He took hold of Ice with both hands and said, “In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, I do sentence you to die.” (aGoT, Bran I)
In Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts I already indicated how Ned Stark can be regarded as a temporary Hades in the crypts. I also showed how Winterfell, the godswood, the North and beyond the Wall in its entirety can be regarded as an Underworld, not just the crypts of Winterfell alone. In this essay I make the case that Ned Stark shares so many aspects with this chthonic deity that Ned Stark and consequentionally any Lord or King of Winterfell is a ruler of the Underworld and has all the responsibilities that come with it.
The Warden of the North
Every mythology ultimately attempts to compromize the wish to live forever – the inability to imagine we and our loved ones stop existing alltogether – with the instinctive horror of the dead not staying dead. Only the most divine heroes should be granted such a boon, preferably somewhere else (Arthur, Jesus Christ, Herakles, Osiris,…). The sole time they may reappear in our world is when we are in dire need of salvation – at the end of time. In contrast, the dead who choose to prowl the world of the living are evil – poltergeists, demonic vampires or mindless zombies. Basically, coming back is a big no-no.
In order to prevent the latter, usually several safeguards are installed.
- Heroes get to go to some paradise that is incomparably better to life on earth.
- Evil ones get imprisoned in Tartarus or Hell where eternal punishment awaits them.
- The rest are forced to forget their previous life somehow.
- If they come back it is through reïncarnation and born anew as a baby without memory.
- There are guardians, hellhounds, gateways, and a judging ruler whose decision is all-powerful.
Rulers of an otherworld or underworld range from demonic tormentors and evil, aggressive and war-like to benevolent ones in paradise. No underwordly ruler fits Ned’s character as well as Hades.
Ned Stark is Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North and there are numerous chthonic references for the North and Winterfell overall as an underworld, including Greek ones. In the first chthonic essay I already made the anology between Robert’s Rebellion and the three Olympian brothers defeating the Titans, who then disperse the reign over Olympus, the oceans and the underworld. While Ned Stark is not a blood-brother to Robert, they are foster brothers. With Stannis ruling the naval fleet and Ned the North we pretty much get a similar division as that of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Of note here is that Hades pulled the short straw. Hades had not asked for the underworld, and was not even all that happy about it, yet he did his duty. And in Catelyn’s second chapter of aGoT, Ned Stark expresses a similar sentiment.
That brought a bitter twist to Ned’s mouth. “Brandon. Yes. Brandon would know what to do. He always did. It was all meant for Brandon. You, Winterfell, everything. He was born to be a King’s Hand and a father to queens. I never asked for this cup to pass to me.”
“Perhaps not,” Catelyn said, “but Brandon is dead, and the cup has passed, and you must drink from it, like it or not.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)
Hades’s main duty is to make sure none of the dead escape the underworld, and Ned’s first two duties that get highlighted in the books are the execution of a deserter and the remark he will have to fight the King Beyond the Wall. In a way a dead soul escaping the underworld is a type of deserter.
His lord father smiled. “Old Nan has been telling you stories again. In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night’s Watch...[snip]… But you mistake me. The question was not why the man had to die, but why I must do it.” (aGoT, Bran I)
“He was the fourth this year,” Ned said grimly…[snip]…He sighed. “Ben writes that the strength of the Night’s Watch is down below a thousand. It’s not only desertions. They are losing men on rangings as well.”
“Is it the wildlings?” she asked.
“Who else?” Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel length of it. “And it will only grow worse. The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good and all.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)
I highlighted Ned’s question to Bran – why must Ned do it – but momentarily left out the answer that Ned gives Bran. The question should not only be asked in-world, but also at a meta-level. Why is Ned in particular the man who is called for to deal with deserters of the Night’s Watch and who will have to ride against the King-beyond-the-Wall? Is it not the Night’s Watch job to deal with wildling threats against the realm? And if Ned Stark can be fetched to lop a deserter’s head off, then surely Lord Commander Jeor Mormont can do the same? Supposedly, the Night’s Watch is an independent force, allied to no particular lord or king to protect the realm, including Ned’s North, from being threatened by whichever threat exists North of the Wall. And yet, from the first chapter (aside from the Prologue), the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark, is shown to be the main man called to act, if the Night’s Watch fails to do the task delegated to them. Later, Osha too claims Robb ought to go North, not South, for the same purpose.
