How much do you think merit played a role in Stannis offering Jon Winterfell? I know lots of Westerosi politicians would think, as he claims to, "Having a Stark on my ticket would be a great help." But I'd like to think Stannis is different, and wouldn't have offered a vow loophole unless he was impressed, and also, if it WAS merited, then it's validation for Jon, it's his yer a wizard Harry/Cinderella at the ball moment that assuages his insecurities from his upbringing. What do you think?
Let me see if I can separate things out a bit. I think Stannis was impressed by what he’d heard of Jon:
“I know more than you might think, Jon Snow. I knoww it was you who found the dragonglass dagger that Randyll Tarly’s son used to slay the Other.”
“I know you held the gate here,” King Stannis said. “If you had not, I would have come too late.”
“I have not forgotten that it was you who brought us this magic horn, and captured Mance Rayder’s wife and son.”
- Jon XI, ASoS
I think this made it a lot easier for Stannis to offer Jon the out from his vows than it otherwise might have been. But I think that the offer was made at all had more to do with who Jon’s father was.
Due to the nature of the feudal system depicted and Jon’s bastard angst, this doesn’t actually take away from the Cinderella moment you describe. It absolutely is. After Jon’s spent his life being a second-class child, not even capable of inheriting his father’s name, Stannis recognised Jon as a son of Eddard Stark and offered to formalise his status as such. It isn’t just recognition of his talents that Jon wants, but the same social status that his siblings have. Stannis offered that. You’re a Stark, Jon, and you can be the Lord of Winterfell.
I think that Stannis continuing to offer Jon the role through ADWD shows what Stannis thinks of Jon’s merit.