The honorable and decent Lord Ned Stark has been having a rough go of it of late, to say the least, as anyone who has been watching HBO’s fabulous Game of Thrones knows (see: review of “Baelor,” last night’s episode).
Reluctantly wrenched away from his life, land, and family by the now late King Robert Baratheon, Lord Stark was installed as Hand of the King, a chief advisor of sorts, in King’s Landing. A soldier at heart, Ned’s core attributes are duty, courage, and honor. All of which make him particularly ill-suited to the challenges he ends up facing.
I was amused to find that Stark’s lack of, let’s say, crafty decision making was the subject of an Internet meme impolitely dubbed Stupid Ned Stark. The basic concept is showcased in the image displayed above, referencing Ned’s decision to tell his daughter Sansa about their plans to flee the city. There are many to choose from, as it turns out.
Simply take a Ned Stark blunder – he tells his enemy Cersei Lannister, for example, exactly what we knew about her incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, making her child Joffrey ineligible to be crowned king in favor of Robert’s brother Stannis, and further that he was prepared to defend this position with force – and turn it into a LOLcats-style joke. Or jape as we might say in Westeros.
On a slightly more serious note though, Stark’s end – which comes at the boy king Joffrey’s word and Ser Ilyn Payne’s blade – turns the traditional fantasy storytelling vehicle of the noble knight on its head. A central character like Stark should face great adversity and setbacks in a world gone mad, but his nobility, honor, and courage should help him to win out in the end. Or at least protect and save those dearest to him. The A.V. Club puts a fine point on this:
In a series filled with people whose morals are a slippery slope, he’s the closest thing we have to a decent man, someone we can cling to, even when things turn to shit around him. Without Ned, we’re being swept downstream.
With Ned Stark dead, we as the audience have been taught that anything can happen in this world (and with Sean Bean, the actor who played him, arguably the most famous of the cast, no less!). No one is safe. The stakes are indeed high, and Cersei’s assertion that “in the game of thrones, you either win or you die” has been proven deadly true.