Tower of the Hand

Top Characters #44 Renly Baratheon

Tower of the Hand is counting down the top 50 characters of A Song of Ice and Fire through A Dance with Dragons, as voted by our members. Coming in at #44 on the list is Renly Baratheon (previous ranking: #34). This year's profile was written by Xela.

renlybaratheon550.jpg(Artist: Amok)

The late Renly Baratheon holds a special place in many readers' hearts. Renly was one of the five kings in the War of Five Kings. He commanded the largest army of them all and yet never fought a single battle. As a charismatic, respected figure in the complicated political landscape of Westeros, Renly also happens to be a gay man, bringing a level of inclusion to countless fans. But Renly is not defined by his sexuality; it's deeply important to the love of his life, Loras Tyrell, but it is not the central feature of his character.

Renly's reign as king is cut short by the ensorceled shadow of his elder brother Stannis. But all signs point to him being better as a handsome figurehead or icon than he might have been as a king.

Towards the end of A Game of Thrones, after Ned Stark refused to take Renly's advice in engineering a coup inside the Red Keep while King Robert lay dying, Renly fled the capital. At the onset of A Clash of Kings, word spreads that Renly Baratheon has declared himself king, one of five claimants to the Iron Throne. To consolidate his power, he marries Margaery Tyrell, from the second wealthiest house in all of Westeros. At this point, Renly's advantages are strong indeed.

Renly is the youngest Baratheon son with dashing good looks and his charm wins him allegiance from many who rightly ought to bend the knee to his brother Stannis. By marrying into the Tyrell family, he has the support of the Reach, the realm that feeds the continent. Renly leverages this power by cutting off the food supply to King's Landing. This leads to starvation and the growing unrest in a population increasingly anxious to throw off the shackles of Joffrey's rule. Renly is more than poised to go from being their cause of suffering to their savior. He boasts an army of one hundred thousand foot soldiers, to say nothing of his knights. His military advantage, in terms of sheer numbers, cannot be overstated. And yet he never makes it to King's Landing, he never ascends the steps of the Iron Throne.

Renly is content to play at being king. He and his army meander their way around the Reach, feasting at every lord's hall, throwing tournaments, and supposedly garnering more support and goodwill from his men. They hold a famous melee at Bitterbridge where Lady Brienne of Tarth is the victor and claims for her prize a spot among King Renly's Rainbow Guard. It's while at Bitterbridge that Renly learns that Stannis has laid siege to Storm's End. Renly must confront him, which will be his last earthly act.

Had Renly pushed his advantage early and marched on King's Landing, he would have likely been enthroned. We'll never know what the reign under King Renly would have been like, but given how he conducted himself before his death, it's likely that Donal Noye (the blacksmith at Castle Black) accurately summarized Renly's character: "And Renly, that one, he's copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day." (ACOK 7: Jon I)

Renly Baratheon's most iconic moment comes just hours before his death. The reader sees through Catelyn Stark's perspective as King Renly and Lady Brienne meet to parley with King Stannis and Lady Melisandre. The two behave like the bickering brothers they are, casting verbal barbs at each other. Throughout, Catelyn views the scene as the concerned mother of boys of her own. "If you were sons of mine, I would bang your heads together and lock you in a bedchamber until you remembered that you were brothers." (ACOK 32: Catelyn III) Shortly after this scolding, Renly reaches into his cloak. Stannis seems to be afraid that Renly is reaching for a dagger, but instead Renly pulls out a peach.

"A man should never refuse to taste a peach," Renly said as he tossed the stone away. "He may never get the chance again. Life is short, Stannis. Remember what the Starks say. Winter is coming."

ACOK 32: Catelyn III

The message is haunting.

Renly is dead the next day. Later in A Clash of Kings, Stannis talks with Davos about Renly and his damned peach. "'Only Renly could vex me so with a piece of fruit. He brought his doom on himself with his treason, but I did love him, Davos. I know that now. I swear, I will go to my grave thinking of my brother's peach.'" (ACOK 43: Davos II)

And that's how Renly will always be remembered for this reader. His story is a reminder to taste the sweetness in life before it's gone, for "'When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.'" (ASOS 13: Tyrion II)

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