|Eddard "Ned" Stark|
|A Song of Ice and Fire character
Game of Thrones character
Sean Bean as Ned Stark
A Game of Thrones (1996)
"Winter Is Coming" (2011)
A Game of Thrones (1996)
"The Winds of Winter" (2016)
|Created by||George R. R. Martin|
|Portrayed by||Sean Bean
Sebastian Croft (child)
Robert Aramayo (young)
Game of Thrones
|Title||Lord of Winterfell
Warden of the North
Hand of the King
Protector of the Realm
|Relatives||Rickard Stark (father)
Lyarra Stark (mother)
Brandon Stark (brother)
Benjen Stark (brother)
Lyanna Stark (sister)
Jon Snow (nephew/foster son)
Eddard "Ned" Stark is a fictional character in the first book of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels and the first season of its television adaptation. Introduced in 1996's A Game of Thrones, Ned is the honorable lord of Winterfell, an ancient fortress in the North of the fictional continent of Westeros. Though the character is established as a primary character in the novel and the TV adaptation, Martin's plot twist at the end involving Ned shocked both readers of the book and viewers of the TV series.
Ned is portrayed by Sean Bean in the first season of HBO's adaptation of the series, Game of Thrones, and as a child and young man by Sebastian Croft and Robert Aramayo respectively in the sixth season. Bean was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actor on Television and a Scream Award for Best Fantasy Actor for the role. He and the rest of the cast were nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2011.
In A Game of Thrones (1996), Ned Stark is the virtuous and honorable patriarch of House Stark and the father of six children. The moral compass of the story, he is content to remain far from courtly intrigues and is unwavering in his view of loyalty and honor. His family name, Stark, serves as an indication of his resistance to moral compromise, but his boundaries are increasingly tested over the course of the novel. Finding himself a key player in the escalating political intrigue of King's Landing, Ned struggles as his own sense of honor draws him into corrupt goings-on at court. As the story progresses, he begins to see the importance of moral and practical compromises to achieve a just end, and is ultimately forced to choose between the safety of his family and doing what is right.
Sean Bean said of the character, "he’s a good man trying to do his best in the middle of this corruption, he’s a fish out of water, he’s used to being up north in Winterfell where people are pretty straight and pragmatic, and he comes down to a place where people are playing games and backstabbing … he’s a principled man who tries to hold things together. This is a journey that he makes where ultimately his loyalty causes his downfall."
Development and overview
Publishers Weekly noted in 1996 that, despite the honest Ned Stark's intervention in court politics, "no amount of heroism or good intentions can keep the realm under control." From his very first introduction, Ned is portrayed as a noble hero and set up to be the heart of the story. With fifteen chapters devoted to his point of view, more than any single character in the novel, he is presented as a primary character in the series, and the main storyline of A Game of Thrones, the drama in King's Landing, is told entirely from his perspective. In the London Review of Books, John Lanchester writes that everything about Ned is designed to gain audience sympathy, from his strong sense of honor and moral compass to his compassion towards his wife and children. Readers are led to believe that Ned will be the main character of the series, but ultimately he is, from a literary perspective, a classic decoy protagonist. After struggling to keep himself and the kingdom on a moral path for the entire novel, the only option that remains to save his family is to put aside his honor; he does it, but is betrayed anyway. Calling Ned's execution "shocking", The New York Times noted in 2011 that the novel was "famous for dispatching a thoroughly admirable major character with whom readers have been identifying for most of the book." In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, author George R. R. Martin commented on this misdirection:
I knew it almost from the beginning. Not the first day, but very soon. I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it.
David Benioff, executive producer and writer of the HBO adaptation, told Entertainment Weekly that when he read the novel:
I was in shock. From your training in seeing so many movies and reading books, you know your hero is going to be saved … Someone has something planned, because they’re not really going to chop off his head — right up until the moment when they chopped off his head. I was shocked, and then admiring of George’s ruthlessness. It’s a tough thing to build up a character and make somebody as memorable and impressive as Ned and then get rid of him. But at the same time it leads to a story that is so much more suspenseful because you truly have no idea what is going to happen and who is going to survive.
