On Ned Stark, Ice and Fire

Spoilers after the leap… (First half of the post may have season one show spoilers, after that there is a warning for more book-related spoilers.)

I thought the last two episodes of Game of Thrones were terrific, especially the ninth which featured the very tragic and surprising killing of Ned Stark. I say surprising for those many viewers who had not read the books. Rumor has it, many are threatening to quit watching the show now that the main character has been killed.

I read about the murder of Ned Stark some eleven years ago, and I recall at first my excitement at the notion of Ned going to the Wall – he was needed at the Wall, badly – and then my horror and devastation at this death. That was when I first knew these books were serious, that Martin meant to pull no punches, and that going forward nothing and no one was safe.

In any case, the final episode of the first season was also quite good, though not nearly so intense as the ninth. There be dragons now, of course, which is pretty awesome. And just as Jon Snow leaves for the icy wilderness beyond the Wall, Dany emerges from the fire of her husband’s pyre. In the show, this illustration of fire and ice is really quite potent.

Now to engage in some theorizing that may or may not be spoiler-ish. Read at your peril:

robert-baratheon-vs-rhaegar-targaryen I’m pretty sure that Jon Snow and Dany are the central characters of these stories. I believe that Jon is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. I’m pretty sure that this makes him next in line for the Iron Throne if the Targaryen dynasty was still in power – above Dany. They hinted at this somewhat in the show (and I think in the book) when Sansa asks “What if I have only girls?” and her Septa responds by saying that the throne would then pass to Joffrey’s brother. Dany is the daughter of the mad king Aerys, but Rhaegar’s son would surely be further up in line than her.

Some idle speculation:

Is it possible that Lyanna didn’t love Robert, but was secretly in love with Rhaegar and that she was not kidnapped but rather eloped? Is it possible they were secretly married? Ned Stark rescues her and she dies “in a bed of blood” and then he returns to Winterfell with the infant who he calls Jon Snow and claims as his own. Is this because he knows Robert or the Lannisters would kill the boy if they knew he was a Targaryen?

Somehow, one way or another, the worlds of Jon Snow and Danaerys Targaryen will collide. How will we discover the truth of Jon’s birth now that Eddard is dead? How will this play out in the show, which has spent almost no time on this particular patch of backstory – or at least not enough time as far as I can tell.

Lots to think about.

P.S. Please read Alyssa Rosenberg’s latest post on the show – and the books – because it’s terrific and thoughtful and exactly the kind of smart commentary this work deserves.

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46 thoughts on “On Ned Stark, Ice and Fire

  1. That’s a very interesting theory. I’ve still only read the first book (Clash of Kings is on the way), but I imagine all the evidence would exist only in that book. The evidence is good, think of Ned’s attempt to protect Cersei’s children, to not assassinate Dany, his deliberate avoidance of the discussion of his ‘one girl’ with Robert on the way to King’s Landing. Perhaps it’s all a lie he told to protect baby Jon, certainly as Lyanna and Rhaegar’s child he’d look enough like Ned to pass (and aren’t half the issues in GoT related to parentage anyway?).

    As for Ned’ death, I had no idea what I was in for when it happened. I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for two weeks, I was so thrown. When I went back I devoured the back half and got very excited for the HBO show to come along.

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  2. You may be right about Jon’s ancestry. Ad the stories probbly will merge at some point, but….
    To tell the truth I don’t find myself much interested in the sort of John Le Carre-ish aspects of the story. All the wheels within wheels…bore me. I love the sheer spectacle of it. I love visualizing the scenes as I read. Well some of the scenes. I also find myself skipping pages of stuff I do not want to visualize.

    I’m on the third book by accident. I dowloaded it into my Kindle, thinking it was the second book. It does’t make much difference really.. He still has a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter, he still creates awesomely detailed ad compellig scenes, he still keeps the personalities changing and growing , and he still has so many characgters that I o longer even try to keep track of them and just go with the flow.

