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Stannis and the Law


Craving Peaches
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Stannis' relationship with the Law can make for interesting discussion. He has, for the most part, a very rigid view of the law. I am no psychologist but I would suspect this view could be due to being comparatively ignored as he was the middle child and lacked the charisma and affableness of his brothers. His focus on ensuring the law is always applied to its fullest extent in every case may come from a desire to see everyone treated in the same manner, because he felt he was not treated the same as his brothers (I believe this is also why he's so concerned with his rights). Stannis sees the law in quite black and white terms.

However, we see from the actions of other lords that some amount of leeway in interpreting and enforcing the law is normal. Lords have some scope in deciding the specifics of a punishment beyond the accepted customary punishment.

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"It is customary to take a finger from a thief," Lord Tarly replied in a hard voice, "but a man who steals from a sept is stealing from the gods." He turned to his captain of guards. "Seven fingers. Leave his thumbs."

I also think that some of the decisions Stannis makes based on the law could be a bit arbitrary, such as cutting off Davos' fingers after he saved them rather than just giving him a pardon (which he is allowed to do) but Stannis doesn't see it that way.

I would like to draw your attention to this passage.

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"It has always been so. I am not . . . I am not a cruel man, Ser Davos. You know me. Have known me long. This is not my decree. It has always been so, since Aegon's day and before. Daemon Blackfyre, the brothers Toyne, the Vulture King, Grand Maester Hareth . . . traitors have always paid with their lives . . . even Rhaenyra Targaryen. She was daughter to one king and mother to two more, yet she died a traitor's death for trying to usurp her brother's crown. It is law. Law, Davos. Not cruelty."

Now I was rereading this quote the other day and it reminded me of some elements from The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I do not necessarily agree with everything in this book but I think parts of it would be interesting to compare with Stannis' character. In brief, it is about a pilgrim trying to cast off his burden of sin and reach heaven. The characters he meets along the way are given names such as 'Obstinate', and 'Evangelist'. What I find of interest to this discussion is the characters linked to the Law.

One of the characters, 'Mr. Worldly Wiseman', teaches Christian (the main character) that it is possible for him to relieve himself of his burden of sin through the Law.

From: The Pilgrim's Progress - Wikipedia  

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On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by the secular ethics of Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian as he stops before Mount Sinai on the way to Mr. Legality's home. It hangs over the road and threatens to crush any who would pass it; also the mountain flashes with fire. Evangelist exposes Worldly Wiseman, Legality, and Civility for the frauds they are: they would have the pilgrim leave the true path by trusting in his own good deeds to remove his burden.

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Mr. Worldly Wiseman, a resident of a place called Carnal Policy, who persuades Christian to go out of his way to being helped by a friend named Mr. Legality and then move to the City of Morality (which focuses salvation on the Law and good deeds instead of faith and love in Jesus Christ). His real advice is from the world and not from God, meaning his advice is flawed and consists of three objectives: getting Christian off the right path, making the cross of Jesus Christ offensive to him, and binding him to the Law so he would die with his sins.

There is also:

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Moses, the severe, violent avenger (representing the Law, which knows no mercy)

Now I don't believe Stannis thinks he's sinned, as he does not believe in any Gods at the moment, but I do believe he is carrying a burden, which is the guilt he feels over Renly's death.

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"...I swear, I will go to my grave thinking of my brother's peach."

Now this backdrop of being very concerned with rights and having to apply the law uniformly and rigidly leads up to the moment when Stannis decides to aid the Night's Watch.

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"...Yes, I should have come sooner. If not for my Hand, I might not have come at all. Lord Seaworth is a man of humble birth, but he reminded me of my duty, when all I could think of was my rights. I had the cart before the horse, Davos said. I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne." Stannis pointed north. "There is where I'll find the foe that I was born to fight."

This is a very significant moment as Stannis is choosing to put a moral duty over a legal one. Fighting against 'the Great Other' clearly has a religious element to it and it is like Stannis is on a mission mandated by God (R'hlorr, or even the Old Gods?). Going back to The Pilgrim's Progress, it is as though Stannis is now on the proper path to relieve himself of his burden. 

This makes Stannis decision to go back south again to fight the Boltons and the Freys troublesome. He is back to fighting for his rights again, fighting based on the law, and not on his higher moral duty. However, many users here have speculated that Stannis will soon have an encounter which will introduce him to the Old Gods, and I think this could be just the thing to set Stannis back on the right track.

So, to summarise: Stannis is currently conflicted between fighting for his rights, based on the law, and fighting for humanity at large, a moral duty. Based on the above observations I do not think Stannis continuing to fight based on his rights will bring him the relief he seems to want, and it is the 'wrong' path for him to be on. What Stannis should be doing is continuing to fight against the Others, his moral obligation. Stannis may be set back on the 'right' path by an encounter seemingly with the Old Gods.

I think the message here, if there is one, is that it is sometimes necessary to place a moral duty above a legal one, and that following the law without a moral influence to temper it is harsh and arbitrary.

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