Currently the majority of men at the Night’s Watch are criminals sent their by their lords as a form of punishment. We can see an echo of Tartarus in this. Tartarus was the underworld prison where those who warred or offended the gods were sent and given some type of punishment. If Hades lay a certain distance away from earth, then Tartarus lay doubly far. People who have attempted to set up a timeline run into headaches regarding travel days issues from Winterfell to the Wall and Winterfell to the Crossroads (and from there King’s Landing). Ignoring how impossibly fast Tyrion manages to get to the Crossroads after leaving Winterfell upon his return to King’s Landing, which George has admitted was a mistake, we can say it takes roughly the same amount of time to get to the Wall from Winterfell than to reach and cross the Neck, and that the sum of those distances is roughly the same distance from the Neck to King’s Landing. Since this initially chosen distance inconveniences later plot (such as Tyrion meeting Catelyn at the Crossroads), something else influenced George’s decision. The alleged distance of Tartarus to earth may have been George’s inspiration.
No King-Beyond-the-Wall was ever stopped by the Night’s Watch alone. Always, some Lord or King of Winterfell was the man to deal with the threat.
“Wildlings have invaded the realm before.” Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. “Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather’s grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard.”
“Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne,…. (aCoK, Jon III)
- Raymun Redbeard sneaked across the Wall. He and his forces met a bloody end at Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and Harmund Umber. Lord Willam died during the battle, but his younger brother Artos the Implacable slew Redbeard himself. The Night’s Watch arrived too late at the Lake to fight, but in time to burry the dead. The Lord Commander, Jolly Jack Musgood, was forever after known as Sleepy Jack.
- Bael the Bard’s legend tells how he fathered the next Stark ruler on the daughter of a Lord Brandon Stark, the Daughterless. Bael became King-Beyond-the-Wall several decades later, but was ultimately slain by his own son, who was the new Lord of Winterfell by then.
- Gendel and Gorne slipped pas the Night’s Watch using a passage through the caves. But the King in the North was waiting for them at the other side. The Night’s Watch attacked the wildlings in the rear. Gorne managed to slay the King in the North, but the King’s son killed Gorn in turn after he put his father’s crown on. Gendel either died in the same battle or managed to return to the caves but lost his way.
- The Night’s King was a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and the then King-Beyond-the-Wall, Joraman, and King of Winter, Brandon Stark the Breaker, joined forces to defeat the Night’s King.
Through the several legends, we see a pattern emerge where ultimately it falls to a ruling Stark to stop a King-Beyond-the-Wall or a Night’s Watch commander from taking over or escape into the South. We see something similar with Hades. He is the ruler of the underworld, but he has several tasks delegated to other characters who either judge the dead, are keyholders to gates, guard crossings. But when they fail, Hades has to deal with the situation personally. Hades and Ned Stark are the CEOs of the underworld and the North (including beyond the Wall) respectively, while the other characters form the manager team and in the case of the Night’s Watch – a daughter company. So, the meta-answer to “why Ned Stark in particular?” is basically, “Because the rule and responsibility is ultimately his.” And this has been true for all the Kings and Lords of Winterfell.
While Hades’s subjects may not leave the underworld, no such restrictions exist for the lord of the underworld himself. He himself is not dead and can leave for earth or Olympus whenever he likes. He just rarely does so. And there are occassions that he left the underworld – to fetch his desired bride-to-be Persephone and to help defend the city Pylos (according to Homer in the Illiad), where Hades was wounded by Heracles and then nursed at Olympus. Once Ned Stark becomes Lord of Winterfell, he remains in the North, despite the fact that the king is his best friend and foster brother. He only leaves the North for Robert’s Rebellion in order to retain his head and his lordship over the North, his marriage to southern Catelyn Tully (which coincides with Robert’s Rebellion), Balon’s rebellion and finally to be Hand of the King. And in that last exit, he ends up wounded and nursed, but also unfortunately killed.
