|Ned Stark in "Game of Thrones"|
Like others late to the news of George R. R. Martin’s huge hit “A Song of Ice and Fire,” it took me a while to warm up to the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” and didn’t really get into it until I read all five tomes of this massive epic. When I watched the first episode, I was happy to see Sean Bean in a starring role, happy to see dark fantasy on a cable series, and happy to see Bean play a protagonist, a nice take after the 90’s “Patriot Games.”
Then Ned lost his head. I was not happy. Dang it, as much as I like “The Imp” I thought the story needed a stronger protagonist instead of the young naïve Dany and Jon Snow. Instead, we’re left with a bunch of people that hate each other almost as much as they hate the powerful Lannister family (paraphrasing Tyrion).
Reading the book didn’t help much. I was still ticked off. I decided not to throw my Nook, as bad as I wanted to. Why did Martin kill off the only likable strong character? Grr!! So I kept reading, hoping to find a reason to forgive the writer for killing Ned. Now it’s like I’m talking about a neighbor (meaning Martin). In the second book, cute merciless Jaime enters closer to center stage. His quote: “Poor old, dead, Ned.” Nice. But what the Kingslayer did explain is that the noble protagonist did everything possible to get himself killed in a known corrupt merciless world. Stark didn’t bend to the corrupt leadership of his buddy Robert, and paid the price.
So for some analysis: Why do “Ned Stark’s” die? If you build a world, a lead character, or a society that functions via corruption and murder, sooner or later a compelling character would stand up for what is noble and just, by the law. When such a character does this, he/she must risk it all, ruin, imprisonment, or death. The result of that action sets of the chain of events that carry the plot.
I think of characters like Ned Stark as “levers” to a story. The writer pulls the lever, and the rest turns a corner, such as a war starting, a city falling (as when Shevata killed without a death order in the Gastar novellas), or a chain of character “accidental” deaths occur (gangster stories).
Many methods effectively move a plot in fiction. The “lever” is one of many, and when I think about it that way, I can almost forgive Martin for the death of Ned Stark. However, the epic is still outstanding. Good for him. Bad for Ned.