|Pictured here: An honorable man|
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Lord Eddard Stark, better known as Ned by those close to him, died ignominiously eleven days ago, on the episode entitled "Baelor" on HBO's landmark series Game of Thrones. The Lord of Winterfell and the former Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon, the late ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, was beloved in his home region of the North, but disliked and even held in contempt by those who didn't like what he represented. But what did Lord Stark represent? It was more than just his snow-covered, windswept landscape to the North, dangerously close to The Wall and the White Walkers that now threaten Westeros. It was more than his sigil, the Direwolf, or the family he raised. It was more than his friendship with King Robert, and his servitude to the realm.
More than anything, he represented honor, but in death, more specifically, HIS death represented the death of honor.
One of the knocks against Stark was that he wasn't a very bright man. This much is true. He passed up several opportunities to broker peace deals that could have kept him alive and away from The Wall. He followed the exact same steps that his predecessor as Hand, Jon Arryn, did knowing full well that the investigation he was undergoing got Arryn killed by the scheming Lannister family. There were only two explanations for why Stark would continue to prod at the burgeoning conspiracy unfolding behind closed doors like an adolescent boy throwing rocks at an angry beehive. Either he was stupid, or he had a cognitive dissonance about what was going on, and went by the book because that's the way things should have been done.
Since this is a eulogy, I come not to knock the man, but to argue that it was more the latter than the former. I believe Lord Eddard knew that his course of action was the right thing to do, even if in his heart of hearts, he knew it was going to get him killed. In a sense of stubbornness, duty or conscience, he pressed on anyway, thinking he could change the world by being a good man. Sadly, the world was changing, only in a far more dark and twisted way than what Stark could ever have thought of.
The world was becoming an unkind place for those who wished to uphold tradition, respect and decorum. Arryn died because he dared question whether the blond-haired, blue-eyed Joffrey was really the son of Robert, despite the fact that every other child sired by the fat king out of his wedlock to Queen Cersei of House Lannister had black hair and brown eyes, and as a result, put into doubt whether he was the true heir to the Iron Throne. When Khal Drogo dared listen to the Moon of His Life and spared the life of conquered healer, he was repaid by being turned into the first recorded vegetable in the history of the Vaes Dothrak by that very same healer. In what has become a microcosm of the whole series to date, Bronn dispatched Lord Vardis in the stead of Tyrion Lannister in his trial by combat and didn't exactly fight honorably. Lady Lysa Arryn levied the claim that exact claim, to which Tyrion deadpanned, pointing to the hole out of which Bronn threw his defeated foe, "No, but he did."
So, in a world where dishonor and lawlessness seem to be rewarded, the swordblow that separated Ned Stark's head from the rest of his body was the final, stunning blow to the idea that honor alone can be used as a compass for navigating life in the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond). Now, the world is thrown into chaos, with the Lannisters fighting a war on three fronts against three unique enemies with different goals, two of which want the crown that Tywin's grandson wears on his adolescent and merciless head. A fourth force, one powered by dragons and Dothraki savagery, looms across the Narrow Sea.
Which force will win though? It won't be the noblest one, I'll tell you that. It'll be the one that fights with the greatest strength, the greatest cunning or the best strategy. That isn't to say that honor is something to be scoffed at. No, quite contrarily, Ned Stark should be held up as a martyr, an ideal even, for what all men should strive to be like, but not too much like. The lesson here is that Stark's honor should be commended, but in his final moments, he showed something more valuable than he did in his life of servitude, honestly and valor. He showed some cunning. He made a deal with the Mad King Joffrey to admit treason he didn't commit in order to save his daughters' lives. No one can question whether saving the lives of his kin is noble or not. However, his gambit, which was squelched because of Joffrey's dishonesty, a trait that even surprised his deceitful mother Cersei, not because it wasn't an attempt to play the game.
That's the lesson that Stark's death teaches. You don't wait until it's too late to make bold choices, even if they're dishonorable. Sometimes, you need to take the rap for a crime you didn't commit, or tell lies or break oaths for the greater good. His death, though outrageous to several fans of the show who grew attached to him, was necessary to further the theme of the overall story.
That being said, it's still a sad death, and one that should be lamented. Ned Stark died as he lived, not as a moron like I had previously stated on Twitter, but as a stubbornly honorable man, noble to a fault and a man who only started to learn his lesson when it was too late. If there's any justice in that fictional world, he shall be avenged, either by his son Robb sodomizing Joffrey with his sword, his bastard Jon Snow sodomizing the King with his sword or, my personal hope, in the belly of one of Danerys Targaryen's dragons.
However, that doesn't change the fact that he didn't need to die, which I think is the most important real life lesson that could be learned from a fictional death. Sometimes, honor just isn't enough.
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