The Starks have been the family to root for since the very first episode of Game of Thrones. In a world where no character is purely good, the Starks are as close as it comes, which only makes it that much more devastating when over half of them die brutal and unexpected deaths. But in hindsight, it’s no surprise that Westeros’ most popular family has dwindled over the seasons.
Honor and nobility are redeeming qualities among a modern day television audience, but in the medieval setting of the HBO series, honor is about as useful as challenging the Mountain to an arm wrestle. The Starks have made some unbelievably poor choices over the show’s seven seasons, usually for some noble reason, and now we’re breaking down the very worst of the worst.
However, this isn’t just a list of the bad decisions they have made. We’re judging terrible life choices against rare acts of dishonor and, in fewer cases still, downright evil. As this list unfolds, you may notice that the Starks who are still alive (and we are counting Jon for having been raised with these people) have most often committed the immoral offenses, as they have come to learn how the game is played.
Here are the 15 Worst Things the Starks Have Done.
15 Rickon Doesn’t Zig-Zag
Rickon has only a single entry on this list, but it's not because he's the most sensible of the Stark children - it’s more the fact that he doesn't have the screen time to do anything else wrong. In fact, he manages to screw up his one and only moment in the spotlight, which not only leads directly to his own death, but plays right into Ramsay’s battle plan.
It’s not as though Rickon doesn’t know the arrows are coming; the reason he starts running in the first place is because he sees the bow in Ramsay’s hand. At this point, Rickon has two options: run backwards so as to easily avoid the deadly arrows being fired at him, or at the very least, shake up his movements.
Even the audience knows that it’s easier to hit a target moving in a straight line, so imagine living in the world of Game of Thrones and not even thinking to throw in a few zig-zags.
14 Arya Kills Meryn Trant
No one’s denying that Meryn Trant was one of the few Game of Thrones characters who deserved what he got. This is the man who was very likely a pedophile, who killed Syrio Forel, and tortured Sansa in the throne room. Arya has made some very questionable moral choices and killing Meryn Trant was not one of them, but it wasn’t exactly the smartest move.
Arya, at the time, is training in Braavos with the Faceless Men, who, by the way, are watching her every move and can tell when someone is lying. In killing Trant, Arya not only proves that she isn't ready to become No One, but steals from the Many-Faced God right under the nose of the Faceless Men. All things considered, she's lucky not to lose a lot more than her eyesight.
13 Catelyn Arrests Tyrion
It’s one of season one’s best scenes, but that doesn’t make Catelyn’s arrest of Tyrion any less wrong. First, it should have been obvious to Catelyn that Tyrion is innocent, even if only because it's Tyrion who instigates the conversation, calling out Lady Stark in the midst of a crowded tavern.
Catelyn is acting solely on Littlefinger’s word (more on him later) that the knife used in Bran’s assassination attempt belonged to Tyrion. As the latter points out later in the season, “What sort of imbecile arms an assassin with his own blade?” and yet Cat ignores all logic and persists with his trial.
Catelyn’s intentions are good, but she has no evidence against Tyrion, and worse still she expels any chance of a relationship with the one Lannister who might actually be sympathetic to her cause.
12 Robb Executes Rickard Karstark
We’re not defending the murder of two innocent boys, but Catelyn commits the ultimate treason and gets away with it, and even Robb betrays his vow to Walder Frey for his own personal gain.
From Rickard Karstark’s point of view, Jaime is responsible for death of his son; it’s in his best interests to take revenge on Jaime’s family, and why shouldn’t he do what’s best for him when Robb is breaking oaths all over the place to get what he wants?
Robb proves his hypocrisy by beheading Rickard, succeeding only in turning his own men against him, including the entire Karstark army (one of the biggest in the North). Incidentally, that same army would have comfortably defeated Jon’s forces at the Battle of the Bastards if not for the Vale.
11 Jon Meets Ramsay in an Open Field
Jon makes two major mistakes at the Battle of the Bastards. The first is rushing to save Rickon, knowing that he would have nowhere to go but forward when the arrows started flying, and exposing himself to the entire Bolton army. But we’ll let that one slide, as it’s unfair to expect Jon to stand by and watch his brother/cousin die.
