Lyanna.

Can't we? I wouldn't go so far as saying he didn't love his own version of her, but I'm not so sure he did.
What did he actually do for even his version, other than talk afterward about how much he loved her?
He wenched in the Vale.
He made no effort to spend time with her at Harrenhal, drinking his buddies under the table while she listened to Rhaegar's singing and hung out with her brothers (and did the KotLT thing!)
He went to war? He says it was to get her back, but first, his alternate option to going to war was to send his head to KL, so ... he's going to war regardless of her. Second, he made no effort to find her or get her back throughout the war that we know of (not that it would have been easy - and he may have that we don't know about). Third, while in such great distress about her fate at Rhaegar's hand, he fucked literally the entire brothel at the Stoney Sept. Every, Single. Girl. So terrible Lyanna was getting raped 1000x by Rhaegar!
Last, even after he'd won, he didn't go looking for her or try to find her, that we know of. Ned did that, and Ned was estranged from him at that time.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

This brings us to the tourney of Harrenhal and what followed. Robert seems to have been enjoying himself, and not to have any enmity to his 2nd cousin Rhaegar, this is implied from his drinking with Richard Lonmouth and Lonmouth promising that the both of them would beat the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Then Rhaegar happened. Okay, 2nd cousin and heir to the throne is possibly insulting your fiancee

Err, no, honouring his fiance.
Insulting him maybe, but honouring her.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

what do you do? You spin it as him obviously giving her the compliment she deserves and probably get over it, Robert was good at forgiving most people. What follows is his cousin kidnapping and raping (from Robert's perspective) the woman Robert loved followed by King Aerys murdering Robert's future brother and father in laws, his adopted father's heir, and other men that Robert was probably good friends with and then calling for Robert and his best friend's heads. Robert faces the problems of war, watching another probable good friend (Denys Arryn) killed in front of him, as well as killing a good many people on his own. Then the Trident comes and Robert finally gets to kill Rhaegar, but also loses almost a dozen friends just to Barristan's sword. He fails to bring justice to Aerys, wins the war through treachery, He also has to confront the fact that he is complicit in the murder of two children. And then Lyanna dies and it was all for nothing. All the loss, the fighting, the murder and the one thing Robert wanted out of all of it is gone. The impact of all of this really comes through when Robert talks to Ned in the barrows "Rhaegar won, he's dead and with Lyanna". It was reading that part again that started me looking at him differently, this is a guy who genuinely wants to be dead more than he wants to be alive. 

What that part tells you is that Robert knows that Lyanna wanted to be with Rhaegar, even if he won't admit it to himself. Lovers are reunited in death, not rapists and their victims.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

I honestly believe that Robert's "dragonspawn" quote and his treatment of Viserys and Dany is a case of trying to justify everything that has happened to himself. If Viserys can be let to live, maybe there was a way to have avoided all of those deaths and pains. Maybe Robert didn't need to kill Rhaegar (making him a kinslayer in some form.) or have so many friends die? Robert never wanted to be king or to rule, but it was the only thing he could do in order to justify his Rebellion. 

He didn't have to justify his rebellion. It was that or his head.

What he did have was tremendous anger at Rhaegar and the Targaryens for taking what was his.

Thats not love for Lyanna, even his idealised version. Its selfishness. Lyanna was his, and Rhaegar took her, and worse, she was complicit and he knows it (lovers reunited in death) so she rejected him in favour of Rhaegar.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

I think for all Stannis sees Robert as always being perfect, Robert saw himself as a failure, only good at swinging a hammer, whenever he tries to do anything else he loses friends and family. So here he is, 284 lost his friends, the life he was expecting to have, and the woman he loved. Yet, the world expects more of him. That's tough, he then goes through (within a year of finding out the woman he loved is dead) a wedding with Cersei Lannister. That entire time he was probably thinking about how much he wanted it to be Lyanna and how it was not the way he imagined it. (Ned wasn't even there I don't believe.) He then got rip roaring drunk to cope with that issue and accidentally called Cersei Lyanna. Yeah, that's a shitty situation, but it's pretty understandable given the circumstances. And Cersei isn't exactly an innocent party here considering she was with Jaime that morning. So now Robert is married to this woman who is not fundamentally a good woman, who he has wronged and he doesn't even know what he did or how. Robert doesn't have any real friends at the beginning of AGOT, he hasn't seen Ned in almost ten years, he's not close with Stannis, Renly certainly doesn't love him, Jon's like another father but he's pushing ninety. Robert's only outlets where he is trying to get positive feedback in life are hunting, whoring, drinking, and eating. The first one gives him some physical feedback and he has to focus on that task, no room for thought of anything else. Whoring, he is paying for professional women to make him feel as if they love him and care for him meaningfully. Drinking, he's a clear alcoholic in a family that doesn't have a history of alcoholism like the Lannister's do. It reads similar to his great-great-uncle Daeron choosing to fall into the niche of drunken wastrel instead of mad oracle. Eating,  this guy eats to excess but more importantly he doesn't exercise. His workout routine was probabyl entirely geared to lifting his big hammer and hitting things with it. Ned, his bestfriend, is surprised at how fat he has grown, implying that Robert prided himself in "being muscled like a maiden's fantasy". I would propose that all of this adds up to Robert filling a void with excess, numbing the pain with alcohol, and not taking pleasure in the things he used to enjoy. 

