Game of Thrones’ Ned Stark could possibly still be alive. Fans of the series were shocked when what initially appeared would be the show’s main character was suddenly killed off only nine episodes into its run. Game of Thrones certainly made a habit of eliminating prominent and well-liked characters in its eight seasons, with only a handful of them making it all the way to the series’ end. But with several characters who had been presumed dead either being brought back to life or revealed to have never died at all, there was always the suspicion that a character’s death may not have been as permanent as it seemed.
In Game of Thrones season 1, episode 9, “Baelor,” Ned Stark was put on trial for his crimes against the crown. After learning the truth about Cersei’s children, Ned attempted to remove King Joffrey from power, only to be betrayed by Littlefinger and subsequently imprisoned. Given the choice to either admit false wrong-doing or put his daughters at risk, Ned chose to cast aside his honor and confesses to treason. Although Cersei had promised that Ned would be allowed to join the Night’s Watch, the capricious King Joffrey proclaimed that she and Sansa had “the soft hearts of women” and commanded Illyn Payne to proceed with the execution. Using the Stark family’s greatsword, Ice, the mute executioner removed Ned’s head with one swing, presenting his decapitated head to all who have gathered.
There’s no doubt that someone lost their life that day in the Sept of Baelor, but was Ned Stark’s death real? Although Ned’s execution appeared legitimate, there is sufficient evidence in both the HBO series and the Song of Ice and Fire books to support the theory that he may yet be alive.
How Ned’s Execution Adds Evidence To The Ned Lives Theory
Lord Varys was the first person to visit Ned during his time in the dungeons of the Red Keep. Varys’ intentions and desires were often difficult to discern by design so that he could remain an ally to those in power while managing his own endeavors from the shadows. Everything he did served to either uphold his carefully crafted facade or to benefit the realm as a whole, and his trips to the dungeon didn’t seem to meet either criterion.
Varys would likely gain no favor from Cersei should she find out that he had been to visit Ned. The Lannisters were famously ruthless to those that oppose them, as was apparent in the shocking events of the Red Wedding, and Cersei was perhaps the most vindictive of them all. Varys evidently understood the risk of crossing the queen-regent given that he donned a disguise before visiting the dungeon, transforming himself into a “grizzled turnkey” for the sake of anonymity. So it would seem as though his endeavors were his own.
Although it was in character for the naive and honorable Lord Stark to believe that the King will hold true to his word, it was hard to believe that someone with the wisdom and first-hand knowledge as Varys wouldn’t have suspected that the hotheaded king would make a spectacle of executing such a high-profile traitor considering the history of Joffrey Lannister. The only way Varys stood to gain anything from his interactions with Ned was if he were to save him from his execution, retaining him as a powerful ally and replacing him with a stand-in, and there was reason to believe that he may have done exactly that.
Varys’ Citadel Secrets Could Have Helped Ned Escape
Varys was born in Lys as a slave, traveling with a troupe of actors for many years before being sold to the warlock who would eventually castrate him and leave him for dead. Determined to live on, Varys began selling his body to powerful men before founding an empire of pickpockets with Illyrio Mopatis, collecting his network of “little birds” along the way. He had spoken numerous times of the skills he acquired during this period of his life, and they were skills that would certainly come in handy in this particular situation.
Prior to the sounding of the bells indicating that Tyrion had killed Tywin Lannister and Shae, it appeared (in the show, at least) that Varys hadn’t planned on accompanying Tyrion on his journey to Essos. Only when it became clear that the plan had gone awry and there would be no way to hide his involvement did Varys join Tyrion on the boat. It was unlikely that Varys would ever take on such a risky endeavor if it was in any way likely to put his position in jeopardy, and the only way Tyrion’s disappearance wouldn’t cast dispersions on Varys is if Tyrion didn’t disappear at all.
There was a group of dwarf actors in King’s Landing for the Purple Wedding, and while they certainly couldn’t have been hired to stand in at a trial for a murder that had not yet been committed, their presence seemed more than coincidental. Varys also allegedly swapped Aegon Targaryen for Young Griff, a child he’d purchased from a tanner in Flea Bottom during Robert’s Rebellion, sparing Aegon from the siege of Kings Landing that resulted in the slaughtering of King Aerys II and his family. Varys had the means, the motive, and the experience to save Ned Stark from execution, and Ned’s political prominence and skill as a warrior made him a potentially far more useful to Varys than Aegon or Tyrion, certainly at least in the short-term. With a war for the throne looming, the Lord of Winterfell was far too valuable an ally to waste.
Ned Was “A Different Man” After His Death
There were a handful of instances in the Song of Ice and Fire books that seemed to align with this theory that Ned was replaced with a stand-in for his execution. When Joffrey took Sansa to see her father’s decapitated head that had been impaled on the walls of Kings Landing, she observed that the head “did not look like Lord Eddard…it did not even look real.” While this was a somewhat normal reaction to seeing a deceased loved one, especially one so brutally maimed as Ned, she was not the only character who responded in disbelief.
Catelyn was eventually given her husband’s bones at Tyrion’s behest, and immediately upon seeing them, she thought to herself: “This is not Ned, this is not the man I loved, the father of my children.” The only two Starks who had interacted with Ned’s remains had both immediately rejected them. Catelyn sent Ned’s bones to be buried in the crypts of Winterfell, but as of yet, they have not arrived. During the time his bones would have arrived in the North, Victarion had seized Moat Cailin, and Theon Greyjoy still controlled Winterfell, so it was likely that Ned’s remains were lost somewhere in the commotion of the Ironborn invasion. The disappearance of Ned’s remains coupled with the Stark family’s refusal to accept them could be George R.R. Martin’s way of foreshadowing his return.
How Ned Stark’s Past Could Have Hidden Him
It is difficult to pinpoint precisely where Ned might have gone after escaping Kings Landing. Ned was a tremendously well-respected figure throughout most of his life, with friends and bannermen all across Westeros, so there would be quite a few people with whom he might have sought refuge. Perhaps he went north of the Wall in search of his brother Benjen. Or perhaps he was sent to Essos like Tyrion and joined with the plot of the Faceless Men, which would explain Jaqen H’ghar’s investment in Arya.
Though nothing can be said for certain, it is most likely that Ned would have sought out his old friend Howland Reed, Lord of Greywater Watch. Reed is mysteriously absent in both the HBO series and the Song of Ice and Fire books apart from sending his children to support Bran, and as the only other person who knows the truth of Jon’s lineage, it would make sense for Ned to seek aid from his oldest and most trusted companion. Not to mention it’s an easy place for Martin to hold him for an extended period of time without raising any suspicion. Although Game of Thrones has unfortunately ended without bringing him back, it is still possible that Lord Eddard Stark will make another appearance in the final two A Song of Ice and Fire books when (and if) they are released.