Game of Thrones: Eddard/Ned

Game of Thrones has been on my to-read list for a few years. I didn’t read it only because my book selection depends 90% on what the library has. When they made an HBO series of the first book (and my cousin who loves fantasy urged me to start reading them) I figured it was about time to pick up a copy. So I made my purchase at the local book store and oh my god…

…I am so glad I did.

Out of respect for others just getting to the series, I will limit my spoilers. And I ask that if you do comment, please do the same. I have not picked up my copy of the next book in the series (thought I intend to soon).

Also, there’s an undercurrent of fear when reviewing something that has such a large, devoted fanbase. Even if I’m somewhat in gushing fangirl mode as I write this.

Game of the Thrones is the story of a land where the summers can last ten years and the winters longer than that. It is a land of different ruling houses and the political dynamics between them. And darker forces wait outside these tangles, preparing to strike when the cruel winter does arrive.

Initially it is the story of Ned/Eddard Stark,  friend of  King Robert Baratheon and lord of the House of Stark at Winterfell. The king visits his old friend and asks/demands that Ned become the King’s Hand, the king’s closest adviser. Although Ned wishes to stay with his family where there is little backstabbing and trouble, he is a man who will always do the right thing. And the right thing is to obey his king and follow him back South to King’s Landing.

King’s Landing, with all its power plays and intrigues, is not an easy place for a man who believes that right is right, wrong is wrong and you must always do the right thing. Ned has to do what he can to protect his family and his king from those who would harm them.

Point of View

No questions, the best part of Game of Thrones was its characters. Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character (there are eight POV characters in this book, I’m told other characters get to tell their viewpoints in subsequent books). Though the bulk of these eight are Starks, Martin also put us inside the head of Tyrion Lannister (part of House Lannister, the closest threat to Ned and all he loves) and Daenerys Targaryen (child of the former mad King Rhaegar whom Ned and Robert helped depose, a perceived threat to Robert’s reign).

Each of these characters I grew to love. I think part of my adoration came from the fact that most of them were familiar without being cliche. To clarify, I had an instant connection to Arya Stark because she was the tomboy, the “unattractive” child. There’s a tradition of heroines like this, especially in the books I grew up reading (Caddie Woodlawn, Scout Finch, Jo March, Princess Cimorene). In current fantastical books for kids oh…between 8-14, the heroine will be like this. Her brother Bran Stark is that typical young boy who just wants to be like his father/brothers, wants to be strong and his own man. Sansa Stark is (especially if you connected to Arya like I did) that nagging older sister/popular girl you dislike at first. But just like that popular girl, you realize she doesn’t know any better and is a good girl after all. Jon Snow is an older Brandon, dedicated to his father but starting his own journey in a boarding school type of narrative (a la James Joyce and Roald Dahl, if your boarding school was in a frozen fortress you could never abandon). Daenerys is the girl who, after enduring hardship and abuse, finds her inner dragon and emerges as a strong woman.

None of this gross simplification is meant to imply this story is basic or dull. It’s not. And none of these characters are limited to the archetypes I just placed them into. (Also I have a harder time condensing Catelyn or Tyrion in such a manner, thus I omitted them from the previous paragraph) I think the familiarity helps though, when you’re following eight different narratives in a single book. Plus Martin is a master of subverting these character types. What happens when the young boy ready for his adventures finds himself unable to follow through? What happens when the tomboy is placed in situations her pluck and determination alone can’t get her out of?

What happens when you put one man named Ned Stark, a man who strives to always be a good man and do the right thing, is placed in a castle where doing the right thing will get you nowhere? And might put you in danger?

Ned

Slightly random, but I love that he was referred to as “Ned” in the book rather than “Eddard.” There’s something personal about a strong, hero figure going by a somewhat dorky nickname.

We first meet Ned at an execution. A man has deserted “The Wall,” the fortress guarding the land from the dangers of the North. (The prologue tells us he “deserted” because of an ancient evil that attacked him and his two companions, but the main characters don’t know this.) Ned is the one to execute the deserter because,

“…we hold to the belief that  the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”

We know right off that Ned’s going to be a noble man. More Superman than Batman on the hero/anti-hero scale. He’s kind to his five children and treats his illegitmate son Jon Snow with the same love and care (though it’s a point of contention between he and his wife Catelyn). When the king comes to visit and asks him to be The King’s Hand, Ned is honor-bound as a friend and subject to agree.

Robert was offering him a responsibility as large as the realm itself.

It was the last thing in the world he wanted.

Off to the King’s Landing he goes with his two daughters Sansa and Arya. Almost immediately tomboyish Arya clashes with Robert’s son Joffrey (who is one of the few literary characters I can honestly say I hate. Until Martin makes me feel otherwise.) and there are serious consequences for both of his daughters. Without spoiling much, I can tell you that it’s one of the numerous ways to show that a) the rest of the world is not like Winterfell and b) bad things are going to keep happening and happening and happening.

The Right Thing and The Smart Thing

What I liked best about Ned Stark was the fact that he is so noble and true but it’s not boring. Because him doing the right thing doesn’t always lead to great consequences. As head of the council, he does his best to make wise decisions but secret alliances and the king’s temper undermine them. He investigates the death of the former King’s Hand (and his brother-in-law) but doing so sets people against him.

In one climactic scene, he discovers a piece of his information that could destroy an antagonistic figure. Before he does anything else, he tells the person to give them a chance to admit their crime themselves.

Ned’s tenuous ally/fellow council member Petyr Baelish (also known as “Littlefinger”) keeps urging Ned not to trust people to do the right thing. Not even Littlefinger. He’s the opposite side of Ned’s coin: I wouldn’t classify him as good or bad but an opportunist who makes decisions because they are smart enough to keep him out of trouble.

“Lord Petyr,” Ned called after him. “I…am grateful for your help. Perhaps I was wrong to distrust you.”

Littlefinger fingered his small pointed beard. “You are slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you climbed down off your horse.”

I’ve seen some fan opinions calling Ned “stupid.” I don’t agree with this. His decisions aren’t wise in the environment he’s thrust into, but it’s more of a mix of idealism, naivete and being completely out of one’s element. We get the sense from the scenes in Winterfell that it’s a place where everyone is equal and subterfuge is almost nonexistent (at least, prior to the book’s beginning). Ned is just not prepared for what he comes up against.

If Game of Thrones had been “the story of Ned Stark who always does the right thing and doing so makes everything okay,” it wouldn’t have been an interesting story. Or character. But the juxtaposition of Ned against the corruption in his land really pulls you in and makes you feel for him as he struggles through.

He tugs at my heartstrings. I care about what he does. Regardless of his decisions, to me he’s an excellent character.

Breakdown

Appearance: Dark hair, gray eyes, long face, graying beard

Personality: Idealist, kind, reserved

Best Quality: His integrity.

Worst Quality: His naivete.

Grade: A. Overall I think his faults are justifiable and add to his character arc rather than make me throw the book across the floor.

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3 Responses to “Game of Thrones: Eddard/Ned”


  1. 1 Kimmi September 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Welcome to the party!
    (I actually think Eddard is more dorky than Ned, maybe because I think of doddering old men)

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  1. 1 Charmed by the Prince. « Literary Mancandy Trackback on February 12, 2012 at 4:01 am

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