Warning: Major Spoilers From Last Night's "Game of Thrones" Are Ahead!
Throughout season five of "Game of Thrones," the writers adapting George R.R. Martin's acclaimed novels have marked plenty of departures from the source material, from little changes to big ones. Last night's penultimate episode, "The Dance of Dragons," definitely falls under the "big one" category, at least as far as the Baratheons are concerned.
The already brutal season five reached a new benchmark in brutality, as Iron Throne contender Stannis Baratheon sacrificed his daughter Shireen in service of R'hllor, the Lord of Light he worships and believes has his back in the race to rule Westeros. Stannis makes the horrific decision to kill his own child when his camp is ransacked, leaving his already starving army in worse condition than ever before. With doom on the horizon, and an apocalyptic event nipping at the heels of the Wall, Stannis finally gives into the red priestess Melisandre's advice to sacrifice Shireen and allow the king's blood flowing through her veins to refuel his prophesied path to dominion over the Seven Kingdoms.
It's a huge turning point for both the show and the character of Stannis, for many reasons, not the least of which is… well, after this, how can anyone be on Team Stannis? The so-called Mannis was always a dark horse contender to rule over Westeros on his best of days, and now, after killing not just a child, but killing his own and only child, and burning her alive at that… well, there's just no walking that back. "Thrones" fans are out on Stannis, and you can't blame them.
What's more, Shireen's death shocked show-only viewers and book-readers alike, because Shireen does not die in the books — at least, not yet, and certainly not like this. In the books, Shireen and her mother Selyse remain on The Wall when Stannis and his army march south toward Winterfell to wage war against the Boltons. There's no opportunity for Melisandre to burn Shireen alive at Stannis' request, at least not given the current circumstances of the books.
It's just the latest change from "A Dance with Dragons," the fifth novel in "A Song of Ice and Fire" and the main inspiration for season five of "Game of Thrones." But don't lay this one at the feet of anyone other than George R.R. Martin himself, as he's the one that gave "Thrones" show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss the idea to have Stannis kill Shireen.
"When George first told us about this, it was one of those moments where I remember looking at Dan and going, 'God, that's so horrible and so good in the story sense because it all comes together,'" Benioff says in a behind-the-scenes video about the making of the episode. "In the very beginning, from the very first time we saw Stannis and Melisandre, they were sacrificing people, burning people alive on the beaches of Dragonstone. It all comes to this. There's been so much talk about King's Blood and the power of King's Blood, and ultimately, fatally, to Shireen's sacrifice. It's one of the most horrible moments we've shot, just in terms of the emotion of it."
So, no, Stannis has not killed Shireen in the books, but it sure sounds like he might. At the very least, his actions on the show are in line with the character in Martin's imagination, which tells us all we need to know about the horrific consequences awaiting "King" Stannis in the future. With any luck, Stannis will suffer those consequences in less than one week.
WRONG AGAIN, STANNIS.