In a review of the Game of Thrones TV episode "Baelor", James Poniewozik wrote in Time that "the execution of Eddard Stark is crucial to the story and its themes and everything that follows, but it’s also a meta-message to the reader: don’t take anything for granted here." James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly stated that tricking the audience into thinking Ned is the hero and then killing him makes the series' story better. Writing that "the big twist here isn't that Ned Stark dies, but who the true protagonists of Game of Thrones are," Hibberd pointed out that the series' focus proves to be the "new generation" of leaders, in particular the Stark children but also Daenerys and even Tyrion. He noted:
Ned Stark doesn't die in vain … It takes the Stark kids — who are all too young to face these responsibilities — and thrusts them into a struggle where they're forced to quickly grow as characters. Martin busts many cliches in his writing, but this move is traditional Heroes Journey stuff if you consider the kids to be the true protagonists of this story — only by sacrificing the fatherly mentor figure can our heroes come into their own.
As established in A Game of Thrones, Eddard "Ned" Stark is the second son of Rickard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell. Years before the events of the novel, the quiet and shy young Ned is fostered in the Vale by Jon Arryn. During this time Ned becomes close friends with Robert Baratheon, heir to the Stormlands and another ward of Arryn's. Robert is eventually betrothed to Ned's sister Lyanna, but before he can marry her, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (who is already married and has two young children) absconds with Lyanna. Ned's father and older brother Brandon go to King Aerys II Targaryen and demand that Lyanna be freed; the so-called "Mad King" executes both Rickard and Brandon, convinced that the Starks seek to usurp him. Ned, Robert and Arryn then rise in revolt, securing the support of House Tully with Ned marrying Catelyn Tully. Ned leaves for war the next morning.
At the decisive Battle of the Trident, Robert manages to kill Prince Rhaegar and scatter the Targaryen army. Robert is injured in the battle, so Ned takes command and marches on the capital. In King's Landing, Ned finds that House Lannister has — through treachery — already sacked the city, and murdered Aerys and the royal family. Disgusted by the dishonorable massacre, Ned departs to lift the siege of the Baratheon stronghold Storm's End, and later attempts to rescue Lyanna but finds his sister dying; her last words are "Promise me Ned." Ned returns to Winterfell with his bastard son Jon Snow in tow; meanwhile Catelyn has delivered their son and Ned's heir, Robb, conceived on their wedding night.
Six years after the end of Robert's Rebellion, Balon Greyjoy, the Lord of the Iron Islands, declares independence from the Iron Throne. Ned aids King Robert in putting down "Greyjoy's Rebellion." Balon surrenders, and his sole surviving heir, Theon, is taken back to Winterfell as Stark's ward and hostage. Ned rules the North for nine more years before the events of the novel.
A Game of Thrones
As A Game of Thrones begins, Catelyn informs Ned that his mentor Jon Arryn has died, and that King Robert intends to offer Ned Jon's old position as Hand of the King. Content to be far from court intrigue, Ned is reluctant to accept the offer until he receives a letter from Arryn's widow, who believes that her husband had been poisoned by the Lannisters. Ned subsequently agrees to the appointment to protect Robert. He then travels south to King's Landing with his daughters Sansa and Arya. Catelyn later comes to the capital in secret, under the protection of her childhood friend Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, to tell Ned of an assassination attempt on their young son Bran. Ned's longstanding mistrust of the Lannisters is further fueled by Littlefinger's confirmation that the dagger used by the would-be assassin once belonged to Tyrion Lannister. Increasingly disgusted by the political intrigues at court, Ned finally resigns his position when Robert insists on having Aerys' only surviving child, the young Daenerys Targaryen, assassinated in exile. Meanwhile, Catelyn has taken Tyrion hostage at the Eyrie, and in retaliation Jaime Lannister attacks and seriously injures Ned in the street before he and his daughters can depart King's Landing. Visiting a wounded Ned, Robert reappoints him as Hand.