Ned had last seen the king nine years before during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, when the stag and the direwolf had joined to end the pretensions of the self-proclaimed King of the Iron Islands. (aGoT, Eddard I)
Hades is usually oblivious what happens on earth and Olympus though, when he is overseeing his realm. Most of the time, Hades is a passive unseen figure when it comes to affairs of the living. Only oaths, promises and curses reach his ears then. The curses are important, since several underworld characters need to be sent after the cursed. But the promises are relevant too, even those made by the gods. Since the goddess Styx aided the Olympian brothers to win against the Titans, they commemorated her aid by swearing and promising on the underworld river Styx. They would keep them, even if they had disastrous results. Oathbreaking was a crime even amongst the gods, worthy of imprisonment at Tartarus.
Throughout Ned’s story in the first book, George makes it clear that Eddard Stark loves Robert best. Even right after learning the dark news of his foster-father’s death, he breaks instantly into a smile when he learns Robert intends to visit. He only vaguely knows about Robert’s supposed children with Cersei over the course of the years. Ned has not been keeping much track of what has happened outside of the North. His knowledge of what happens at the Night’s Watch and beyond the wall is more up to date than those of the capital and life of his best friend.
“The letter had other tidings. The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”
It took Ned a moment to comprehend her words, but when the understanding came, the darkness left his eyes. “Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face…[snip]..”Damnation, how many years has it been? And he gives us no more notice than this?..” [snip]…”It will be good to see the children. The youngest was still sucking at the Lannister woman’s teat the last time I saw him. He must be, what, five by now?”
“Prince Tommen is seven,” she told him. “The same age as Bran…” (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Notice how Robert represents life, light and the sun to Ned in this scene already. The mere thought of seeing Robert lifts the darkness and can break the grimness of Ned’s face, and he associates Robert with children being nursed at the breast, representing new life.
Even though Eddard Stark was not privy to every detail of the Small Councils until that time, one would suppose that at least some of Robert’s reputation as king would not go unnoticed – his many tourneys, the prizes he gives away, hunts, the number of Lannisters getting so many advantageous positions. And yet, it is as if Ned has been truly in isolation for over a decade. Balon of the Iron Islands, Doran of Dorne and the Tyrells of the Reach are as far away from King’s Landing as Winterfell, but they kept tabs much better than Eddard Stark. Ned is oblivious like Hades, not because of distance or the low number of visitors, but because he does not consider it much of his concern.
It goes without saying that Ned Stark considers promises to be of utmost importance. In the previous essay the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I showed that while Ned keeps his promises – at least until he ends up in the dungeons and is physically prevented of keeping his promises to Robert – there is a discrepance between the spirit of the promise kept and the spirit of the promise requested. I showed how the limitation of words allows for the disagreement in interpretation by both those asking him to promise as Ned making one. The ambiguity in how Ned makes and keeps promises is an interesting discussion all by itself, but falls outside the scope of this essay. Objectively, Ned keeps the promises in the same spritit he makes them, within the constraints of reality, even if that differs with the spirit they are requested.
“I will,” Ned had promised her. That was his curse. Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he’d made Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d paid to keep them. (aGoT, Eddard IX)
Vows and curses are paired in the above paragraph. Ned regards keeping vows his curse. This is true as well for the vows done by the Greek gods on the Styx. Zeus promises his human lover Semele whatever she wishes. So, when she asks him to show himself to her in his true godly nature, and not just the shape he takes to walk amognst the mortals, Zeus has to comply, even though he knows that Semele will die on the spot from the sight of his godly light.
In his final dungeon chapter Ned himself curses people as well as thinks of broken promises (which I argued already in the second chthonic essay are most likely his promises to Robert on his death bed rather than those to Lyanna).
He damned them all: Littlefinger, Janos Slynt and his gold cloaks, the queen, the Kingslayer, Pycelle and Varys and Ser Barristan, even Lord Renly, Robert’s own blood, who had run when he was needed most. Yet in the end he blamed himself. “Fool,” he cried to the darkness, “thrice-damned blind fool.”
In the first essay I identified Lyanna as Persephone, abducted by Rhaegar. But Catelyn’s feelings towards the godswood and all things North reveal her to be a Persephone to Ned as Hades. He may not have actually abducted Catelyn, but let us not forget that initially, Persephone’s father Zeus gives his permission to Hades in taking Persephone for a wife.
In his youth, Ned had fostered at the Eyrie, and the childless Lord Arryn had become a second father to him and his fellow ward, Robert Baratheon. When the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen had demanded their heads, the Lord of the Eyrie had raised his moon-and-falcon banners in revolt rather than give up those he had pledged to protect.
