Lord Eddard Stark has been absent from Game of Thrones since his head was famously lopped off his shoulders late in season one, in a move that left fans of the show stunned with mouths agape. Yet his presence has been felt every season since, largely during moments where we’ve watched his remaining family members struggle to survive (or not) the wars that have been raging since his beheading.
But it was after season six’s Tower of Joy flashbacks, in which we learned Ned wasn’t Jon Snow’s father (he's his uncle) and that he had lied to everyone, including his wife Catelyn and their children, in order to protect his sister Lyanna’s secret child. After that huge reveal, Ned Stark promptly became more intriguing and mysterious than ever.
Suddenly, the former head of House Stark seemed like a much more complicated fellow than we had ever realized: he was an honorable liar who possessed a few deep dark secrets that could have rocked the entire realm if he hadn’t kept them. With season seven vastly approaching, we decided to take a closer look at the gone but never forgotten Ned the Beheaded. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Ned Stark.
15 He fought in more of Robert’s Rebellion than Robert—or anyone else—did.
Robert’s Rebellion was set in motion largely due to two factors: Rhaegar Targaryen was said to have kidnapped Ned’s sister (and Robert’s betrothed) Lyanna, and the Mad King ordered that both Ned and Robert Baratheon be executed. But considering how much more involved Ned was on every level of the rebellion, it may as well have been called Eddard’s Rebellion.
Ned and Robert both fought bravely in the war, with Robert famously killing Rhaegar in single combat on the Trident. But Robert was also badly wounded in his battle with Rhaegar, and he couldn’t go after the remainder of Rhaegar’s forces, so he sent Ned to basically end the war in his place—which Ned did. Lord Stark and his men made certain that all remaining opponents swore fealty and bent the knee to Robert, and he was also the first of Robert’s band of loyalists who went to confront the Mad King, where he found Jaime Lannister sitting on the Iron Throne after having killed Aerys.
14 No one knows where Ned’s bones/remains are
Ned Stark’s remains have to be somewhere, right? But the question is, where? They never made it back to Winterfell despite Catelyn sending them off with the Silent Sisters, the Stark crypts being their destination. In a Theon chapter in A Dance With Dragons, he meets the widow of a Stark bannerman at Winterfell, Lady Dustin, and we learn that Ned’s bones may never reach their ultimate destination: "Catelyn Tully dispatched Lord Eddard's bones north before the Red Wedding, but your iron uncle seized Moat Cailin ... I have been watching ever since. Should those bones ever emerge from the swamps, they will get no further than Barrowton." Geez! Hold grudges much?
Apparently, Lady Dustin is still angry about losing her husband, who died while in Ned’s service, and she’s looking for revenge by taking Ned’s bones--but she may never have the chance to get them. Astute ASOIAF readers know that Meera’s father, Howland Reed, lives in the Neck, a region the Silent Sisters would have to pass through in order to get to Moat Cailin/Winterfell. Some book readers think Howland may have Ned’s remains stored somewhere for safe-keeping until the Ironborn are no longer an obstacle.
13 He and Robert fought during Robert’s Rebellion, and weren’t on speaking terms until Lyanna died.
It’s safe to say that Ned may have never been asked to be Robert’s Hand if Lyanna had lived. Remember way back in season one when King Robert put a hit on Daenerys and her unborn baby, and Ned recoiled at the prospect of murdering an innocent child? It was a disagreement they had once before—and it almost ended their friendship.
After Robert’s Rebellion, Tywin Lannister presented Robert with the corpses of Rhaegar and Elia Martell’s two infant children (you know—the ones Oberyn repeatedly and astutely blamed the Mountain for killing). Ned was appalled, while Robert dubbed the slaughtered children as casualties of war. Ned rode off in a rage to finish the final battle, and didn’t speak to Robert until Lyanna died tragically. Her passing and their shared grief over her loss brought them back together.
12 He had the Tower of Joy torn down
After he and his men’s (in)famous battle against the Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy, Ned and Howland Reed were the only two survivors. It was Ned’s seven men against three Kingsguard (in the books; in the show, it was only two), and after losing most of his men and his sister there, Ned chose to have the tower torn down—but not out of anger or spite. He took Lyanna’s body back to the Winterfell crypts, but he used the tower’s “bloody stones to make eight cairns upon the ridge” for the eight men who died there.
It was actions such as this that earned Ned Stark the reputation of being a respectful and honorable man. Instead of leaving his friends—and enemies—lying dead in the sun waiting to be crow kibble, he took the time to give each man a proper burial.
