Everything You Need To Know About Ned Stark's Past

As we warg into some Ned Game of Thrones backstory, beware SPOILERS as they climb up from the crypts and out of the Godswood of Winterfell.  
Ned Stark’s past may be a key to where we’re headed on both the show, Game of Thrones, and in the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. A believer in the Old Gods, and the last sane Lord of Winterfell before things went sideways, Ned is the very heart of the North. Take, for instance, his ancestral greatsword, Ice. Forged in the ancient kingdom of Valyrian, its fate mirrors that of the Stark children. Ice’s melting down into two swords by Tywin Lannister symbolizes the separation and abuse of the Starks by those who seek the Iron Throne, with redemption and revenge on the horizon. (Tommen has Widow’s Wail. Brienne has Oathkeeper, BTW.)
Ned Stark wasn’t always such a grim-faced guy, either - a lot of interesting things have happened in the Ned Stark backstory. He grew up at the Vale with ward Robert Baratheon, fostered by Jon Arryn. He bounced between the Eyrie and Winterfell starting at 16. As second son, he would probably have led a relatively peaceful existence until the day the news of encroaching White Walkers reached the North. Because Ned always knew Winter is Coming. Hence all of the bracing for it.  
If Rhaegar Targaryen didn’t run off with his sister, Lyanna, the world might be a different place for Ned Stark. The day when “all smiles died” at the tourney at Harrenhal was the turning point for many, most notably Ned. Rhaegar’s preference of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, over his own wife, Elia Martell, and subsequent kidnapping of Lyanna, set off a series of events: King Aerys brutally tortured and executed Ned’s father and older brother. Ned doesn’t have time to adjust to becoming the new Lord at Winterfell and instead raises his banners against the king. He’s duty-bound to marry Brandon’s betrothed, Catelyn Tully, and follow his childhood friend Robert Baratheon into war. Without Rhaegar’s obsession, Robert’s Rebellion, and Brandon and Rickard Stark's executions, Ned might have married the beautiful Ashara Dayne and not later killed her brother at the Tower of Joy. But it wasn’t meant to be.     
In the course of Eddard Stark history, we don’t get much time with Ned, but what we do get is a character who is beautifully depicted. A die-hard protector of his family and the North. Too honest for his own good. He’s not fancy and he’s not afraid to die. Ned is made of the stuff of heroes. When he is executed with his own greatsword Ice by Ilyne Payne at King’s Landing (because Joffrey still sucks even though he's dead!), we are outraged and shocked. But without Ned’s death, the story doesn’t work. We needed that horrific twist to launch us forward. Rest assured, George R.R. Martin will make sure Ned’s sacrifice was not in vain.  
Before anyone else can pass the sentence and swing the sword or Sean Bean can ruin any more GoT plot lines, let’s look a little closer at Lord Eddard Stark history. 
Photo: HBO

  • The Stark Family

    The Stark Family
    Photo: HBO
    Eddard (nicknamed Ned) Stark’s father was Lord Rickard Stark, his mother Lady Lyarra Stark. Rickard and Lyarra were cousins. He had an older brother, Brandon; a younger sister, Lyanna; and a younger brother, Benjen. 
    After Prince Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped/ran off with Lyanna Stark, Brandon rode to King’s Landing to challenge Rhaegar to a duel and demanded the return of his sister. King Aerys arrested him for treason and called for Rickard to answer for his son’s actions. Rickard was also arrested for treason. He chose trial by combat and King Aerys chose fire as his opponent. Lord Rickard was suspended over a fire, wearing his armor. Brandon was brought in and then slowly roasted over a fire while his son was tethered nearby, a leather rope around his neck and a sword to cut Rickard down just within reach. Brandon slowly strangled himself while Rickard burned to death in his own armor.  
    When King Aerys demanded Jon Arryn deliver the head of Ned Stark, Jon Arryn responded by raising his banners against the king.  
    Lyanna died in Ned’s arms at the Tower of Joy, possibly after giving birth to a child or to twins. Ned’s younger brother Benjen, who took the black as a brother of the Night’s Watch for unknown reasons, went missing beyond the Wall. BTW, if you want to know what these filmmakers think happened to Ned, watch their seven-minute film
    Pretty impressive.
  • He Grew Up with Robert Baratheon in the Vale

