One is a loyal, honest, strong warrior with a proven history in battle who is also a great husband and father beloved by house and bannermen. The other is a cunning strategist with a well-read, brilliant mind who lacks any physical strength and must purchase the loyalty of those who defend him.
The typical story makes the first man the hero of the tale who overcomes adversity while the second man is a troubled soul who aids the hero, serves as comic relief, or is in cahoots with the dastardly villain, and is defeated at the end. But this is Game of Thrones, where the more honest and noble you are, the more likely you are to die in a horrifying manner.
And another element unique to Game of Thrones is how these two characters, with such contrasting personalities and characteristics end up taking very similar paths. How Eddard and the Imp end up on this similar course is a case study in surviving and thriving in George R.R. Martin’s world. Here’s a look at three similar elements of the story arc for both characters and how each man handled each element.
Both have an interest in the Wall/Night’s Watch
It is mentioned many times in the books that the North has always been a friend to the the Watch. It is an alliance that makes sense geographically and philosophically, but there is no evidence Ned makes any effort to journey to the Wall in either the book or the show. Members of the Night’s Watch are welcome in Winterfell and appear to receive aid and supplies from the North, but Ned would just assume let the Night’s Watch care to things beyond the Wall.
The Imp, much like the rest of the Lannisters, does not believe that mythical creatures exist beyond the Wall or that Wildlings pose a significant threat to the South. But he is very interested in visiting the Wall. Unlike the rest of his family or Ned, Tyrion wants to see the Wall for the spectacle. And though he sympathizes with the trials the men of the Night’s Watch are enduring, personal issues Tyrion faces on his way back to King’s Landing prevent him from helping address those concerns.
Both serve for a time as Hand of the King
Ned reluctantly accepts the badge when King Robert brings an entire caravan with him to ask Ned to be hand. In fact, most of Ned Stark’s journeys and conquests out of Winterfell are at the behest of Robert Baratheon. Otherwise, Ned would just assume stay in Winterfell being a lord, father, husband, and tending to the problems of people in the North.
Once arriving in King’s Landing, Ned finds the politics of his office not to his liking at all. Ned is a man of honor, but honor achieves little when trying to influence the iron throne. And while Ned new he would have a hard time finding people he could trust, he did nothing to figure out who he could trust or shore up the support he needed to ensure his initiatives were followed through on. Instead, Ned rolled the dice that Lord Littlefinger, which proves to be his downfall.
Unlike Lord Eddard, Tyrion loves the politics and the maneuvering that comes with the position of being hand to the king. He told Jon Snow back at the wall that he understood early on his strength would be his mind and his superior thinking capacity lends itself much better to manipulation than Ned Stark’s mantra of honor allowed him to be.
And while Tyrion also recognized there were few he could trust in King’s Landing, he tested their loyalties and neutralized those he knew would not work for him. He also made sure the City Watch was paid well by him so he had the ability to enforce the actions he was taking.
Both Ned and Tyrion went on trial for treason
Stark had very few good options once he was arrested for treason. He helped paint himself into that corner by informing Cersei of his plans. But he agrees to confess and take the black so his daughters don’t have to see him beheaded. We all know how that turned out. To be fair, Joffrey had not fully revealed himself to be the monster he was, only hinted at it. But Ned’s desire to be just and merciful proved to be his undoing in both his arrest and execution.
While on trial for murder, Tyrion sees very clearly that there was no way he is declared innocent in his farce of a trial. So, seeing that the option worked for him previously, Tyrion defiantly demands a trial by battle. Even though Tyrion had an offer to take the black, he did not trust it would be honored based on Ned Stark’s experience. But once again, we all know how that turned out. And like Ned Stark, despite taking a different route to gain freedom, Tyrion still receives the same sentence to death Ned Stark received.
I have to come to respect Ned Stark the more I watch the show and read the books. Westeros is a very difficult world to maintain character and honor, but Ned did right up to his death. And Ned had it right from the beginning: he belonged in Winterfell. He was a good protector of the North, but had no business playing the politics of the Iron Throne. Tyrion was far better suited for the game, but had significant disadvantages to overcome. His knowledge of those disadvantages gave him an edge, but also the gift of hindsight helped Tyrion as well. He had the advantage of seeing Ned Stark go through most of the situations he would endure and was able to learn from his mistakes. But, the Imp may still find those disadvantages are too much to overcome as he awaits his fate in the season finale.
(Editor’s Note: This article was written by Jeff Merrick)