11 Ned once fought alongside Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
It was very brief, but it definitely happened. Ned Stark went to battle alongside Gregor Clegane. They certainly weren’t pals; the two never hung out or even had a conversation, but Ned has very distinct memories of going to battle and fighting next to The Mountain.
About nine years prior to the beginning of Thrones, they fought on the same side during Balon Greyjoy’s Rebellion (Ned took Theon as his ward/hostage after the battle was over). Considering how upset Ned was after he heard rumors that Clegane murdered Rhaegar and Elia’s children (he and Robert were at odds over that, remember) it seems like a bit of a contradiction that he would fight alongside a man whose honor was blackened by infanticide, but since they were both fighting for anti-Greyjoy houses, and because Ned’s a complicated fellow, he went to battle with The Mountain anyway.
10 Sean Bean got A LOT of mileage out of Ned’s head
After Ned was beheaded, his portrayer, Sean Bean, admitted to having a great deal of fun with a certain prop: Ned’s noggin. Bean told Entertainment Weekly in a 2015 interview: “I remember walking around spooking people with my prosthetic head, holding it by its hair. That was a vivid memory.”
Bean also admitted that he had used Ned’s head for another purpose: turns out, Stark craniums also make great soccer balls. Bean told The Daily Mail that he and his costars had some fun with the prop before he left the set: “I’ve got some pictures of me holding my head…it was fun…we just kicked it around like a football.” Well...at least Ned’s head was used for something other than a way for Joffrey to torment Sansa.
9 Ned has a great sense of humor
Many think the Starks are humorless, and Ned even mentions that the Starks aren’t known for their witty banter—but Ned’s actually quite hilarious in his POV chapters. Take the time he learned that King Robert meant to send the young Lord Robert Arryn of the Vale off to foster with Tywin Lannister. Ned’s reaction? “Ned would sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to Lord Tywin, but he left his doubts unspoken.”
Or check his response to King Robert wistfully joking that he would like to set Cersei’s wheelhouse on fire: “I will gladly light the torch for you,” Ned tells him with a laugh. Or what about the moment in which Ned discovers Robert’s bastard Gendry at the armory in King’s Landing. Ned admires Gendry’s steel helm, and before he leaves, he tells the master armorer: “Should I ever want a helm to frighten children, this will be the first place I visit.” Also considering his gentle reminders to King Robert that he may have grown too fat for his armor, we think Ned Stark has a very underrated sense of humor that can be as cold as the North.
8 He visited the Godswood every time he killed a man
Those who knew Eddard Stark knew he wasn’t a fan of killing. We all know Ned never took pleasure in taking a life. But many people don’t know that Ned had a pretty routine way of dealing with death when he was the cause of it.
Ned worshipped the Old Gods in his Godswood (which is featured prominently in Thrones’ latest trailer) and he went there each time after he took a man’s life. While there, he had a bit of a post-killing ritual that included silent reflection and rumination, and he would also wash the blood off his blade, cleansing his soul and conscience alike in the black waters of his Godswood. After he rinsed his greatsword there, he would oil, polish, and sharpen it—all while sitting in the area designated for prayer. Those Starks and their brooding!
7 He was WAY too hard on his youngest sons Bran and Rickon.
On the TV series, Ned Stark is a paragon of virtue, and a kind, caring, and gentle father. But in the books, while he’s still a good man and a loving father, he is also ridiculously hard on his youngest boys, Bran and Rickon. Sample dialogue: Ned, to Catelyn about Rickon, who, at the tender age of three, was slightly afraid of his new direwolf pup: “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.” Wow, Eddard—he’s only a toddler!
Then, Ned told Catelyn that he wanted to take Bran with him during his tenure as Hand in King’s Landing, and when she resisted, asking him instead to let Bran stay at Winterfell (this was before Bran had been pushed by Jaime, mind you), Ned flat out refused her request, saying: “I was eight when my father sent me to foster at the Eyrie…let him grow up among the young princes.” Somehow, we don’t think Bran and Joffrey would have hit it off that well!
6 He was ready to ride off with an army of Stark bannermen to bring down Mance Rayder
Early in Martin’s Game of Thrones, way before we ever meet Mance Rayder or the Wildlings, we hear about his potential troublemaking for the Night’s Watch in Ned’s POV chapters. It turns out that Rayder and Ned Stark have a bit of a history. In the books, Mance learns that King Robert is traveling North to Winterfell, so he disguises himself as a singer and spies on the noble houses present there during their huge feast, unbeknownst to anyone.