And one day fifteen years ago, this second father had become a brother as well, as he and Ned stood together in the sept at Riverrun to wed two sisters, the daughters of Lord Hoster Tully. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Lyanna is featured as the flower maiden that got kidnapped, but she dies before we learn what her feelings were about her circumstances. Catelyn’s first chapter shows a Persephone who has lived in the underworld with her Hades for fourteen years and raised a family with him. It turns out that Catelyn has very mixed feelings about her home. Even Ned is aware of her dislike of the Winterfell godswood that she visits to deliver the news of Jon Arryn’s death.
Catelyn had never liked this godswood.
“I ought to know better than to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. He slid Ice back into its sheath. “You did not come here to tell me crib tales. I know how little you like this place. What is it, my lady?”
Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead.”
I will explore Catelyn more specifically in the next chthonic essay, but for now the quotes I already provided suffice to indicate how Catelyn takes the Persephone role, not as maiden, but as Hades’ wife and his partner in ruling the underworld. Ned Stark shares the rule of Winterfell and the North with his wife, much like Hades shares it with Persephone, even in his absence.
Ned to Catelyn: “You must govern the north in my stead, while I run Robert’s errands. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Robb is fourteen. Soon enough, he will be a man grown. He must learn to rule, and I will not be here for him. Make him part of your councils. He must be ready when his time comes.”(aGoT, Catelyn II)
Allegedly though, Hades had a mistress before he had a wife, the naiad (water nymph) Minthe, or at least Minthe coveted Hades and wished to seduce him. Minthe was jealous of Persephone and boasted she would have Hades for her lover (again). Equally possessive, Persephone silenced Minthe once and for all by turning her into a plant, the sweet-smelling mint, and in some versions then tramples her.
“Near Pylos, towards the east, is a mountain named after Minthe, who, according to myth, became the concubine of Haides, was trampled under foot by Kore [Persephone], and was transformed into garden-mint, the plant which some call Hedyosmos.” (Strabo, Geography 8. 3. 14 (trans. Jones), Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.)
“Mint (Mintha), men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymphe of Kokytos, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus (Hades); but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aitnaian hill [Mount Aitna in Sicily], then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus (Hades) would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.” (Oppian, Halieutica 3. 485 (trans. Mair), Greek poet C3rd A.D.)
There might have been even another nymph Hades may have been involved with once, Leuke.
“Leuke was a nymph, a daughter of Okeanos, who was carried off by Hades. After her death she was changed into a white poplar in Elysium. The white poplar was sacred to Hades.”(R. E. Bell, Women of Classical Mythology, sourced from Servius on Virgil’s Eclogues 4. 250, C20th Mythology encyclopedia)
There is the rumor that Ned Stark may have had an affair with Lady Ashara Dayne. Winterfell gossips about it in a way that it heightens Catelyn’s fears – that Ned Stark loves another woman so much that he wished to rear his bastard son Jon alongside his firstborn son with Catelyn. Even after fifteen years of marriage, Catelyn is still envious and insecure, comparing herself unfavorably to Ashara’s looks. It is not Catelyn, however, who stamps out Ashara by silencing the gossip, but Ned himself.
… Catelyn heard her maids repeating tales they heard from the lips of her husband’s soldiers….[snip]… And they told how afterward Ned had carried Ser Arthur’s sword back to the beautiful young sister who awaited him in a castle called Starfall on the shores of the Summer Sea. The Lady Ashara Dayne, tall and fair, with haunting violet eyes. It had taken her a fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked him to his face.
That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. “Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady.” She had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne’s name was never heard in Winterfell again.
Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved her fiercely, for nothing Catelyn said would persuade him to send the boy away. (aGoT, Catelyn II)
Meanwhile other sources say the wetnurse Wylla (also from the shores of the Summer Sea) was Ned Stark’s lover, or a fisherman’s daughter. It seems more than a coincidence that all three rumored women are associated with the sea or water, and that both of Hades’s alleged mistresses were water nymphs.
As much as Persephone was possessive of her husband, so could Hades be sparked into wrath over anyone slighting or wanting to take his wife from him.
