Eddard “Ned” Stark is a fictional character in the 1996 fantasy novel A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, and the first, sixth and seventh season of Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. In the storyline, Ned is the lord of Winterfell, an ancient fortress in the North of the fictional continent of Westeros. Though the character is established as a primary character in the novel and the TV adaptation, Martin’s plot twist at the end involving Ned shocked both readers of the book and viewers of the TV series.
In A Game of Thrones (1996), Ned Stark is introduced as the virtuous and honorable patriarch of House Stark and the father of six children. The moral compass of the story, he is content to remain far from courtly intrigues and is unwavering in his view of loyalty and honor. His family name, Stark, serves as an indication of his resistance to moral compromise, but his boundaries are increasingly tested over the course of the novel. Finding himself a key player in the escalating political intrigue of King’s Landing, Ned struggles as his own sense of honor draws him into corrupt goings-on at court. As the story progresses, he begins to see the importance of moral and practical compromises to achieve a just end, and is ultimately forced to choose between the safety of his family and doing what is right.
As established in A Game of Thrones, Eddard “Ned” Stark is the second son of Rickard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell. Years before the events of the novel, the quiet and shy young Ned is fostered in the Vale by Jon Arryn. During this time Ned becomes close friends with Robert Baratheon, heir to the Stormlands and another ward of Arryn’s. Robert is eventually betrothed to Ned’s sister Lyanna, but before he can marry her, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (who is already married and has two young children) absconds with Lyanna. Ned’s father and older brother Brandon go to King Aerys II Targaryen and demand that Lyanna be freed; the so-called “Mad King” executes both Rickard and Brandon, convinced that the Starks seek to usurp him. Ned, Robert and Arryn then rise in revolt, securing the support of House Tully with Ned marrying Catelyn Tully. Ned leaves for war the next morning.
At the decisive Battle of the Trident, Robert manages to kill Prince Rhaegar and scatter the Targaryen army. Robert is injured in the battle, so Ned takes command and marches on the capital. In King’s Landing, Ned finds that House Lannister has — through treachery — already sacked the city, and murdered Aerys and the royal family. Disgusted by the dishonorable massacre, Ned departs to lift the siege of the Baratheon stronghold Storm’s End, and later attempts to rescue Lyanna but finds his sister dying; her last words are “Promise me Ned.” Ned returns to Winterfell with his bastard son Jon Snow in tow; meanwhile Catelyn has delivered their son and Ned’s heir, Robb, conceived on their wedding night.
Six years after the end of Robert’s Rebellion, Balon Greyjoy, the Lord of the Iron Islands, declares independence from the Iron Throne. Ned aids King Robert in putting down “Greyjoy’s Rebellion.” Balon surrenders, and his sole surviving heir, Theon, is taken back to Winterfell as Stark’s ward and hostage. Ned rules the North for nine more years before the events of the novel.