The hero who doesn’t win

I know I’m late to the party, but Game of Thrones, man. Wow.

game of thrones ned stark

Spoiler level: Somewhat high, but only for Season 1.

I could talk about these characters and their stories forever, but today I want to focus on Ned. Head of the noble Stark family. Warden of the wintry North.

In many ways, Ned is the prototypical hero figure: a strong, handsome man governed by his own sense of honor and morality. He’s a loving father and husband, and a successful leader who is fair to those he rules over and serves.

All of these good qualities are what endear him to us — but unfortunately, they are also what lead to his downfall.

Out of loyalty, Ned follows an old friend into treacherous territory. Out of compassion, Ned warns an enemy about impending danger. Out of love for his children, Ned compromises his integrity and is forever branded as a traitor to the king.

In most stories, we would expect Ned to find a way out of his predicaments. He’s a hero! He’s not supposed to lose.

But Game of Thrones isn’t most stories, and Ned doesn’t win.

It’s such a twist on our expectations. It’s a slap in the face to the long-held tradition of good always triumphing over evil.

The boldness of George R.R. Martin’s decisions is hugely appealing and inspiring to me. (And to many others, it seems, based on the popularity of the series.) It’s not that the good guys can’t ever come out on top — it’s that GRRM makes us really think about whether or not they will. He makes them earn it.

Of course, this also works because there is no one single hero in Game of Thrones. It’s an ensemble cast with many compelling characters. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I talk about them.

Now excuse me while I go binge-watch Seasons 2-4…


  1. The way you describe Ned Stark, he sounds a bit like Othello, and Othello wouldn’t be much of a play if Othello survived (spoiler! :-) ).

    Maggie over at Maggie Madly Writing wrote about this a couple of weeks ago (about whether heroes should always win —, and my comment over there talked about how you can’t write a story by polling the readers and then giving them the ending they think they want.

    My all-time favorite movie ends with the hero triumphing over three adversaries and then dying, alone and unnoticed, in a snow bank. It still kills me every time I see it, even after forty years.

    1. Kristan says:

      Thanks for sharing Maggie’s post! It’s definitely in line with what I’m talking about here.

      Now I’m super curious about your favorite movie! Maybe you can share the IMDB link? (The IMDB urls are usually numbers, not titles, so it wouldn’t give anything away to someone who didn’t want to know.)

  2. Shari says:

    I don’t watch the show, but here’s a cool tidbit: my cousin was an extra on one of the episodes this season. They filmed it last September and he says it was an amazing experience. :)

    1. Kristan says:

      How cool! Apparently several musicians have been extras or had cameos as well. I think it’s a show that’s good to its fans, and vice versa.

  3. Kristan:

    I’ll do better than that, I’ll give you my review as well. :-)
    (I guess these days my review would have to have SPOILER WARNING plastered all over it, but that was not the custom when it was written, and the movie is over 40 years old.)

    1. Kristan says:

      Ooo, Rene Auberjonois was in it! Both a Star Trek and a Carnegie Mellon alum. :)

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