We also learn that Ned, concerned about his brother Benjen’s letters noting Wildling attacks on Night’s Watch rangers, was getting ready to head north and stop Rayder before he attacked the Night’s Watch or the Wall itself. “The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good…Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear,” Ned told Catelyn. This never happened, of course, but it would have been an interesting confrontation, to say the least.
5 He was repeatedly haunted by the idea that he cursed his own house after he killed Sansa’s direwolf
Stupid, evil, vengeful Cersei. She had to go and insist that Sansa’s innocent young direwolf Lady be killed, and in order to insure that the poor animal not be butchered, Ned volunteered to do the deed himself. He ended up regretting it in a major way that viewers of the show never saw. After he killed Lady, the entire family was devasted: “Sansa cried herself to sleep, Arya brooded silently all day long, and Eddard Stark dreamed of a frozen hell reserved for the Starks of Winterfell.” That’s not ominous or anything.
Later, Ned wonders multiple times whether he has cursed his house by killing Lady: “What was it Jon had said when they found the pups in the snow? 'Your children were meant to have these pups, my Lord.' And he had killed Sansa’s, and for what? Was it guilt he was feeling? Or fear? If the gods had sent these wolves, what folly had he done?” He felt so badly, he had a few of his men take Lady’s body all the way back to Winterfell so she could be buried there.
4 His original storyline was a bit different
In the first draft of Game of Thrones, Ned was beheaded by Joffrey, just as he was in the final version of the book and the television show. But in George R.R. Martin’s original draft back in 1993, Ned performed a major act of heroism just before his beheading that Martin ended up changing entirely. Originally, Martin had Catelyn and Arya go with Ned to King’s Landing, and apparently, when all hell broke loose and his men started getting slaughtered left and right, Ned helped both Arya and Cat escape just before his death.
We like Martin’s final version better—but it might have been nice to see Ned pull off one final act of heroism instead of going straight from the dungeons to the chopping block.
3 Rumors swirled that he cheated on Catelyn with Ashara Dayne
When Ned returned home from the war with an infant bastard son, naturally, rumors flew regarding the baby’s mother. We learn in one of Catelyn’s POV chapters that there were whispers about Jon Snow’s mother perhaps being Ser Arthur Dayne's sister, Lady Ashara Dayne.
After the battle at the Tower of Joy, Ned returned Ser Arthur Dayne’s great sword, Dawn, to Dayne’s family—namely to his sister. When Ned had been spotted at the Dayne residence and then went back to Wintefell with a baby, well, some people thought some things. Catelyn asked Ned about Lady Dayne one time, and this is what happened: “That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. 'Never ask me about Jon, he said,' cold as ice. 'He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady'…and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne’s name was never heard in Winterfell again.” That's one way to squash a rumor.
2 George RR Martin thinks Boromir would beat Ned in a fight
After being quizzed as to which Lord of the Rings characters were superior or inferior when compared to some of his own characters, some of George R.R. Martin’s answers may surprise fans. Martin surprisingly stated that he thought Jaime Lannister would dispose of Aragorn if the two ever faced off in a physical contest (um, really?) and his opinion as to whether Sean Bean’s Ned Stark could hold his own against Sean Bean’s Boromir was also kind of a surprise.
Martin said he thought Ned would get his butt handed to him, noting that Boromir was “probably more of a warrior,” whereas “Ned was more of a lord, a ruler, a diplomat, a general. But in simple physical one-on-one combat, Boromir.” Talk about a battle between two doomed men!
1 He wasn’t supposed to marry Catelyn
The cause for their union was as unromantic as one comes to expect from the ASOIAF universe, where arranged marriages and child brides are pretty much common business dealings. Catelyn Tully was originally betrothed to Ned’s oldest brother, Brandon Stark. But after Brandon was brutally murdered per the Mad King’s orders, honor compelled Ned to marry Catelyn in his brother’s place.
Ned and Catelyn grew close over the years, and they certainly shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other—one could even argue that love grew out of these bonds. But Ned was never truthful with her about Jon being Lyanna’s son, instead allowing her to believe the one time he eschewed honor, it was at the expense of his commitment to her. And book readers know that while their relationship was strong, it wasn’t one laden with romantic love.
What do you think? Is there anything about Noble Eddard that we missed? Let us know in the comments.