Still not over the ? Nope, me neither. But amongst all the betrayal, incest, and ice-breathing dragon antics, you may have noticed the influence of a certain recurring character - Ned Stark. Pretty surprising considering he was killed off six seasons earlier at the end of . It’s one of the most shocking deaths in television history and it kick-started Game of Thrones as we know it, but years later Sean Bean’s gruff northern Lord is still impacting the series proving he remains one of the most important players in the great game... despite being dead. Here are five ways his influence can be felt throughout The Dragon and the Wolf…
"I ask it only of Ned Stark's son."
This is what Cersei says when she asks the King in the North to promise not to take up arms against her after they defeat the White Walkers. It’s the only condition for her assistance - pretty ballsy considering that she’s the one who helped orchestrated Ned’s execution in the first place. When Dany questions why she wouldn’t request the same of her Cersei tells her: “I would never ask it of you. You would never agree to it. And if you did, I would trust you even less than I do now. I ask it only of Ned Stark's son. I know Ned Stark's son will be true to his word.”
This repetition of Ned Stark’s name so many years after he was killed tells us something about his continuing influence on the show and its characters. Ned Stark was so honest and well respected, even by his enemies, that he gives weight to the word of his son from beyond the grave (or at least the person everyone currently believes is his son). Jon Snow might be just as honorable and trustworthy as Ned, but it’s still only because of his father that Cersei is willing to believe him. And she’s right. Jon refuses to give her his word because he’s already pledged allegiance to Daenerys and even though both Dany and Tyrion want him to lie and tell Cersei what she wants to hear. His upbringing won’t allow it; Ned Stark won’t allow it. “I’m not going to swear an oath I can’t uphold.” He says. “Talk about my father if you want. Tell me that’s the attitude that got him killed. When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything.” Even though Jon knows that his father’s honesty is the reason he was killed he still can’t go against his teachings.
"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."
Littlefinger’s death was all about Ned Stark too. Ok, not all about it because he’d done a lot of bad things, but the way Sansa, Bran, and Arya handled it was very much influenced by their father. Although Sansa was well aware of Littlefinger’s questionable behavior before then, it wasn’t until Bran’s revelation about his role in the arrest and execution of their dad that she confronted him. “You conspired with Cersei Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon to betray our father Ned Stark.” Sansa says during his trial. “Thanks to your treachery he was imprisoned and later executed on false charges of treason.” When Littlefinger denies the claims, Bran recounts exactly what Littlefinger said to Ned at the time and we relive the moment from the first season along with him.
Then, when Arya executes him, we’re reminded of Ned’s lesson to Bran. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” He told him in season 1. “If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.” Neither Sansa nor Bran flinch or look away from Littlefinger as Arya carries out the sentence that they together, as House Stark, have sentenced him to. The efficiency with which she does so is reminiscent of Ned who took no pleasure in killing, and it’s very unlike Arya’s previous executions, which have been full of emotion and vengeance hinting that she understands that this is different.
"When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives."
Ned Stark got another name drop at Winterfell in the final episode when Arya and Sansa talk after Littlefinger’s execution on the castle ramparts. “In winter we must protect ourselves, look after one another.” Arya says at one point. “Father,” Sansa says in response, naming the owner of the quote before offering another: “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”
This Ned Stark saying very much sums up how the Stark sisters’ relationship develops over season 7. The characters never got on particularly well as children and after everything they’ve been through since they were separated, their happy reunion can’t completely negate their sibling rivalry. As they get to know each other again, and try to understand the people they are now, tensions start to appear, but ultimately they side with each other... thanks to Ned Stark. It’s their family bond, and the emphasis their father put on the importance of that bond, which bought them back to each other and if you needed any more convincing of the significance of Ned in this moment, they both say how much they miss him before the episode moves on.
"You’re a Greyjoy, and you’re a Stark."
Back down south, Ned makes another appearance (in spirit) during an emotional exchange between Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy. As you know, Jon isn’t a huge fan of Theon after he betrayed House Stark - where he was a ward from a young age and effectively grew up as a member of the family - but we’ve known for some time that Theon massively regrets his actions. He finally gives voice to his remorse during an exchange with Jon where he tries to explain what it was like growing up not quite being a Stark or a Greyjoy: “It always seemed like there was an impossible choice I had to make. Stark or Greyjoy.” Ned again becomes the subject of their conversation in what follows:
Jon: “Our father was more of a father to you than yours ever was.”
Theon: “He was.”
Jon: “And you betrayed him. Betrayed his memory.”
Theon: “I did.”
Jon: “But you never lost him. He’s a part of you. Just like he’s a part of me.”
If we didn’t already know it, Jon literally just told us how much Ned Stark still dictates what happens in Game of Thrones and as if to prove it, what he tells Theon next - “You don’t need to choose. You’re a Greyjoy, and you’re a Stark” - seems to give Theon the courage to go rescue his sister, as if Ned himself is still guiding him.
"He’s never been a bastard – he’s heir to the Iron Throne."
This is perhaps the biggest and most obvious influence Ned Stark has on the season 7 finale, and indeed, the entire show: the secret he kept about Jon Snow’s true parentage. We found out last season that Jon’s parents are actually Rhaegar Targaryen (not Ned) and Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister), but it wasn’t until season 7 we found out that the two were secretly married meaning Jon isn’t a bastard at all.
As Bran and Sam reunite in the finale the pair connect their two bits of information and realise the significance of the secret Ned kept for so long. “He’s never been a bastard,” says Bran. “He’s heir to the Iron Throne.” At the same time it becomes painfully obvious why Ned never told anyone about Jon’s true parentage as it would have not only put him in mortal danger but have proven that Robert’s Rebellion was based on a lie.
Ned Stark even gets a cameo during this revelation (albeit the younger version of himself played by Robert Aramayo) which flashes back to him finding his sister and her newborn son and discovering the secret which would dictate the rest of his life and more. It’s one of the biggest moments of the episode, the season, and the show and it’s irrecoverably tied to a character who no one could quite believe was killed off in the first season.