The Legacy of Ned Stark


As part of my Master's program in Strategic Analytics, I'm taking a management class on Organizational Leadership and Decision Making. I'm working on a research paper which has to include characteristics of leadership and a leader, either someone we know or someone famous, who exemplifies them. I'm writing about Abraham Lincoln but I have to confess I was sorely tempted to write about Eddard "Ned" Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. (Spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire through A Dance with Dragons).

Ned gets a bit of a bad rap. He certainly made mistakes and wound up paying with his life for those mistakes. But his mistakes were mistakes of being an ethical man, a man who would do all he could to spare the lives of children, even the children of his enemies. And he was determined to do what he felt was right, such as supporting the claim of Stannis over that of his brother Renly even when it would have been to his advantage to have supported Renly.

Ned is removed from the game of thrones in the first novel of the series. But what I find fascinating is the legacy he left behind. The people of the North respected the Starks. Even the traitor Theon comes to see how well treated he was by Ned Stark. Perhaps the most powerful message is when the men of the North march on Winterfell in A Dance With Dragons in the hopes of rescuing who they believe to be Arya Stark. Hugo Wull put it best:

“Aye, men are dying. More will die before we see Winterfell. What of it? This is war. Men die in war. That is as it should be. As it has always been.”  
Ser Corliss Penny gave the clan chief an incredulous look. “Do you want to die, Wull?”  
That seemed to amuse the northman. “I want to live forever in a land where summer lasts a thousand years. I want a castle in the clouds where I can look down over the world. I want to be six-and-twenty again. When I was six-and-twenty I could fight all day and fuck all night. What men want does not matter.  
“Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.” 
Martin, George R. R.. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) (pp. 561-562). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
To be honest, I'm not certain that Ned did lose at the game of thrones. Would Tywin's bannermen be loyal to him after his death? Would Balon Greyjoy's? They'd likely remain loyal to their houses if the house kept its power. But Ned inspired a loyalty that none could match - men are marching to their likely deaths to save their lord's young daughter. House Stark is no more so there is nothing in it for them - nothing but loyalty and vengeance. Ned Stark, executed falsely as a traitor in the first book continues to motivate men four books later. That is a leader.

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