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Execution of Eddard Stark

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"My mother wishes me to let Lord Eddard join the Night's Watch... stripped of all titles and powers, he would serve the realm in permanent exile. And my Lady Sansa has begged mercy for her father. But they have the soft hearts of women... so long as I'm your King treason shall never go unpunished! Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!"
―King Joffrey sentences Lord Eddard to die.[src]

The Execution of Eddard Stark is a pivotal event in the nascent conflict caused by the death of Robert Baratheon, paving the way for its transformation into a full-fledged civil war.

HistoryEdit

PreludeEdit

"I know the truth Jon Arryn died for."
―Eddard Stark to Cersei Lannister[src]

During his tenure as Hand of the King to King Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark discovers by meeting Robert's bastard children and studying the lineage of House Baratheon that Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen Baratheon are actually Cersei's children with her twin brother, Jaime Lannister. Ned later confronts Cersei about this and gives her a chance to flee King's Landing with her children before he tells Robert the truth after he returns from his hunt, but Cersei instead arranges Robert's death by instructing her cousin, Lancel Lannister, to give him too much wine during his hunt.

Robert is fatally wounded and names Joffrey as his successor. Ned does not reveal the truth to Robert, but instead contacts Robert's younger brother and true heir, Stannis Baratheon, to inform him. Meanwhile, Cersei and Joffrey seize the throne. Securing help from Janos Slynt and Petyr Baelish, Ned challenges Cersei and orders her and her children arrested, but Slynt and Baelish have already been bribed by the Lannisters and they turn on Ned, resulting in his men being massacred and him imprisoned.

While in the dungeons, Ned is visited by Varys, who informs him that his son, Robb, has called all of House Stark's banners to march on King's Landing and free him, and though Arya has escaped, Sansa is still the Lannisters' hostage. However, Varys also claims that Cersei has promised that if Ned confesses to his "treason" and orders Robb to stand down, he will be spared and sent to the Night's Watch and Sansa's safety guaranteed.

False confession and executionEdit

"I am Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King. I come before you to confess my treason in the sight of gods and men. I betrayed the faith of my King and the trust of my friend Robert. I swore to protect and defend his children... but before his blood was cold, I plotted to murder his son... and seize the throne for myself. Let the High Septon and Baelor the Blessed bear witness to what I've said. Joffrey Baratheon... is the one true heir to the Iron Throne... by the grace of all the gods, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm."
―Ned Stark[src]

After agreeing to Cersei's terms, Ned is taken to the yard before the Great Sept of Baelor to publicly confess his treason. Present for the confession are King Joffrey, Queen Cersei, Sansa, Lord Baelish, Lord Varys, Grand Maester Pycelle, the High Septon, several Kingsguard and the King's Justice, Ser Ilyn Payne. Unbeknownst to all of them, Arya Stark is also present, standing at the feet of the statue of Baelor the Blessed.

Ned is taken by two goldcloaks before the King and his entourage, while the people of the city gathered yell insults at him. Aware of his daughter's pleas, he relents and gives the false confession the Queen demanded: confessing his plot to murder Joffrey and seize the throne for himself.

The Grand Maester intervenes and after speaking of the justice and mercy of the gods he asks the King what will be done with the traitor. The people yell out in anger until Joffrey holds out his hand to speak. He mentions that his mother wishes to let Eddard join the Night's Watch and live the remainder of his days at the Wall, stripped of lands and titles, while his betrothed, Lady Sansa, has begged mercy for her father. However, fearing that Ned may eventually uncover evidence of his true parentage another way, Joffrey dismisses the two as soft-hearted women and promises that, for as long as he's King, treason will never go unpunished. Then he turns to Ser Ilyn Payne and demands Ned Stark's head.

The crowd calls out for Ned's death. Sansa desperately begs for her father's life, only to be restrained by a Kingsguard. The Queen also asks her son to reconsider his sentence. Varys also runs to the King, who remains adamant in his decision. Lord Eddard is pushed to his knees by two Kingsguard, and Ser Ilyn puts on a black hood to conceal his face. He then swings Ice, the greatsword of House Stark itself, and takes the head of the Lord of Winterfell.

AftermathEdit

"Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither! Why should they rule over me and mine from some flowery seat in the south? What do they know of the Wall? or the Wolfswood? Even their gods are wrong! Why shouldn't we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we bowed to... and now the dragons are dead. There sits the only king I mean to bend my knee to... the King in the North!"
Jon Umber[src]

The execution of Ned Stark shatters the plans of House Lannister to make peace with House Stark and House Tully, allowing them to deal with both Renly and Stannis Baratheon. Tyrion Lannister laments that the execution "will haunt our family for a generation."[1]

However, with Jaime Lannister a hostage of Robb Stark and cut from the Westerlands, Tywin Lannister decides to retreat to Harrenhal and orders Ser Gregor Clegane to keep sacking the Riverlands from Gods Eye to the Red Fork. He also sends Tyrion to the capital to rule as Hand of the King in his stead and rein in Joffrey and his mother. Tywin also warns Tyrion that if he finds any hint of treasonous actions by Baelish, Varys, or Pycelle, he is to have them executed.

Meanwhile, when the news of Ned's death reach the Northern and River lords, they choose not to support either of Robert's brothers, declaring independence from the Iron Throne under the rule of Robb as King in the North.[2]

After receiving Ned's letter, Stannis Baratheon, notifies all of Westeros about Joffrey's parentage, declares himself King of the Seven Kingdoms and resolves to take the Iron Throne and rule over the same kingdom that Robert once did, and destroy any who stand in his way.[3]

In the booksEdit

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the execution occurs in an almost identical fashion to the TV series. There are only small differences, such as the fact that High Septon is the one who speaks of the justice and mercy of the gods, and he and Varys protest Joffrey's decision to execute Ned. The book also gives no indication that Ned spotted Arya in the crowd or instructed Yoren to protect her; Yoren seems to find her by chance.

Ser Barristan Selmy is present at the execution in the guise of Arstan Whitebeard, though this is not revealed until A Dance With Dragons, after he has joined the service of Daenerys Targaryen. He tells her that Eddard was against the murder of her family and the assassination attempt on her and her son, but she still considers him equally responsible and labels him as one of the "Usurper's dogs". Ser Barristan is annoyed by this and doesn't agree with his queen, but remains silent as it is not his place to speak. 

It is also mentioned in the books that the High Septon and the Faith of the Seven are outraged that the execution was performed on the steps of the Sept, profaning the holy site with blood in their eyes, as well as irreperably damaging the Crown's relations with the Faith (as Cersei had assured the High Septon beforehand that Eddard would be allowed to live after he confessed his treason, only to then appear a liar in the High Septon's eyes). Even several years after Eddard's death, members of the Faith (such as the High Sparrow) would continue to berate Cersei for allowing Joffrey to commit such a wanton act of sacrilege on a holy site.

ReferencesEdit

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