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    • I have to say, skipping books in a series is one of those pet peeves of mine that really, really bothers me. You should put down number three and go back and read number two. If you want sheer spectacle, there are probably better fantasy novels than this one to read. I’d recommend the R. Scott Bakker or Steven Erikson.

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  3. Is it possible that Lyanna didn’t love Robert, but was secretly in love with Rhaegar and that she was not kidnapped but rather eloped?

    That’s my assumption. Lyanna and Robert would have been an arranged marriage, not necessarily a love match. And it’s quite in character for the books that Robert’s rebellion, triggered very much by his desire to rerscue Lyanna, was based on a falsehood.

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  4. I wouldn’t be surprised if Snow were actually Rhaegar Tagaryn’s bastard son (or possibly secretly legitimate son). On first impulse I’d say that it speaks incredibly badly of both Lyanna and Rhaegar that they’d have kept their relationship so secretive as to precipitate a massive and bloody civil war just to spare Robert’s feelings (though concealing vital info to spare Roberts feelings seems to be a Stark tic; perhaps it’s genetic). On second impulse, though, I moderate my feelings a bit in that it’s possible that the civil war was not literally caused by their affair but rather by Rhaegar’s insane Father; Lord Stark and his Son zipping over to King’s Landing to ask where the hell their daughter/sister was and getting burned alive for their troubles is a much better reason for a war in my opinion.

    Still, I don’t find it immensely engaging. I mean Jon is already in the watch and Lord Commander now too. So it’s not like they’re ever going to undo that. Not to mention the man is utterly Stark in behavior and appearance so he’d never be a Tagaryn King were he to take the throne anyhow. And lastly how on earth would it ever come out believably? Every significant noble involved is dead and gone now and some commoner midwife or nursemaid isn’t going to cut it for testimony. Cercai has the lords of two major houses and what passes for Westeros genetic knowledge all proclaiming her children’s lineage and it hasn’t made a lick of difference.

    But I just find Jon Snow so tedious as a character so I end up hoping an Other gets him.

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    • I must say, I don’t understand your dislike of Jon Snow. I mean, I understand everyone has different opinions of each character, and Snow is by no means my favorite, but I think he’s an interesting character nonetheless.

      Regarding his parentage, I think someone must know. Perhaps Howland Reed.

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      • I concurr. In many ways he is the hero archetype. But if you were to read the Feast for Crows, you sense that his emotional isolation in avoiding his friends and sending sam away is self destructive. With the red lady around, I’m not sure about his survival chances.

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      • I read a lot (a LOT) of fantasy/fiction in the 90’s and early 00’s and I find Jon and Araya to be tedious walking bundles of tropes. Jon’s the “heart of gold despite his sordid birth circumstances” with the “mystery parent” and the “significant talents despite his low station” dude. Araya is the “feisty tomboy girl” rejecting her “lot in life”. I think Martin’s writing structure enhances the problem because I’ll be enraptured about the game of thrones going on or what Daenyrys is up to and then suddenly the chapter ends and I have to watch Snow mope round on the wall again and then the book ends.

        Frankly it’s somewhat unfair because they’re objectively okay. Hell part of what makes them annoying is that they’re young and Martin admirably makes them behave their age which when coupled with their tropes makes me find them grating.

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        • Hmmmm. Except that Arya is not *just* a tomboy – she’s also a killer, and not just a killer but training to be a serious assassin. And Jon is not just the hero-with-mystery parents either. As Murali notes above, he’s also got a very self-destructive streak and who knows how that will play out with Martin’s skill for story-telling?

          Furthermore, by this criteria you could just as easily critique Dany.

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          • Well she’s not my favorite to be honest. I’ve felt more fond of the more disposable second string characters. Sansa, Rob and Varys for example. But Poor Arya and Jon are carrying a lot of unfair baggage with me that got lumped on them by other characters of their ilk and trope that I feel are overused.

