Whether the Beach Scene in Walk of Punishment worked for you or not, it did serve to highlight one thing about Stannis that is very true to the books — he is an incredibly lonely person, and he believes everyone in his life will dismiss, reject, or abandon him at some point.
In the Prologue of A Clash of Kings, we meet Maester Cressen, who was the maester of Storm’s End when Stannis was a child. Interestingly, he followed Stannis when Stannis moved his household to Dragonstone after Robert’s Rebellion. During the occupation of Winterfell, Maester Luwin told Theon he served “the realm, and Winterfell,” and he also said “so long as you hold Winterfell, I am bound by oath to give you counsel.” Since maesters are sworn to a keep rather than a family, Cressen’s relocation was unusual, and was likely prompted by the fact that he considered Stannis a son.
Stannis, my lord, my sad sullen boy, son I never had, you must not do this, don’t you know how I have cared for you, lived for you, loved you despite it all? Yes, loved you, better than Robert even, or Renly, for you were the one unloved, the one who needed me most.
Shortly before that passage, he quotes a letter Stannis’ father wrote from Volantis.
We have found the most splendid fool. Only a boy, yet nimble as a monkey and witty as a dozen courtiers. He juggles and riddles and does magic, and he can sing prettily in four tongues. We have bought his freedom and hope to bring him home with us. Robert will be delighted, and perhaps in time he will even teach Stannis how to laugh.
He goes on to say that Patchface never did teach Stannis how to laugh, because he lost his wits in the shipwreck that killed Stannis’ parents.
Stannis was thirteen when Steffon and Cassana Baratheon died. He watched the disaster play out from the ramparts of Storm’s End, and he was there as bodies washed ashore in the days that followed, including (presumably) the bodies of his parents.
I stopped believing in gods the day I saw Windproud break up across the bay. Any gods so monstrous as to drown my mother and father would never have my worship, I vowed.
Chances are, Stannis didn’t have anyone to share his grief with. Renly was still a baby. Robert was at Storm’s End when it happened, but it’s likely Robert and Stannis’ relationship was already awkward, if not strained. There isn’t much to work with, in terms of their childhoods, but we do have Maester Cressen’s thoughts.
His lord’s face swam up before him, not the man he was but the boy he had been, standing cold in the shadows while the sun shone on his elder brother. Whatever he did, Robert had done first, and better.
We also have an anecdote from Stannis.
When I was a lad I found an injured goshawk and nursed her back to health. Proudwing, I named her. She would perch on my shoulder and flutter from room to room after me and take food from my hand, but she would not soar. Robert called her Weakwing.
The last doesn’t detail their relationship too much, but it does tell us something about Robert’s attitude toward Stannis in general. Stannis was a sad child with little to please him, and Robert openly mocked one of the few things that made him happy.
Unfortunately, things worsened rather than improved. Robert became close friends with Ned Stark while fostering at the Eyrie, and he came to openly consider Ned his brother, something that obviously hurt Stannis deeply, because he is shown to still be nursing a grudge about it some fifteen or twenty years later.
Why should I avenge Eddard Stark? The man was nothing to me. Oh, Robert loved him, to be sure. Loved him as a brother, how often did I hear that? I was his brother, not Ned Stark, but you would never know by the way he treated me.
Depsite their estrangement, Stannis chose to back Robert during the Rebellion. This amounted to treason, and he admitted to Davos in A Storm of Swords that it was not an easy decision to make.
Aerys? If you only knew… that was a hard choosing. My blood or my liege. My brother or my king.
It still angers me. How could he think I would hurt the boy? I chose Robert, did I not? When that hard day came, I chose blood over honor.
At eighteen, Stannis held Storm’s End against a siege and sea blockade. He had a garrison of 500 men, and they survived by eating horses and dogs and cats, and eventually rats. Had Davos not arrived with his salt fish and onions, they might have been forced to eat their prisoners. In the aftermath of this, Robert dismissed Stannis’ contributions completely.
I held Storm’s End for him, watching good men starve while Mace Tyrell and Paxter Redwyne feasted within sight of my walls. Did Robert thank me? No. He thanked Stark, for lifting the siege when we were down to rats and radishes. I built a fleet at Robert’s command, took Dragonstone in his name. Did he take my hand and say Well done, brother, whatever should I do without you? No, he blamed me for letting Willem Darry steal away Viserys and the babe, as if I could have stopped it. I sat on his coucil for fifteen years, helping Jon Arryn rule his realm while he drank and whored, but when Jon died, did my brother name me his Hand? No, he went galloping off to his dear friend Ned Stark, and offered him the honor.
Once Robert became king, Stannis should have taken Storm’s End, but Robert gave it to Renly, who was only seven years-old. Stannis got Dragonstone, which had smaller lands and incomes and less bannermen. Stannis took it as a slight, and if Cersei can be believed (it’s hard to know what Robert did and did not tell her truthfully), Robert meant it as a one.
The most telling piece in the Robert/Stannis puzzle is probably Edric Storm. Robert had so little regard for Stannis that he fathered a bastard during Stannis’ wedding, on the marriage bed.
As for Renly, it’s hard to say what kind of relationship he had with Stannis early on. Stannis was thirteen when he was born. Their parents died shortly after, and Maester Cressen more or less raised them while Robert split his time between Storm’s End and the Eyrie. I do think it’s safe to assume that Renly’s claim for the Iron Throne hurt Stannis as much as it angered him. In fact, this was Maester Cressen’s first thought when he heard the Stormlords had declared for Renly.
Oh, Renly, Renly, dear sweet child, do you know what you are doing? And would you care if you did? Is there anyone who cares for him but me?
When Robert rebelled against Aerys, Stannis backed him as his younger brother, but when Stannis made rightful claim for Robert’s throne, Renly defied him. And to add insult to injury, he made common cause with Mace Tyrell, the man who tried to starve Stannis to death fifteen years earlier.
One of my favorite parts of the series is when Stannis and Davos are reunited after Blackwater, and Stannis says I missed you, ser. I cannot imagine what that admission cost him.