There’s no doubt that a lot of us are still traumatized by the execution of Ned Stark at the end of Game of Thrones season 1. After all, he was the “good guy” and our protagonist in the show. How could he be killed off so soon, right? Oh boy, if only we knew what was in store for us in the seasons ahead.
And it’s easier to say that Ned’s biggest mistake was that he was honorable and trustworthy. But, Ned Stark was not such a one-dimensional character. He had depth and trauma from his past, which dictated his actions. And one of the memories that led him to make this crucial mistake, which resulted in his head on a spike. And who better to tell us of that mistake but the very creator of Ned Stark, George RR Martin himself?
How the sack of King’s Landing haunted Ned Stark
In an interview, George RR Martin explained how this one event from Robert’s rebellion haunted Ned Stark. And this event took place before the timeline from Game of Thrones began, during Robert’s Rebellion. Martin said:
Ned Stark is a very honorable man. There are certain things that bothered him, and one of them is the killing of children. This produced a rift between Robert and him during the Rebellion. King’s landing fell and the Lannister men killed Prince Rhaegar’s two young children and wrapped their little bodies in a cloak and presented them to Robert. Ned was sickened by this and quarreled with Robert over it.
Ned Stark never really forgot that day when he saw Prince Rhaegar’s children lying in those blood-soaked cloaks. And that is why he kept Jon Snow’s identity a secret for all these years, all the while smearing his own honor. But, that was also the reason why Ned ended up dying in Game of Thrones. When he learned of Cersei and Jamie’s incest, he also found out that all of her children were actually fathered by Jamie Lannister, not Robert Baratheon. And that’s when he committed his biggest mistake.
How that caused him to commit his biggest mistake
Knowing of Robert’s rage, Ned decided to confront Cersei instead of Robert. George RR Martin further said:
Ned knows that if he tells Robert this, Robert’s rage will be unbounded. I mean, Cersei will certainly die, Jamie will probably die, but also the children will die. Robert will put these three children to death, these illegitimate kids. And it’ll be a repetition of the nightmare that he remembers from the fall of King’s Landing.
Martin further explains Ned’s thinking of approaching Cersei instead of Robert:
His honor and his decency brought him to meet with Cersei and tell her what he has learned and warned her to leave King’s Landing. To take the children and flee because Robert’s wrath is going to follow them to the ends of the Earth. But, it’s the only way he sees that she can save those three kids of hers. So, it’s an honorable thing to do. But, of course, in terms of sheer power politics and guile, it’s a foolish thing to do.
And so, Ned’s honor came in the way of politics, and he decided to save Cersei’s life. Little did he know that Joffrey, one of Cersei’s children whose life he saved, ended up passing the order of executing Ned with his own Valyrian Steel Sword, ‘Ice’
It’s very easy to say that Ned Stark was an honorable fool. But, the truth is that he was haunted by the sight of Rhaegar’s dead children. And he went to great lengths to protect any other children from harm. However, that pursuit ended up costing him his life. But, without his death, none of the events of Game of Thrones would have kickstarted.