“Theseus and Peirithoos agreed with each other to marry daughters of Zeus, so Theseus with the other’s help kidnapped twelve-year-old Helene from Sparta, and went down to Haides’ realm to court Persephone for Peirithoos . . . Theseus, arriving in Haides’ realm with Peirithoos, was thoroughly deceived, for Haides on the pretense of hospitality had them sit first upon the throne of Lethe (Forgetfulness). Their bodies grew onto it, and were held down by the serpent’s coils. Now Peirithous remained fast there for all time, but Herakles led Theseus back up.” (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E1. 23 – 24, trans. Aldrich, Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)
Theseus’ most famous myth is that of slaying the Minotaur with the help of Minos’s daughter, Ariadne. She (and her younger sister Phaedra) sailed with him, but Theseus left her at the island Naxos, while he took Phaedra to wife instead of Ariadne. He also forgot to put up white sails, instead of black sails, upon his return. Believing his son dead, King Aegius of Athens flung himself from the cliffs into the sea, named after the king as the Aegean Sea.
Ariadne was not the sole daughter Theseus meddled with. He and his best buddy Peirithous believed themselves only worthy to take one of Zeus’ daughters to wife. Theseus settled his mind on Helen, who was then still a child. Peirithous wanted Persephone. They first kidnapped Helen and left her with his mother until she was old enough to be married, and later journeyed to Hades in order to steal Persephone. Zeus foiled Peirithous’ plan by informing Hades well ahead about it. Hades welcomed his two heroic visitors with a feast, but had them sit on a chair or rock that made them forget and immobile. Peirithous was gruelly punished for his criminal intent by the Furies, and Theseus was a prisoner, fixed to the rock for many months. When Heracles visited Hades to fetch Cerberus the hellhound and saw his friend Theseus, he requested and was granted leave from Hades to take Theseus with him to earth again. Heracles also requested freedom for Peirithous, but Hades refused to do so and Heracles did not pursue the request any further. Theseus returned home to find Helen gone, rescued by her half-twin brothers Castor and Pollux. Helen’s first abduction by Theseus led to the promise by the many Greek Kings to go to war against anyone stealing her from the husband she would choose (Menelaos), and thus why all the Greeks were bound to war against Troy.
We rarely see Ned Stark as a hotheaded character, except once – when Littlefinger leads Ned to a brothel and claims Catelyn is inside. Seemingly uncharacteristically, Ned loses his temper and physically threatens Petyr Baelish, who is smaller and not as strong as Ned. Just like Hades, Ned sees red when a man insults and dishonors his wife.
Ned Stark dismounted in a fury. “A brothel,” he said as he seized Littlefinger by the shoulder and spun him around. “You’ve brought me all this way to take me to a brothel.”
“Your wife is inside,” Littlefinger said.
It was the final insult. “Brandon was too kind to you,” Ned said as he slammed the small man back against a wall and shoved his dagger up under the little pointed chin beard.(aGoT, Eddard IV)
Several parallels can be drawn between Littlefinger and Theseus – preferring girls of pre-marital age, as well as deceiving the sister who is smitten with him for the other sister who does not even love him. Both Theseus and Littlefinger put aside their jealous wife (in Theseus’ case, the queen of the Amazons Hypolythe or her sister Antiope), because they fancy marrying a young girl, Phaedra and Sansa respectively.
Though Hades was the least worshipped and the least liked of all the gods, this had mostly to do with his ominous function and thus people avoiding his attentions. While perceived as grim, brooding and cold, his character was surprisingly not negative. In fact, in many ways he was altruistically inclined, generous and hospitable to both visitors and subjects. The underworld held festivities as well, both for visitors as well as new arrivals. Because of his undisputed position as ruler of the underworld and the feasts he held when there was occasion for it, Hades was sometimes referred to as Zeus of the Underworld.
When Ned learns of Robert’s visit, he instantly starts to prepare for a feast and thinks how to accomodate the large royal party coming, including the Lannisters.
“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers, and half again as many freeriders. Cersei and the children travel with them.”
“Robert will keep an easy pace for their sakes,” he said. “It is just as well. That will give us more time to prepare.”
“The queen’s brothers are also in the party,” she told him.
