It’s six seasons later, but Ned Stark has won the Game of Thrones in the end.
Ned Stark fan? So am I. And although the venerable Warden of the North and Hand of King Robert Baratheon met his demise in seemingly unceremonious fashion — now’s a better time than ever to be a Ned Stark fan. Well, besides when he was still alive that is.
Eddard took a lot of flak from fans for the way he was eliminated in Season 1 of Game of Thrones (“He couldn’t play the Game,” “He was far too honorable and naive” or even “He was dumb.”) Sure, the point GRRM was trying to make through the character of Ned was that the just and honorable don’t get a free pass in Westeros and that being a revered wartime hero doesn’t necessarily make one the most shrewd politician but 1. Hindsight is a huge factor in one’s criticism of Ned and 2. There was a lot of shit luck that led to Ned’s downfall (if King Robert Baratheon, Ned’s best friend hadn’t died in that freak boar hunting accident — things would’ve played out a lot differently).
Luckily, reddit user Party_On_Marth took the words of defense for the Stark patriarch right out of my mouth and put together the following beautiful piece — one that pays right proper reverence to our favorite Warden of the North:
Ned Stark won the Game of Thrones.
You never would have thought, but he did. Because nobody else played it the way Ned Stark did. All of his peers and even most of his father’s generation got so convinced that it was this endless twisting coil of machinations and power plays to come out on top whatever the cost. Ned had no interest in their Game. He got sucked into it like a vortex at the end of his life, deeper and deeper until the only thing not going over his head was the executioner’s blade. He never stood a chance of survival playing their Game.
And yet, he won.
6 seasons later you realize that he absolutely won.
As Sansa and Arya reminisce on the battlements.
As Jon talks to Theon about the father they both had.
As Bran trips out into infinity watching him every step of the way carrying his tiny hidden dark-and-light-woven thread across history for the part it’s yet to play, and then flashes back to the present seeing the waves it’s rocking the continent with.
All the other surviving players of Robert’s Rebellion, all the major powers were consumed with nothing but dealing and backstabbing one another so as to secure a future of power for their children. All while meanwhile their children were almost completely disconnected from them, embittered, spoiled, or otherwise generally kind of ruined. Ned’s absolute antipathy for their Game conveniently left him with a lot more time on his hands. Time he spent doing something else.
Time he spent just being their dad.
Ned’s largest concern, more than anything else in the world, was just making sure all the children in his life knew what it meant to be a good person, knew what it meant to be a part of a real family. A noble house is filled with responsibility and entire regions will naturally reflect the aptitude and governance of their rulers. Prosperity, tenacity, or brotherhood will all spread across or forsake the lands in imitation of how its court issues. The other players all endlessly sought more lands and titles to add to the hoard their children would inherit, but half the time didn’t even think to ask if their children were ready for it. If they could rule it well.
Ned Stark shaped the players of the next generation.
The Starks were dealt the worst hand in all Westeros. They should have been completely annihilated time after time, and indeed so thorough was the purge that basically the entire continent thought they were, but those persistent Starks remembered every single wise word their father had advised them with when they were young and happy. Because they were the Starks now, the only Starks. Not a single soul over 24 years old. None of them had even seen a winter. But they knew what was done to him, and that their hour had arrived to test them relentlessly on everything he tried to prepare them for in this orbital dance with death we call life. And thus his plan came into fruition. While everyone else was busy killing each other vying for the Iron Throne, the Starks were undergoing incredible trials in distant lands from their home, living in horrible conditions, suffering immensely, and all the while forging and shaping themselves into an elite quartet, a tetrabunal of personalities of their generation. The Long Claw, The Wolf’s Fang, The Lady’s Coat, The Raven’s Eye. And upon every victory, they would think of their father.
So much of what will become of Westeros is owed to a single choice Ned Stark made when he was a young man, a choice to keep a promise and take a child in as his own. A choice to give a life. But the man’s legacy cannot be held up by a single choice. It was the dedication, that persistent pursuit of principle to pass on to his progeny, the diligence to always be the best father he could, that gave the young Starks their power.
And now they’re back.
Do you think Ned Stark truly won the Game of Thrones in the end? Sound off in the comments below.