A bigger mistake is meeting Ramsay in an open field in the first place, when a sneak attack on his childhood home is by far the better option, especially given that he knows the place inside out. It may not be in the Stark code of honor, but with a wildling army famous across Westeros for raiding villages, Jon had a decent shot at victory even without Littlefinger’s help.
Both before and during the battle, Ramsay is able to outwit Jon by counting on his honor, which might very well have got him killed if not for some heavy plot armor and the knights of the Vale.
10 Sansa Doesn’t Tell Jon about the Vale
Speaking of the knights of the Vale, we still haven’t been given any explanation as to why Sansa refuses to tell Jon about Littlefinger’s army. It’s clear that she doesn’t trust Jon as a commander (not surprising given the previous entry), but by acting without Jon’s knowledge or consent, not only does she knowingly guarantee the deaths of several thousand Northmen - she ensures that she takes the credit.
If Jon waits for the Eyrie soldiers, Ramsay likely has to take Jon’s offer of one-on-one combat. Either that or Jon is forced into a siege of Winterfell, which 20,000 knights, a wildling horde (including a giant), and two Starks would surely be favorites to win. If Jon knows about the Eyrie soldiers and keeps them from Ramsay, they rush in before the bloodshed and only the Bolton loyalists have to die.
There’s no scenario in which knowing about the knights of the Vale doesn’t save innocent lives.
9 Arya Wastes Her Deaths
Arya doesn’t value honor in the same way as the rest of her family; she merely shrugs at Jaqen’s suggestion that she lacks honor, and she’s not above trickery or going behind someone’s back to get what she wants. It’s probably the single reason she has survived so long in this world, but at the same time, it means that she has no excuse for her poor decisions.
When Arya is offered three deaths as repayment for saving Jaqen’s life, she skips over the names on her kill list and uses them on characters whose names she doesn’t even know. It might have benefitted her in the short term, but she wastes the opportunity to ensure her family’s victory over the Lannisters by sparing Joffrey, Cersei, and Tywin (who was literally just upstairs).
With some actual forward-thinking, she could even have checked the Mountain or the Hound off her list, neither of whom she has any chance of beating in a straight fight.
8 Catelyn Frees Jaime
We’ve already mentioned Catelyn’s blatant treason in freeing Robb’s most valuable prisoner, but we haven’t mentioned the logic behind it. First, Catelyn trusts the Kingslayer, of all people, to uphold his oath and return Sansa and Arya to their mother, but she does it without any knowledge of Arya’s whereabouts.
She’s effectively trading Jaime for Sansa, and even assuming that she gets Sansa back, the North has gained nothing from its capture of Jaime Lannister. It may not be pleasant, but Jaime is worth more to Robb than Sansa in this particular war.
To top it all off, Catelyn sends Brienne to escort Jaime home, leaving herself in the midst of a war without protection, and we all know what happens next. If Brienne had been at the Red Wedding, Catelyn might well have escaped with her life.
7 Jon Goes North of the Wall
Jon has ventured north of the Wall on several occasions, and given the separate armies of wilding savages and indestructible ice zombies that live beyond the Wall, there’s a case to be made that each trip was somewhat misguided. But we understand why Jon had to pose as a wildling, and later convince them to journey south.
We’re not quite so sure about his recent trip through the Eastwatch gate, however. In season seven episode five, Jon takes a Westerosi dream team to face the entire army of the dead, for no reason other than to show Cersei a wight.
Even ignoring the facts that there’s no way of restraining an actual dead person, and there’s no chance that all of them make it back, there’s even less chance that Cersei Lannister will put everything aside to up and join Team Living. What’s more, Jon hasn’t even bothered to take any of the dragonglass he just spent half a season mining.
It’s sure to make for an incredible spectacle, but Jon’s latest expedition beyond the Wall is a guaranteed one-way trip for a good chunk of live soldiers, and the chances of success are unbelievably slim.
6 Brandon Confronts the Mad King
We have met only eight legitimate Starks in Game of Thrones (excluding the cameos in Bran’s visions and including Talisa), but we must remember that the Starks are an ancient house, with a long history of messing things up for everyone. The biggest offender in recent memory is Brandon, Ned’s eldest brother.
