This post contains spoilers for all seven seasons of Game of Thrones.
In terms or war, defeats are often described as “bitter.” But in Robert’s Baratheon’s case, you could say he won a bitter victory. With his massive war hammer, he battled his way from the Vale to King’s Landing, unseating the Mad King from his throne and all but snuffing out the entire Targaryen family by killing Prince Rhaegar. His rebellion was successful. He won. But he lost the entire reason he went to war in the first place: Lyanna Stark. This turns him into a character that inspires pity despite his bold, jovial blustering.
Lyanna was betrothed to Robert, and he loved her very much. In the very first episode, upon arriving at Winterfell, Robert asks to be taken to the crypts to pay his respects to his loved one.
“Did you have to bury her in a place like this? She should be on a hill with the sun and the clouds above her,” he says while lovingly running a finger down the face of the statue above her grave.
“She was the one thing I ever wanted and someone took her away from me,” Robert says shortly before his death. “Seven kingdoms couldn’t fill the hole she left behind.”
War Changes Everything
It wasn’t just the lost of Lyanna that turned Robert into a very different person. Though he still tries to maintain a jolly presence, war was Robert’s identity, and he’s lost that during most of his rule. After sitting on the throne for 17 years, Robert has become a shadow of his former self and immerses himself in food, drink, and whoring to try to take his mind off the self-hatred he feels. At one point we see a scene where he can’t even fit into his own armor. Though he laughs off the incident, you can sense the weight behind that revelation. The only other thing besides his vices that helps him remember who he was is by reminiscing about battles and the many, many people he’s killed, as terrible and painful as those memories can be.
“It’s been a long time, but I still remember every face. My first was some Tarly boy…thinking he could end the rebellion with one swing of his sword,” he says. “I knocked him down with my hammer. Gods I was strong then!”
But he’s not strong anymore, and that gives him very little reason to be a good king. That’s why his relationship with Ned Stark is so important. Ned is a living reminder of how things used to me.
Some Things Stay the Same
“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” he says, referring to Rhaegar Targaryen, the man whom everyone believed kidnapped and raped Lyanna, ultimately leading to her death. After this, Robert’s hatred of the Targaryens has not only continued, but has even grown, the more the years passed.
During the time Robert is alive, we know of two Targaryen children. Robert wants them both dead, and has tried for years to have them assassinated. Once he receives news of Daenerys’ wedding to Khal Drogo, he shares his intentions with Ned, who is in disbelief that they’re having a conversation about killing an innocent young woman.
“It’s unspeakable!?” Robert shouts. “What’s unspeakable is what Rhaegar Targaryen did your sister, the woman I loved. I’ll kill every Targaryen I get my hands on.”
His hatred reaches a boiling point when word that Daenerys is pregnant reaches him. He demands that she be killed with even more fervor. In a previous episode, Ned says to his wife, “I hope he’s still the man I once knew.” After the realization that Robert is planning an assassination of a unborn baby, Ned realizes without a doubt that Robert is not the man he once knew. When Ned refuses to agree with plans to murder Daenerys, a massive rift between and Robert and Ned follows.
Though he still hasn’t changed his mind about Daenerys, Robert tries to patch up his friendship with Ned, because it’s one of the most, if not the most, important thing in his life. Before leaving on the hunt that would kill him, Robert says to Ned, “I never loved my brothers… you were the brother I chose.”
The next and last time we see Robert, he’s on his death bed thanks to an encounter with a boar. He killed the animal in the end, but not before it left a massive hole in Robert’s side. In his final conversation with Ned, Robert changes his mind about killing Daenerys.
How Would Things Have Changed?
Knowing what we know now – that Lyanna had affection for Rhaegar, that she actually married him and then gave birth to his son, how would things turn out? If Robert found out that Lyanna didn’t love him, would he have started a war anyway? It’s possible that war would have broken out due to the Mad King, but it would have been a very different war.
The details surrounding Lyanna’s death were the one secret Ned kept from Robert his entire life.
“If Robert finds out, he’ll kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him. Promise me,” Lyanna begs Ned on her own death bed. Upholding this promise was so important to him that he jeopardized his own marriage to save her son from what may have been Robert’s wrath.
As Bran tells us in the last episode of season 7 “Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie.” Negating what he had thought was his sole purpose in life, makes him one of Game of Thrones saddest characters.
So what do you think? How do you think things would have been different if Robert were privy to any of the information Ned had?