On Ned Stark, Ice and Fire

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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46 Responses

  1. Avatar Plinko says:

    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.Report

  2. Avatar wonkie says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      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.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    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.Report

  4. Avatar Murali says:

    Erik, regarding Jon’s parentage, I think its more than idle speculation. (just hope it doesnt get jossed)Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      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.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        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.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        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.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          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.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            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”.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              If I remember correctly, he does do that at one point. I’ll check out which book he does it in and get back to you.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                Yeah, I’m sure I remember that happening too.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I recall him sort of alluding to it with her towards the end and suggesting in a sideways sort of manner that the morals of her Father’s overthrow were not entirely black and white but I don’t recall him discussing it in any detail. I expect it to be broached in a Dance of Dragons since that should move the Dany story forward a lot.Report

      • Avatar Ryan B says:

        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.Report

  6. Avatar Ryon says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar Daniel says:

      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).Report

      • Avatar Ryan says:

        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.Report

        • Avatar Daniel says:

          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.Report

  7. Avatar Jakecollins says:

    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 backstoryReport

      • Avatar Murali says:

        It doesnt need to be revealed. Jon is the lord commander of the nights watch. There are no circumstances under which his lineage matters. With Melissandre out there looking for someone with royal blood to burn so that she can wake her own dragon, it would be better if no-one found out just yetReport

        • Avatar James K says:

          So the reveal would need to wait until Danearys shows up and Melissandre realises she’s wrong about Stannis being Azor Ahai reborn.

          Not that I’m sure that Snow’s anything but a bastards. And besides which, since he’s a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch he no longer has a claim to the throne, if he ever had one.Report

  8. Avatar Maxwell James says:

    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.Report

  9. Avatar Doubter says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar Ryan B says:

      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.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Agreed with Ryan. Re-reading GoT it’s amazing how obvious it really is that Ned isn’t Jon’s father. And it can’t be Robert. So he pretty much has to be Rhaegar’s with Lyanna.Report

      • Avatar Daniel says:

        Yes, this is a good point. Only every once in a while are bastards given positions of high status with their “trueborn” kin and almost never are they allowed to actually be the king/lord/leader/patriarch.Report

  10. Avatar john says:

    The dragon has three heads. I agree with you Erik, Jon is the second. So, who’s the third? Don’t say Aemon.Report

    • Avatar Ryan B says:

      GRRM has said they don’t have to be Targaryens, so there’s that.Report

      • Avatar john says:

        Do they have to be descended from Targaryens?

        Also, remember that Jon Snow got burned in the zombie attack. A serious burn. The Dany story is pretty clear that dragons aren’t harmed by fire.

        I’m mostly on board with the theory, but the zombie/wight burn bugs me.Report

  11. Avatar john says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar john says:

      I mean working theory, not question.Report

      • Avatar Ryan B says:

        I’m not 100% sure that there is one. It doesn’t get talked about much, although there are some theories about who Coldhands is (another thing I think is probably fairly obvious, but less so than Jon is a Targaryen).Report