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A great dad and a terrible politician, Eddard Stark is the head of the Stark family, one of the major noble families in the novel. He's the husband of Catelyn Stark and father to Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon, and Jon Snow. He was fostered by Jon Arryn (Lysa's late husband) and grew up with Robert Baratheon. He becomes Hand of the King for Robert, discovers Cersei's crime, and is executed by King Joffrey. Got all that straight? No? Okay, keep reading.
Eddard Stark is kind of like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird if Atticus Finch had a giant sword. (Like all great swords, Eddard's has a name: Ice.)
What we mean is that Eddard Stark is kind of the perfect dad: he's kind to his children (including his illegitimate son, Jon Snow, and his ward, Theon Greyjoy); he patiently tries to explain to his children whenever they are confused or need teaching (see Eddard talking to Bran about why he had to carry out the execution [2 Bran 1.25]); and even though it's an arranged marriage, Ned loves his wife Catelyn.
Aside from being a family man, Ned is also the lord of Winterfell. Here's where we run into some problems. You see, on one hand, Ned is a great leader in many ways:
Unfortunately, all of the things we love about Ned make him a pretty awful politician. He's a straight-forward person who usually says what he's thinking, even if what he's thinking is that the king is a loser (this isn't going to win him many friends in court). For example, check out the argument between Ned and Robert about assassinating the Targaryen kids (34 Eddard 8).
On top of that, Ned is merciful. Sounds fine, right? Wrong. His mercy leads him to talk to Cersei about her crimes (46 Eddard 12). He thinks he's giving her time to save her children, but really, he's giving her time to fight back against him. Oops. So, in some ways, because Ned is such a great guy – because he "had no taste for these intrigues" (21 Eddard 4.56) – he ends up losing at the game of thrones. Bottom line: Eddard has "Principles," and this doesn't get him very far in his world.
What do you think about this issue? Is Ned a bad politician because he's so honorable? Or is he not actually all that honorable? (Remember, he does try to get the City Watch on his side before confronting Cersei [48 Eddard 13].) Does he refuse to play the game of thrones, or is he just bad at it?
Reality check: At the start of the book, Eddard is thirty-five years old (2 Bran 1.5).
Rickard Stark (dad), Brandon Stark (bro), Lyanna Stark (sis), Benjen of the Night's Watch (bro)
Eddard's father, brother, and sister were all killed by the Targaryens. This makes it all the more striking that Eddard is one of the few people who doesn't think the Targaryen kids should die. Again, it's that darn Eddard mercy, refusing to blame kids for their parents' crimes. The only living relative Ned has from that generation is his younger brother Benjen, who is part of the Night's Watch.
This sure is a Stark book. Yeah, that's right, we went there. Don't forget that "stark" isn't just a name, it's also a word; something stark is severe, hard, and barren. Not a bad description for the north country where the Stark family rules.
But wait a second: it's almost ironic when used to talk about the people themselves. Sure the Stark family is strong and tough, but (as we see with Ned and his kids) the Stark family can also be warm and loving. Perhaps his name is a little ironic: Ned might have had a happier ending if only he were a little more, well, stark.