            And with Dany I’m just holding my breath waiting to hear when Ser Barristan gently tells her “honey, your Papa was as crazy as a catfish and probably deserved what he got”.

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      • I think it’s perfectly clear that Howland Reed knows. He’s one of the last pieces on the board that we know nothing about. But he’s the only one who came back with Ned from the tower where the Kingsguard were defending the last Targaryen heir (Jon). Ned, Reed, and a few others killed those guys to take the baby away.

        Also, contra North above, the reason it matters is because Dany has three dragons and only one butt. Someone else has to help her ride the things.

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  5. I haven’t been able to see the episodes, but I wanted to second Erik’s point about the importance of the death of Ned in the narrative. That was the point where it just really drove home that this was not your usual fantasy story. I also liked that it was his honor and nobility that drove him to the place where he failed so miserably. In character development it did more than anything else to point out the basic problem with Joffrey. It was so capricious, foolish, childish, and cruel, that it really proves his awfulness as a very human villain, even as such a young man.

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    • You know, I’ve thought Joffrey’s character in the books seems extremely different than in the show. In the books he’s clearly a psychopath. In the show he seems partially a product of his environment. His proposal to have a royal army doesn’t actually sound that bad (although raising taxes on the Northmen clearly isn’t all that smart).

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      • I’ve yet to dive into the show, but I always thought Joffrey was a product of his environment. Robert never seems to have shown much interest in him, and Cersei is hardly one to curb anyone’s appetites. Joffrey seems to be the natural end product of Lannister self-importance and Baratheon temperament combined with an utter lack of restraint. If I remember correctly, Ned and Robert talked about having wanted to foster Joffrey somewhere away from his mother but Cersei not standing for it.

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        • Good point. But what about Tyrion?…then again, Tyrion’s life never included much encouragement or indulgence. Nobody said Tyrion was free to do whatever he wanted. As you say, Cersei “is hardly one to curb anyone’s usual appetites.” So good points all around.

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  6. How will Jon find out about his ancestry? H Reed,the Cranogman. He was at the tower of joy, and has been hanging in the background of the first few novels… Waiting to emerge as the deus ex machine and explain the backstory

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  7. Is it possible that Lyanna didn’t love Robert, but was secretly in love with Rhaegar and that she was not kidnapped but rather eloped? Is it possible they were secretly married?

    When you get to Book 3 on your reread, there’s a certain chapter you’ll want to pay very close attention to.

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  8. I’m not about Jon Snow being a Targaryen.

    More interesting to me is the subplot about the rightful heir to the Iron throne. As Robert lays dying, he wants Ned to be regent to Joffery.
    Instead, Ned put’s “child of of my blood” or whatever on the paper when he accepts, then stupidly tells Cersie that he’s going to turn her out.
    While it’s not in the show, in the book, Ned followed John Arryn’s trail to see what could have gotten him murdered and that leads him to an apprentice boy named Gendry that Ned finds at an armorer – who had been instilled there by a unknown knight.
    That’s glossed over on screen, but at the end of the last episode, Arya meets up with a dark haired Armorer’s apprentice bound for the Wall – who I think is going to be Aryas protector on the trip, and turn out to be Gendry, bastard son but rightful heir to the throne, and Ned has gotten him out of the city and to the north for safekeeping.

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    • Not having Jon be a Targaryen would be a very weird bit of misdirection by GRRM. It almost has to be true at this point given the amount of evidence.

      That said, it’s fairly standard to exclude bastards from succession. Very few people would consider Gendry Robert’s legitimate heir. Stannis is who Ned was really going for there.

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  9. One other question: Is there any question as to Bran’s role in the story? I think his story on the page with the Reeds is awesome, but where it goes in the last 3 books I have no idea, unlike anything else (Others have to arrive eventually, Stannis gets tested as the self-proclaimed savior, Dany eventually goes west, etc.) But Bran is the only person who I have no idea what Martin intends.

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