As far as finales go, Game of Thrones gave us a very satisfying ending to Season 7.
It tied up a lot of loose ends and answered a lot of questions – in particular the one of what the fuck was going on at Winterfell – and finally managed to find a way of pulling together almost all of our favourite characters in one location, as Cersei, Daenerys, and their respective allies hashed it out in the Dragonpit.
Everything felt like it came together – and even the season’s more ridiculous moments made a bit more sense in the context of the finale, but what was perhaps most satisfying about the episode – most heartening – is how Game of Thrones refuses to forget one of its most cherished characters, six seasons after his death. Ned Stark’s legacy was everywhere in ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’.
Ned is probably the closest thing Game of Thrones has ever had to a true main character. The chart below shows the amount of screen time each character had per season, up until the end of Season 6, and you can see how the red bar in Ned Stark’s row, representing Season 1, absolutely dwarfs that of any other character. By the end of Season 3, Ned had still actually enjoyed more total time on screen than Cersei, Jaime and Sansa, despite being dead for two of those seasons.
It seems right, then, that the show wouldn’t just let him go – but this season more than any has harked back to Season 1, with constant callbacks and references, and to Ned Stark in particular.
Take a look at ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ – so many of the key events were influenced in some way by Eddard Stark.
In the Dragonpit, Cersei asks that – in return for joining the fight against the Night King – Jon refuses to take up sides in the war between her and Daenerys once the dead are defeated. "I know Ned Stark’s son would be true to his word,” she says.
That in itself is something, as it shows that even Ned’s enemies has a grudging respect for him and his honesty. But then Jon’s response also channels his father – while the ‘sensible’ thing to do would have been to lie and agree to Cersei’s terms, he cannot – refusing to make an oath he cannot keep. He tells Cersei that he has declared for Daenerys – much to the chagrin of Tyrion and even Dany herself. Jon knows where his adopted father’s honestly and morals got him, but he doesn’t care. He wants to see an end to this world built on lies, and is unable to let the honour Ned instilled in him go.
Ned is similarly present at Winterfell, as Sansa and Arya see through Littlefinger’s plan – with a little help from Bran – to bring down Westeros’ ultimate schemer, and the man who was responsible for their father’s death all those years ago.
“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives” – these words from the trailer were finally spoken in the season finale, by Sansa to Arya as they stood on the ramparts at Winterfell after doing away with Lord Baelish. They are a direct quite of Ned, who spoke them to Arya in the show’s very first episode. The two sisters have one of the most heartwarming conversations of the whole season as they stand their in the snow, speaking about how much they miss their father, but he clearly lives on in them both, and without those words telling them to stick together, especially when times are toughest, perhaps one or both of them would ended up six feet under.
Even Bran, who has lost much of what he once was in becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, seemed much more like himself again as he helped his sisters avenge his father’s death.
Ned has shaped the lives of many of the characters he touched while he was still around – Jon sometimes feels like Ned reincarnate, while Arya would not have become the excellent fighter she is if it were not for her father’s quiet but strong support.
But it’s not just in Ned’s children that his legacy lives on – he is still affecting the entire story. Remember, it was he who was so against murdering the ‘Targaryen girl’, helping Daenerys end up where she is today, and even more importantly, he protected the biggest secret in Westeros, choosing to dishonour himself to his wife and the world rather than betray his final promise to Lyanna.
Ned was the only man who knew that Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie – that Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna, rather they were in love, and were actually secretly married before Jon’s birth and her death. In telling Ned Jon’s true name – Aegon Targaryen – Lyanna confirmed this, and Ned was able to sit on it, making himself look bad to everyone in the process.
Ned’s honour may have been what got him killed, but by instilling his children with it – Jon, Sansa, Bran, Arya, and even Theon – he has created a next generation capable of creating a better world. He just tried his best to bring his children up in the way he thought was right, and now it is paying off. They have survived through all the madness so far, and have a chance to come out the other side and create a brighter future.
There’s just the small matter of defeating the Night King, oh, and Cersei, to come now, but if any of Ned’s children are still alive when all of this comes to an end, we can bet that his legacy will shine through in any rejuvenated Westeros.
Ned Stark may have fallen foul of the game of thrones, but in some ways, he still won.