Shireen Baratheon

Written by @EllieDangerous
"I'm the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon, and I'm your daughter." Played memorably by Kerry Ingram, Stannis' only child is sweet, wise, and sidelined by a disfiguring affliction known as greyscale. But Shireen's face is the only thing about her tainted by shades of grey. Unlike most others in 'Game of Thrones', she is wholly good. This post - written for those who are completely caught up on the show - is about how this turns her into a lesson to be learnt.

Spoiler Alert
Shireen is perhaps an odd character to feature in this blog when she hails from a series filled with louder, messier personalities. But Shireen is the perfect champion of what is arguably this season's biggest theme: Winter is here.

The show's stockpile of pure hearts is dwindling. Ned Stark is dead, and Robb and Talisa followed. Jon's blood stains the snow as we speak. Daenerys is long corrupted by power, Sansa is rightfully vindictive, Tyrion and Davos are too sinful to be pure, Barristan and Jojen are too dead, and Arya was never a good kid. Sam is perhaps the standard-bearer for purity, as he’s been tested in ways Shireen never was, but he is not innocent to the same extent as she. Shireen was the last flower before Winter.

In episode eight of this latest season, Shireen is burnt alive by her beloved father, King Stannis, as a sacrifice to his God. As the flames roar and the poor girl screams, we witness a death far colder than anything that happens beyond the Wall. It was made even colder by how much we’d warmed to her and Stannis’ relationship of late.

Shireen long conceded that her mother Selyse was incapable of loving her, both afraid of Selyse's religious fanaticism and hurt by how much she resents her for being a sickly girl and not a strong male heir. But Shireen always loved her father Stannis, seeming to be the only force that could soften his stone heart. When she was first infected with the fatal greyscale as a baby, Stannis called upon every healer in the country to cure her. So how could he later bring himself to murder her?

For military advantage, apparently. His sacrifice initially seems to work, for the next day the snow starts melting a path to Stannis' goal (Winterfell), just as the priestess Melisandre promised. But all Stannis really did was plunge himself into darkness. Stannis worships the Lord of Light, but Shireen was the only light in his life. Out she snuffs.

She died to punish us for warming to Stannis, she died to enhance the villainy of Melisandre, and she died to one day give loyal Davos a heartbreaking inner turmoil. But she also died because Shireen was too good and pure for the world of 'Game of Thrones', and in this show good people are often used as a hard lesson in the end. Just look at Myrcella in the season five finale; a good-hearted innocent who died to give others a lesson in the injustice of war and the cruel elusiveness of happiness. (Poor Jaime.)

Incidentally, though Shireen and Myrcella are princesses of a similar age their goodness is profoundly different. Myrcella is utterly naïve. Sheltered and spoilt, we're tempted to think her nothing but a little fool, as Sansa once was. Shireen, on the other hand, was well-read and clever beyond her years, raised among neglectful stoics yet somehow with her principles in tact.

When speaking with Stannis about a historic war, for example, she insisted "I wouldn't have chosen either side. It's all the choosing sides that made everything so horrible."

Wise kid. It's easy to forget that in a complicated way she was the heir to the Iron Throne. Westeros would've thrived.

In a scene bizarrely reminiscent of The Wicker Man, Shireen didn't realise her fate until she saw that haunting stake in the snow. But her obliviousness wasn't out of naïveté; it was because she had faith in her father's love for her. That's another lesson to take from her death: in 'Game of Thrones', just because love feels powerful that doesn't mean it is.

In the season finale, only one episode after the death of Shireen, Stannis is supposedly killed. But the paltry amount of time between the self-proclaimed King's sacrifice and the sweet mercy of his death is one of the reasons why some predict his survival. He needs more time to learn his lesson, which is that he stamped out his only source of warmth for absolutely nothing.

Many saw the epic wight swarm previous to this episode as the sign that Winter had come, but Shireen’s death showed its true arrival. The ultimate cold act by the ultimate ice king.
The stones crack open, the water burns
The shadows come to dance, my lord
The shadows come to play
The shadows come to dance, my lord
The shadows come to stay.
Father. Aren’t you cold?
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 18 June 2015
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