Ned grimaced at that. There was small love between him and the queen’s family, Catelyn knew. The Lannisters of Casterly Rock had come late to Robert’s cause, when victory was all but certain, and he had never forgiven them. “Well, if the price for Robert’s company is an infestation of Lannisters, so be it. It sounds as though Robert is bringing half his court.”
“Where the king goes, the realm follows,” she said.
Ned squeezed her hand. “There must be a feast, of course, with singers, and Robert will want to hunt. I shall send Jory south with an honor guard to meet them on the kingsroad and escort them back. Gods, how are we going to feed them all? On his way already, you said? Damn the man. Damn his royal hide.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Of course, the welcoming and the feast is performed without fault. Even if Winterfell holds no southron court, nothing can be said against Ned’s hospitality and manners.
Yet Robert was Ned’s king now, and not just a friend, so he said only, “Your Grace. Winterfell is yours.”
By then the others were dismounting as well, and grooms were coming forward for their mounts. Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her younger children…[snip]..Ned knelt in the snow to kiss the queen’s ring, while Robert embraced Catelyn like a long-lost sister. Then the children had been brought forward, introduced, and approved of by both sides.
No sooner had those formalities of greeting been completed than the king had said to his host, “Take me down to your crypt, Eddard. I would pay my respects.” (aGoT, Eddard I)
In the first essay I argued how Robert’s speech on the spiral steps into the crypts is less about being disrespectful as it is a celebration of life. And here I will argue that indeed Robert does the most appropriate act by visiting the crypts first, before doing anything else. After all, not even a king can voyage to the underworld and say, “Show me to my room and let me rest and freshen up first. The dead can wait.” Even the king of the gods, Zeus, has to formally pay his respect to both the ruler of Hades as the place and its subjects. You would probably pay the underworld the biggest insult possible if you were to say that the dead can wait while visiting. And insulting the ruler of the eternal underworld is not exactly what you would wish to do (unless your name is Heracles).
Though Ned Stark is sometimes thought of as frozen-hearted, he shows his altruistic and generous side in several situations. While Robert dreams of killing Rhaegar still, there is a noteworthy absence of such harsh feelings with Ned towards the man who supposedly raped and killed a most beloved sister. Nor does he feel a hatred for the children of the Mad King and refuses to sign the King’s order to assassinate Danaerys. And finally, despite knowing and considering Cersei’s children to be evidence of her treason against the king, he gives her a chance to escape before he informs Robert about it. For the first two examples, the reader can suspect personal motivations for Ned not to hate Rhaegar or Danearys if R+L=J is true. Lyanna may bear shared responsibility in her disappearance and may have loved Rhaegar. And if he protects the life of Rhaegar’s son, Jon, then he could hardly condone the assassination of Rhaegar’s sister who is roughly off age with Jon. It is the third example regarding Cersei and her children that reveals Ned’s altruistic nature. He thinks she had Jon Arryn killed and that none of her three children are Robert’s – two cases of high treason. Nor does he like Joffrey. And yet, he cannot endanger three innocent lives of chidlren without given Cersei a chance to run.1
Hades treated everyone equally according to the laws and was just in this manner, but also unyielding and stern. Even though he applied the laws strictly, and allowed no exceptions, he took no particular pleasure in his duty, nor engaged in tormenting his subjects.
Ned’s sentencing of Gared – the oathbreaker, the deserter – embodies all of Hades’s characteristics regarding justice. He is not without empathy for Gared, he questions him fruitlessly without using force or torture. Despite his pity for Gared’s state of fear, Ned still sentences him to die when Gared can give him no defense. The law is the law. He is an oathbreaker, a deserter, and dangerous too.
“The poor man was half-mad. Something had put a fear in him so deep that my words could not reach him.”(aGoT, Catelyn I)
There were questions asked and answers given there in the chill of morning, but afterward Bran could not recall much of what had been said. Finally his lord father gave a command, and two of his guardsmen dragged the ragged man to the ironwood stump in the center of the square. They forced his head down onto the hard black wood. Lord Eddard Stark dismounted and his ward Theon Greyjoy brought forth the sword. “Ice,” that sword was called…[snip]…The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel.
His father peeled off his gloves and handed them to Jory Cassel, the captain of his household guard. He took hold of Ice with both hands…[snip]… He lifted the greatsword high above his head.
His father took off the man’s head with a single sure stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine…[snip]… The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched.