    He Grew Up with Robert Baratheon in the Vale
    Photo: HBO
    From the age of eight, he was fostered by Lord Jon Arryn at the Eyrie along with Robert. By the time Ned was 16, he had spent time in the Vale and Winterfell.  
    Young Eddard was fostered by Arryn for several reasons: He was second-born, so he wasn’t in line to inherit Winterfell. Therefore, learning the southern ways and forming an alliance was advantageous all around, but odd given that Starks tended to intermarry. It has been suggested that such fostering was part of building up a force to eventually thwart the Targaryens, a popular theory called the Southron Ambitions. 
  • Ned Met Howland Reed When Ned Was 18

    Ned Met Howland Reed When Ned Was 18
    Photo: HBO
    Ned went to the tourney at Harrenhal at 18 with his siblings Brandon, Lyanna, and Benjen. There, he met Howland, one of Lord Rickhard’s bannerman, for the first time. When three squires picked on Howland, Lyanna defended him, nursed his wounds, and then introduced him to her brothers. He stayed in Ned’s tent and prayed to the gods that he would not dishonor his house in the tourney against the squires.  
    The next day, an unknown knight, short of stature, trounced the squires in combat. Many believe that it was Lyanna Stark. Ned and Howland were best friends from then on, and Howland was loyal to the Starks ever since. Howland saved Ned’s life at the Tower of Joy and was there when Ned found Lyanna, dying in a pool of blood. He probably knows who Jon Snow’s parents are. 
  • Did Ashara Dayne Have Ned’s Child?

    Did Ashara Dayne Have Ned’s Child?
    Photo: HBO
    His brother Brandon was promised to Catelyn before Brandon and their father Rickard were cruelly tortured and killed by King Aerys. But before Ned married Catelyn out of duty and honor, he was giving all kinds of shy side-eye to Ashara Dayne, Elia Martell’s lady-in-waiting, at the tourney of Harrenhal. His brother Brandon had to speak to her on Ned’s behalf before they danced and maybe a little more.  
    The theory is that Ned and Ashara had a child from their night together and Rhaegar’s behavior at the tourney and subsequent abduction of Lyanna changed everyone’s fate. Either the alleged child was stillborn, causing Ashara to throw herself out of a tower, or the child lived and was Allyria Dayne, passed off as Ashara’s sister. Many also believe the child from that union was Jon Snow. 
    It may explain why Ned brought Ser Arthur Dayne’s body and sword, Dawn, back to Starfall to House Dayne. Curious that the man who helped killed one of the best swordsman in the realm (and who also helped Rhaegar take Lyanna) would return the sword to his sister. Was Ned taking one last opportunity to see his true love and pick up his love child? Ashara Dayne killed herself shortly after his departure. Or was it simply an honored custom and he was paying respects to his former old friend?
  • A Reluctant Lord

    A Reluctant Lord
    Photo: HBO
    Ned became the Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North and Lord Paramount of the North, at around 19 or 20. He never planned on being a lord or running things, not to mention marrying Catelyn, who was betrothed to his older brother, Brandon. A quiet man not impressed with titles, Eddard Stark was dedicated to duty and honor, even to his downfall at the end of a sword. But when he does step into his post, he takes it on fully. He’s responsible, he treats his servants well, and is a trusted leader - but he sucks at politics. He trusted Littlefinger and he told Cersei what he knew, leading to his own beheading. Ned was probably terrible at poker.  
  • He May Not Be Jon Snow’s Pop

    He May Not Be Jon Snow’s Pop
    Photo: HBO
    And not just because Sean Bean can’t keep his mouth shut. 
    Catelyn was in love with Brandon and promised to him when he was killed by King Aerys. Ned married Catelyn after war broke out in a double ceremony with Jon Arryn, who married Lysa Stark. Ned and Catelyn barely knew each other but grew close with time and children. They had Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon. After the war, Ned returned to Winterfell with Jon Snow. Ned claimed Jon as his bastard and lets everyone believe that the mother was a servant in the House Dayne, Wylla. Catelyn also suspected that the child belonged to Ned and Ashara Dayne, but when she brings it up, he snaps at her to never bring it up again. No matter who Jon’s mother was, Catelyn white-hot hated his guts.  
    The legendary theory that Jon is the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark is very close to being proved or disproved. Until the reveal, only Ned, maybe Wylla, and Howland Reed knew what happened in the Tower of Joy. And, well, Brandon.