Yup.

But I think too, its about continuing to avoid responsibilities. 
I think he knows that he's bad at these things not because he can't do them, but because he's essentially lazy. He's never grown up and never wants to grow up. At all times he takes the irresponsible choice. He has these responsibilities and its a choice, to take them on, or avoid them. He makes the choice again and again and again, but knows its not the right one.

Lyanna, or the idea of her, and what could have, should have been, is now his 'out'. Its not his fault that his life is such a wreck. Its not because he's made bad choices, and continues to make bad choices. Its because, woe is me, I lost her (not by choice)

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

Which leads us to the last few weeks of his life. Robert's want to participate in the melee is not a normal occurence, he has tourneys all the time, and he's not a great jouster, so if he were holding a tourney why wouldn't there be a melee every time? And if there's a melee every time why is Robert out of shape and why doesn't his armor fit if he's participating? Obviously he's not. Something has kept Robert from doing one of the things he supposedly loves, possibly the one thing he thinks he's good at, and it's obviously not Cersei. I would theorize that Robert has two reasons for taking part in the tournament right now, The first is because he never felt so alive as when he was winning the crown, or so dead as after he had won it. (Another hint that he might have been feeling depressed for a long time.) With Ned back he's trying to get that feeling of being alive back, reliving his glory days and forgetting the bad ones that have come.

I think its because he's back with Ned, and that makes the glory days seem possible again.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

This leads me to make two final points about Robert Baratheon and his life. The first is that he is not an idiot, like most Baratheons he has the good looks and the athletic ability and at first just looks like a boisterous bruiser only good at hitting his problems away and not talking to them. I would say that this is the mental image of himself he has,

I agree. 
And its self-fulfilling, because he makes no effort to change it, but revels in it.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

He did have the problem that he came into a bad situation at a young age (He was only twenty-one when he won the throne,) after losing a bunch of friends, his parents, and the woman he loved all in a short period of time. The foundation of his reign was him needing a mental health day, and never actually getting it. It's honestly amazing Renly ended up even appearing as well-adjusted as he did. I would say that Robert probably could have done the job if he had never had to marry Cersei and was able to just keep Stannis as his heir. 

Robert could have done the job if he'd bothered. He made other choices. He made the same other choices he made before the war actually. 

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

A final point, Robert as a parent, he is not a good parent to Joffrey, but considering his examples of parenting were a sixteen-twenty-four year old and a man that was closer to a grandfather he could have done wore. The fact that Joffrey ended up wanting to be like him (despite not really getting that) and that Tommen and Myrcella still ended up being decent people probably shows he wasn't as bad as his father-in-law or his wife.

I don't think it shows anything at all about him. He wasn't really involved, either in nature or nurture.

4 hours ago, CAllDSmith said:

There's also the bastard factor. Robert apparently doted on Mya and wanted to bring her to court, until Cersei threatened to kill her, and did kill another pair of Robert's bastards. Cersei made her entire life goal tearing down everything Robert built up and made. I would say that Robert could have possibly pulled himself together if he hadn't married Cersei and had been able to bring Mya to court. Having something to live for, someone to live for, a goal besides simply preventing Cersei from ruining the realm might have pulled him out.

We'll never know. 
What we do know is that he had the same character flaws and made the same choices before and after his marriage.
At any time he could have started making different choices. What would be enough to drive that, we'll never know.

 

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The way I saw is

Robert is the hero that refused the call, got dragged into his journey against his will, never failed during his misson, got his major victory and then went on to fall from his grace.

He had the potential to be the best king of westeros, he was young, brave, capable, had a lot of mercy and was the charisma in person, he was the best of Daeron the Good and Daemon Blackfyre combined but ended up being Aegon IV.

Robert had the treasury full, a kingdom at peace and the support of the great families. But he was to lazy to work it out, he sat on the mess made by Aerys and dragged the same corrupt court, letting scum like Varys, Pycelle and Jaime keeping their positions, he rewarded the worst people like Tywin with a royal marriage without even taking his time to choose the bride, he was lazy and let wrong appoitments like Borus Blunt, Meryn Trent, Peter Baelish and Janos Slynt in key positions but did not care to watch them. He did not fostered his "heir" not take notice to purge him from sucession even though he knew the boy was trouble.

Robert let a old men, passed his prime to rule his kingdom for him but did not offer his suport or cared about his advice. Robert went paranoid with the possibility of being deposed by Targ loyalists, lost sign of the present and started to live on the past, idealizing Lyanna but not paying attention to his actual wife and her unfaithfulness, he put his kingdom into heavy debt and refused to take any kind of responsability.

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Posted (edited)

Very nice character analysis @CAllDSmith

As the other posters point out, Robert did not even try to be a king, leave alone a good one, but as an insight into him as a person this is a really great OP.

Edited by Ser Hedge

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