“… In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night’s Watch. No man is more dangerous. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile…” (aGoT, Bran I)
Ned Stark does not let someone else shoulder the responsibility, but wields the sword himself, doing it swiftly, cleanly and without hiding behind a mask or a headsman. If Ned Stark is not convinced himself that the man should die, then nobody else should do it for him and he should not pass the sentence. He instructs all his possible male heirs to view it as he does, telling them not to take pleasure in the task. And according to Sansa her father regarded it his duty, but did not like killing.
“King Robert has a headsman,” [Bran] said, uncertainly.
“He does,” his father admitted. “As did the Targaryen kings before him. Yet our way is the older way. The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. 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.
“One day, Bran, you will be Robb’s bannerman, holding a keep of your own for your brother and your king, and justice will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” (aGoT, Bran I)
“Wrinkle up your face all you like, but spare me this false piety. You were a high lord’s get. Don’t tell me Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell never killed a man.”
“That was his duty. He never liked it.” (aCoK, Sansa IV)
If Jorah had not escaped to Lys, he would have shared the same fate as Gared’s or be a brother of the Night’s Watch. To Ned it does not matter whether the criminal is a lord or a commoner.
I illustrated both sides in quotes. Not to prove how there are two sides of the same story, however. First of all, there are no differing facts – Jorah sold poachers to slave traders. End of story. Secondly, the act is a crime – in a feudal society, the subjects of a lord are not his chattel. What is at opposition are the two opinions how Ned Stark should have sentenced the crime. Illyrio attacks the law against slave trade, while the criminal blames the judge for being unyielding (and his wife and love as mitigating motivation). Meanwhile the judge views it strictly through justice’s eyes.
“The Usurper wanted his head,” Illyrio told them. “Some trifling affront. He sold some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver instead of giving them to the Night’s Watch. Absurd law. A man should be able to do as he likes with his own chattel.” (aGoT, Danearys I)
“Do you remember Ser Jorah Mormont?”
“Would that I might forget him,” Ned said bluntly. The Mormonts of Bear Island were an old house, proud and honorable, but their lands were cold and distant and poor. Ser Jorah had tried to swell the family coffers by selling some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver. As the Mormonts were bannermen to the Starks, his crime had dishonored the north. Ned had made the long journey west to Bear Island, only to find when he arrived that Jorah had taken ship beyond the reach of Ice and the king’s justice. (aGoT, Eddard II)
“You hate this Lord Stark,” Dany said.
“He took from me all I loved, for the sake of a few lice-ridden poachers and his precious honor,” Ser Jorah said bitterly. (aGoT, Danaerys IV)
Jorah’s and Illyrio’s reaction illustrates the attitude of dislike for an unyielding, “everybody equal” Hades character. People often say they want those in the position to make decisions over others to be fair, believing themselves they mean “everybody equal” with it. But when they end up getting presented with consequences for their actions and mistakes (since everybody would include themselves), it often turns out that fair actually is supposed to apply only to “everybody I do not know or like”. The fairest event in life is death, because it is a certainty that nobody gets to live forever. You can’t (plea-) bargain with death, bribe it, trick it or threaten it, and there is no difference in the finality of it. In contrast, life is unfair – quality of life, the means and possibilities to improve that quality, how long we have. Hades emulates this unyieldiness of death. Ned Stark does the same in the way he governs his region. Notice too, how Jorah talks of Ned as taking all I loved. If you do not know the particulars, Jorah speaks as if Eddard Stark killed his wife and children, as if Ned is death itself who takes our loved ones.
There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.(aGoT, Eddard XV)
Yes, Varys said the above about Stannis to Ned, but it applies to Ned Stark as well, despite the fact that Varys, Littlefinger and Cersei thought of him as a naive fool who made it too easy on them. When it comes to justice, Ned Stark shares Stannis’s inexorability, and the most poignant act that proves this to the small council is when he sends Beric to arrest Gregor Clegane, a bannerman of the queen’s ruthless father. Ned only chooses men for the task who are not seeking vengeance. He does not seek justice for ulterior motives, such as making friends with the Reach, Edmure Tully, or make peace with Tywin. His strict, uncompromozing stand was the main reason that nobody else of the small council of importance wanted to ally themselves with him. He is dangerous to their self-interests, because they all resort to treasonous tactics that could get them a head short, especially if Ned allies with another unyielding just man like Stannis.
