Ned Stark

Written by @EllieDangerous
Deep in the beautiful but grim-hearted North, the lands are ruled by the human equivalent of a Yorkie bar. Ned Stark is a solid and satisfying Lord, and despite his toughness he is capable of melting. Played by the legendary Sean Bean, Ned Stark's inherent goodness has far-reaching and unexpected consequences in 'Game of Thrones', ranging from his own front door to far beyond the Narrow Sea.

Spoiler Alert
[Please note: this post includes a brief discussion of a case of sexual violence.]

The well-realised world in which Westeros thrives and decays is all about influence. Queens influence paupers, tricksters influence sellswords, and Winter influences war. That's all to be expected, but who could've guessed that the most unambitious force of all — a man called Eddard Stark — would cause the greatest ripples?

It's only right to start with the obvious: Ned has influenced his children, a band of siblings who go on to lead, learn and devastate, and win hearts, minds and blades.

In Robb he has a reflection; perhaps not in looks, but in mind. Ned teaches his eldest child to be brave and devoted, and although Robb makes these traits his own, Ned is the catalyst of what the young wolf would later do with them. Bravely he brings war to the North. Devotedly he stays true to the love of Talisa Maegyr, even at the expense of political duty. Shaped by a brave and devoted father, Robb leads a short life of love, respect, adventure and prestige, ending in a horrifically brutal death.

Much the same can be said of Jon Snow, Ned's parental techniques sending the stony teenager down the light road of a pure-hearted leader and the darker road of a stubborn upstart. But more on Jon later.

As for Arya, Ned influences her by accepting her for who she is. "You will marry a high Lord and rule his castle", he initially promises his tearaway daughter, "and your sons shall be knights and princes and Lords." But Arya is not thrilled by the concept. "No", she replies, "that's not me".

And although Ned knows her claim to be culturally unconventional, he smiles.

His acceptance — which extends all the way to full-on swordfighting lessons with Syrio Forel — is arguably the greatest jump-start Arya could have hoped for. Armed with her needle-like sword and the strength of her father's blessing, Arya is able to flourish, intimidate, murder... and survive.

But Ned's reach goes beyond his own family. Littlefinger is now one of the most powerful names in the Seven Kingdoms, and you could argue he only got this ambitious because his beloved Catlyn fell for Ned's salt-of-the-earth charms and Littlefinger supposed he needed more power to seize what he wanted. Which he then does: in a very ironic move, he eventually stakes his claim on Ned's own daughter, Sansa Stark.

And then there was Theon fucking Greyjoy.

The proud lad hails from a land in which every moral compass has been replaced by a shard of iron. If he hadn't been touched by Ned's goodness and nobility, Theon would be a malicious psychopath and that's that. But instead he's been twisted into a creature tortured as much by regret as anything else. He simply can't forgive himself for what he's done to the family of the only real father figure he ever had.

But Ned's influence reaches even loftier heights, infiltrating the consciousness of Kings and Queens. His forthright words to Cersei Lannister help her later rethink her incestous relationship with Jaime. His friendship with Robert Baratheon is what led him to become Hand of the King in the first place. His support of Stannis strengthens the Baratheon's claim to the Iron Throne. His advice saves the threatened life of Daenerys Targaryen, or at least postpones her intended assassination.

But his influence goes even further than that...

Possibly.

There exists a theory about Jon Snow so compelling that I support it until GRR Martin debunks it.

We're told that Ned had been married to Catelyn Tully a matter of weeks before he slept with another woman in days of war, conceiving an illegitimate son named Jon Snow. He took the baby home to Winterfell and never spoke of the mother — supposedly out of respect for Catelyn.

That young Ned might fall in love with another woman is reasonably plausible, but his infidelity is not. When we first witness him put someone to death, he unhesitantly performs his sombre duty with his Valyrian steel greatsword and we can be sure that what matters most to him is honour.

"I, Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, sentence you to die."

Notice how I say "honour" and not "his honour". For this theory is about the honour of Lyanna Stark, his beloved younger sister, who was captured by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen for some unknown reason. She later died for another unknown reason. Huh.

The theory goes that Rhaegar fell in love with the beautiful Lyanna, captured her, and attacked her. The result was a pregnancy resulting in her death by the birth of her only child: Jon Snow.

Jon is said to look like Arya, who is said to look like Lyanna. Ergo, Jon looks like Lyanna. When Ned tells him "You may not have my name, but you have my blood", he is not lying. He may be saying it not to his illegitimate son but to his nephew.

As the theory goes, on her deathbed Lyanna begs her brother Ned to raise Jon as his own and speak nothing of the boy's true ancestry. So virtuous is the young Ned, he casts his dignity aside — bringing shame upon himself by feigning adultery — in order to keep his promise to Lyanna. He sacrifices his own honour for that of his sister.

That sounds like Eddard Stark.

Some have gone on to point out that if this is truly Jon's ancestry, then he is the cousin of Daenerys Targaryen. It has been speculated that she is a natural Queen, and he a natural King; she is the dragon-tamer associated with fire, and he the snow-roaming Northman associated with ice; together they are the song of ice and fire, fated to unite the Seven Kingdoms as Targaryen cousins and sit the Iron Throne together.

It's one hell of a theory, and if it's true then this is a destiny brought about by Ned Stark, who saved the life of Daenerys and established the life of Jon.

Even if this idea never sees the light of day on 'Game of Thrones', it's lucidly clear that in a world of power-struggles and greedy ambitions, the man who wanted none of it has become its biggest influence. Even in death.
Eddard Stark: Jon was a man of peace. He was Hand for seventeen years, seventeen good years. Why kill him?
Lord Varys: He started asking questions.
Cersei Lannister: You should have taken the realm for yourself. Jaime told me about the day King's Landing fell. He was sitting on the Iron Throne and you made him give it up. All you needed to do was climb those steps yourself. Such a sad mistake.
Eddard Stark: I've made many mistakes in my life, but that wasn't one of them.
You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honor for a few more years... of what? You grew up with actors. You learned their craft and you learnt it well. But I grew up with soldiers. I learned to die a long time ago.
Ellie Ball is the founder of Good Characters, and someone who enjoys coffee cake a great deal. She is a graduate of the Scriptwriting MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. For fun and respite, check out her TV analysis articles on Bang2Write or tweet coffee cake at her @EllieDangerous.
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Published on 31 December 2015
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