One of the biggest rules in television is that no death can be confirmed unless there’s a body, and even a mangled corpse wouldn’t necessarily be enough to guarantee that a character will stay dead. Game of Thrones set a precedent for resurrection with Beric Dondarrion back in Season 3, so it’s perfectly reasonable for fans to spend hiatuses coming up with ways for characters to come back from what appeared to be certain death. In the case of Stannis, however, the ambiguity of his final scene in the Season 5 finale isn’t enough to change one major truth: the last remaining legitimate member of House Baratheon is almost certainly super dead.
Of course, theories of Stannis’ ultimate survival were never exactly far-fetched. The man is still alive and grumbling in the books published so fan, and the major character apparently dying off-screen with little fanfare seems like a death practically designed to be a fake-out. Unfortunately, the hopes of fans everywhere have been rather definitively dashed in the months since the finale.
Director David Nutter, who had the reins for the Season 5 finale, has been unfailingly forthright about Stannis’ fate, confirming in a chat with Entertainment Weekly that everybody’s favorite royal grammar stickler is gone from the world of Westeros:
From the very beginning, and [through] the script process, that was the intent – he’s dead.
Nutter possibly fibbing a bit about Stannis being dead wouldn’t exactly be the first time that somebody behind the scenes told a little white lie for the sake of a future surprise - see: the return of Jon Snow - but his in-depth justification to the Wall Street Journal about why there was so much ambiguity to Brienne’s deathblow is a pretty strong indicator that he’s not trying to mislead:
I think there was a real sense of inevitability toward what was going to happen, I think anything beyond that would have been somewhat gratuitous…I always believe that editing is the kind of thing where you want to cut into a scene a little after it starts and get out before it ends. This is exactly what we did in this sequence, and I thought it worked perfectly.
If Nutter’s cinematic reasons aren’t convincing enough, his interview with Variety illuminated just why Stannis had to die for story reasons:
You really got a sense that Stannis had nothing else to live for. Brienne’s life-long mission had come to an end. It’s a situation in which Stannis was ready to die and prepared to die.
It’s certainly true that Stannis had always felt guilt for his assassination of brother Renly, and Brienne’s ill-advised love for her former king has not faded so much with time that she wouldn’t want to exact her revenge on the man who had killed him. Regrettable as it is, Stannis dying just made sense. According to E! Online, actress Gwendoline Christie has no doubts that Brienne finished the job on Stannis:
No, but how could you ever doubt Brienne? What did you think I was doing, giving him a haircut?
Showrunners D. B. Weiss and David Benioff aren’t exactly keeping mum about what fate befell Stannis in the Season 5 finale either. Variety shares that both men had plenty to say about it. Weiss revealed this tidbit about Stannis’ outlook in his final moments:
Stannis did the worst thing a person can possibly do in the world, and when he realizes it was all for nothing, I think he’s probably ready to be done at this point. In a way, Brienne showing up to kill him was almost a welcome relief.
For his part, Benioff opined that while Brienne may not get the catharsis that she was looking for out of her confrontation with Stannis, she did not fail to deal the killing blow:
In the final moment, though, it’s not relief, because she was expecting this monster and what she finds is Stannis, who has certain monstrous qualities – he’s a man who’s willing to sacrifice his own daughter – but he also has certain very human qualities, and one of them is bravery. He’s not going to go out whimpering. He probably has a number of regrets, but he’s not going to share them with this stranger.
Last but not least is the nugget of information that we reported in December that was featured in the tie-in book Game of Thrones: The Noble Houses of Westeros that closes Stannis' character description by noting that he was killed by Brienne of Tarth in her quest for vengeance.
Game of Thrones may not have shown Brienne decapitating Stannis and wearing his head for a hat while toasting Podrick over the corpse, but it couldn’t be much clearer that Stannis Baratheon is yet another contender who will never reach the Iron Throne. Add in the fact that actor Stephen Dillane has been conspicuously absent from set, and it’s safe to say that House Baratheon is out of the titular game. As it turns out, theirs was not the fury.