I’m not going to link to Matt Yglesias’s Vox article on last week’s Game of Thrones. At first, I wasn’t going to even read it because I figured the title was clickbait. Still, I’m a hopelessly curious geek, so I read the post.
Yglesias titled his piece “Game of Thrones’ Shireen scene was perfect, and Stannis made the right call.”
For non-fans, in that scene Stannis sacrifices his 10-year-old daughter by burning her at the stake because his high priestess has told him that the Lord of Light requires a sacrifice for victory in battle. Stannis stood and watched while his daughter shrieked, first in terror, and then agony as the flames consumed her. Stannis doesn’t even have the sense of duty of the Stark family. In the first episode, Ned Stark executes a deserter and teaches one of his young sons that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. Stannis, however, has his priestess set off the pyre.
Having watched that scene, I thought surely Yglesias’s title was click bait.
It wasn’t. He meant it. Stannis’s army is marching on Winterfell in the growing cold and snow and has just lost some food and horses to a precision strike. Yglesias sees their difficult position as justification for the sacrifice of the young girl.
Stannis’s decision. It makes sense. With insufficient supplies to make it back to Castle Black and no way forward through the weather, his entire army is drawing dead. Yes, he could have saved Shireen personally by sending her back to the Wall. But the vast majority of his men are doomed unless Melisandre can pull a magical rabbit out of the hat. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and it doesn’t require that high a confidence level in the Lord of Light to see that the expected value of burning Shireen is high.