Brandon was traveling when he heard the news of Lyanna’s “abduction”, and rather than return home and devise a strategy, he attempted to lay siege to the capital with just four companions. Naturally, Brandon got himself arrested, and Lord Rickard was summoned to court on his behalf, only to be burned alive by the Mad King. Brandon, meanwhile, strangled himself to death in his efforts to save his father. In hindsight, probably not a good idea.
5 Robb Marries Talisa
Robb won every single one of his battles against the Lannisters, but judging by his decisions, his good fortune was never meant to last. Not only does Robb execute Rickard, but he ignores Roose Bolton’s advice (which directly sets the Red Wedding into motion) and trusts Walder Frey even after breaking his vow. But it’s that very vow that forces Robb into making all of these decisions in the first place.
This is television, and you’re meant to root for the Starks. The Freys aren’t exactly innocent after all, breaking customary guest right by slaughtering their visitors, but you can’t say that Robb doesn’t bring what happens upon himself when he marries Talisa.
In the words of Rickard Karstark himself, “you lost this war the day you married her.”
4 The Entire Family Trusts Littlefinger
Petyr Baelish’s relationship with the Starks starts with Catelyn, but it’s Ned who has the misfortune to meet him first in the show. Littlefinger is Ned’s first recruit in uncovering the Lannisters’ secret, despite every man and his dog warning Ned against the alliance. Littlefinger literally tells Ned that it's wise to distrust him.
So Littlefinger betrays Ned, and Ned dies.
At the same time as Littlefinger delivers Ned’s remains to Catelyn and promises that the Lannisters will return Sansa and Arya to her in exchange for Jaime (even though they don’t have Arya), he merges houses Tyrell and Lannister to first oppose Stannis, and then Robb.
And so Littlefinger betrays Catelyn, and Catelyn dies.
Then Sansa trusts Littlefinger to get her out of the capital, after which he drops her off at her childhood home to be married to serial torturer Ramsay Bolton. Sansa has at least wised up to Littlefinger over time, but we know what’s happened to the other Starks he’s betrayed.
3 Catelyn Prays for Jon’s Death
It’s one thing to hate your husband’s bastard child; it’s another thing entirely to pray for his early death. While it’s understandable that Jon reminds Catelyn of Ned’s supposed broken vow (she doesn’t know, of course, that Ned did no such thing), but we can’t express just how little Jon had to do with his own birth.
Not only does Catelyn wish death upon a motherless child, she then does the very thing that turned her against Jon in the first place, and breaks a vow of her own.
Following an illness that nearly kills him, Catelyn swears to the gods that she will love Jon as though he was her own son, but we see her pushing Jon away from the very first scenes of season one.
2 Bran Touches the Damn Tree
Time travel is always tricky, so it was only a matter of time before Bran made a mistake or two following his return to the show in season six. It’s a testament to just how badly he manages to screw everything up that we’ve had to wait this long for a Bran entry on this list.
The event that inspired the creepy, detached version of Bran we have become used to this season (if that wasn’t bad enough), Bran ignores the repeated warnings of a far more experienced time-traveler, and touches the weirwood tree that sends him into the midst of the Night King’s army.
The Night King touches Bran in his own vision, and returns in the present a scene later to kill the Three-Eyed Raven, while Hodor, Summer, and Leaf fall to the aforementioned army.
A similar thing happens to Bran in season one, when he's warned by his mother about the dangers of climbing, and loses the use of his legs soon after. You’d think he might have learned his lesson.
1 Arya Massacres the Freys
It’s easy to justify Arya wiping the entirety of House Frey from existence; the Freys were the architects of the Red Wedding after all, but Walder, Black Walder, and Lothar are already dead by the opening scene of season seven. For all we know, the rest of the Freys are a delightful bunch.
We may be exaggerating slightly, but Walda and Roslin, two direct descendants of Lord Walder, are proof that the Freys aren’t all bad. Arya does spare the women, but there’s no way that a good number of innocent Frey men aren't caught up in her murder spree.
The immediate reaction to this scene is one of excitement, but objectively, it has to go down as the single worst thing a Stark has done on Game of Thrones, in the most literal sense of the word “worst”. Arguably, only the big battle episodes trump Arya’s massacre in terms of the sheer number of casualties.
Have the Starks done anything else terrible in Game of Thrones? Let us know in the comments!