Ned eventually concludes that all of Robert's heirs with Cersei are illegitimate, the product of her incest with her twin brother Jaime. Further, Ned suspects that Arryn had been poisoned to conceal the truth. Ned confronts Cersei with his discovery and gives her the chance to escape with her children into exile. Before Ned can tell the king, Robert is fatally wounded while hunting and names Ned Protector of the Realm, to function as regent until his "son" Joffrey comes of age. Ned alters Robert's will, replacing Joffrey's name with "my rightful heir" to make the succession ambiguous. With the palace in chaos, Ned rebuffs multiple offers to increase his own power, instead opting to crown Robert's brother, Stannis Baratheon, as king. Cersei, however, outmaneuvers Ned, and the duplicitous Littlefinger has the city watch arrest Ned instead of Cersei. With all of his entourage slaughtered, Sansa a hostage and Arya escaped but alone, Ned is charged with treason. A deal is struck in which Ned will be spared and sent into exile if he declares Joffrey the rightful king. Fearing for his daughters, Ned makes a public confession of his "treason". The sadistic Joffrey, however, has Ned executed anyway.
Ned's arrest pits the Stark and Lannister forces against each other, and his execution causes a civil war later called the War of Five Kings. Tyrion Lannister eventually returns Ned's bones to Catelyn, but it is not confirmed whether they ever arrived at Winterfell.
Family tree of House Stark
|Descendants of Rickard Stark|
In January 2007 HBO secured the rights to adapt Martin's series for television. When the pilot went into production in 2009, one of the first casting announcements was Sean Bean as the "lead" Eddard Stark. As the show premiered in 2011, the Los Angeles Times called Bean's Ned "the strong and brooding headliner of the series."
As in the source novel, Ned is beheaded in the ninth episode of season 1, "Baelor". Though praising the character's demise for its role in propelling the story, James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly later noted that:
This is probably the first time a U.S. drama series has ever killed off its main character in the first season as part of its master creative plan … it's just … not done. You don't cast a star, put him on bus stops and magazine ads marketing the show, get viewers all invested in his story, and then dump him nine episodes later just because it arguably makes the story a bit more interesting.
Hibberd echoed the show's producers' statement that "the move lays down a dramatic precedent for the show: Nobody is safe." He called it a "risky" move that would probably lose the show viewers who had tuned in for Bean, but would hopefully attract others impressed by the boldness of it. Executive producer and writer D. B. Weiss told Entertainment Weekly in 2011 that when he and Benioff pitched the series to HBO, the fact that "main character" Ned was slated to die "was a selling point for them." Noting that the network has killed off characters in other successful series, he said that this sense of jeopardy "completely ups the ante for any moment when a character is in a dire situation if you know another character didn't survive a similar situation." HBO programming president Sue Naegle concurred, saying that Ned's death made the show creatively more attractive, adding that "The book series was filled with unexpected twists and turns. I loved this idea we'd bring together the group of characters, then once you started to believe all the tropes of heroes, you pull the rug out from under them. It's the opposite of feeling manipulated." Noting that the story and world of the series is bigger than any one character, Naegle said, "Sean brings a giant following, but Thrones is not just about the promise you're going to see one of your favorite actors week in and week out. The star is the story." Bean noted that Ned's death "was as much a surprise to me as anyone" and called it "a very courageous move for a television company."
In season 1, King Robert Baratheon asks his old friend Eddard "Ned" Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, to assume the position of Hand of the King after the sudden death of their mentor, Jon Arryn. Not interested in politics or the intrigues of the court, Ned accepts out of duty, as well as to discover how Arryn died. Robert is killed just as Ned discovers that his three children by Cersei were actually fathered by the queen's twin, Jaime. Before Ned is able to neutralize Cersei and place Robert's brother Stannis on the throne, he is betrayed by Littlefinger, and the queen has him imprisoned for treason. Ned makes a public confession to save his daughters from Cersei's wrath, but Joffrey has Ned beheaded anyway.
In the season 6 episode "Home", Bran sees a vision of Ned (Sebastian Croft) as a child with his sister and brother, Lyanna and Benjen. In the following episode, "Oathbreaker", Bran witnesses the battle between a young Ned (Robert Aramayo) and the knight Ser Arthur Dayne at the Tower of Joy. Finally, in the season finale episode "The Winds of Winter", Bran sees Ned reuniting with a dying Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi) in the tower. She makes him swear to protect her son—Jon Snow.
Recognition and awards
Bean was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actor on Television and a Scream Award for Best Fantasy Actor for the role. He and the rest of the cast were nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2011.
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