author C.C.Cole's blog

Monday, April 30, 2012

On Why Ned Stark’s Die

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.


  1. blogger comment forms are a pet peeve... just wrote a deec comment and it gagged on me. good post!

  2. I LOVE that you tackled this concept … when poor Ned was removed from the story-line, I understood that significance yet rebelled & swore vengeance upon the Lannisters & G.R.R.Martin !! Great piece !!

  3. I can forgive GGRM for the death of Ned Stark, but NOT for the removal from the series of Sean Bean! But seriously, you're right about the whole subject, of course!