This strict and unyielding attitude of Hades and Ned when it comes to ruling their realm and justice, also makes them both being perceived as stern, cold and having a frozen heart. They even share a similar physical description. Hades was dark bearded, had a darker skin tone than Zeus or Poseidon, a gloomier and grim expression. Still, both took care of their looks and dress. Combined with a dignified appearance, Hades therefore immediately strikes people as being serious.
Ned, Arya and Jon share the same dark coloring of hair as well as skin tone. Looking older than he is, adds seriousness to Eddard. And he is either described as grim looking, brooding, or frozen-faced by other characters.
Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell.
Jon’s eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but there was little they did not see. He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.(aGoT, Bran I)
“Ned! Ah, but it is good to see that frozen face of yours.” The king looked him over top to bottom, and laughed. “You have not changed at all.” (aGoT, Eddard I)
“Lord Eddard Stark is my father,” Jon admitted stiffly.
Lannister studied his face. “Yes,” he said. “I can see it. You have more of the north in you than your brothers.” (aGoT, Jon I)
She might have overlooked a dozen bastards for Ned’s sake, so long as they were out of sight. Jon was never out of sight, and as he grew, he looked more like Ned than any of the trueborn sons she bore him. Somehow that made it worse. (aGoT, Catelyn II)
Finally, there is the seat of the Lord of Winterfell. Down in the crypts every King of Winter and Lord of Winterfell is portrayed on a stone seat with two stone direwolves at his feet. The actual seat of the Lord in the big hall above is also made of stone and has two sculptured direwolves flanking him. Both the living Lord of Winterfell as well as the dead ones therefore resemble one of the most typical sculptures that portray Hades – with the three-headed Cerberus at his feet.
“Hodor,” Hodor said, and he trotted forward smiling and set Bran in the high seat of the Starks, where the Lords of Winterfell had sat since the days when they called themselves the Kings in the North. The seat was cold stone, polished smooth by countless bottoms; the carved heads of direwolves snarled on the ends of its massive arms. (aGoT, Bran IV)
In the same chapter, there are more than just carved direwolves in the great hall. There are actual three male direwolves who snarl and threaten Winterfell’s visitor, Tyrion, which makes the link to three-headed Cerberus even more evident.
The door to the yard flew open. Sunlight came streaming across the hall as Rickon burst in, breathless. The direwolves were with him. The boy stopped by the door, wide-eyed, but the wolves came on. Their eyes found Lannister, or perhaps they caught his scent. Summer began to growl first. Grey Wind picked it up. They padded toward the little man, one from the right and one from the left.
“The wolves do not like your smell, Lannister,” Theon Greyjoy commented.
“Perhaps it’s time I took my leave,” Tyrion said. He took a step backward … and Shaggydog came out of the shadows behind him, snarling. Lannister recoiled, and Summer lunged at him from the other side. He reeled away, unsteady on his feet, and Grey Wind snapped at his arm, teeth ripping at his sleeve and tearing loose a scrap of cloth.
Not long after the decision that the Lord of Winterfell is going to live South the fate of the Starks and the North goes South, starting with Bran’s fall. Everything going South is an expression to indicate how things go wrong and unravel. George applies the saying metaphorically by having Ned Stark live South as Hand of the King. He is not just going to battle or visit. He permanently leaves his primary responsibility to others, who consecutively also go South. After Ned Stark leaves with his daughters, his Persephone-like wife Catelyn Tully leaves within a fortnight for King’s Landing, never to return to Winterfell. Several months later, Robb too heads South with his mother, also never to return. Osha was correct, was she not, when she said they were going the wrong way?
“Will he now? We’ll see. You tell him this, m’lord. You tell him he’s bound on marching the wrong way. It’s north he should be taking his swords. North, not south. You hear me?”(aGoT, Bran VI)
It has been going the wrong way well before the present time of aGoT – when Rhaegar stole Lyanna as Persephone not TO the underworld, but FROM the underworld. With his harp music as well as passion for mysteries and prophecy, Rhaegar can be seen as an echo of Orpheus (aside from a Paris). Rhaegar manages to make Lyanna sniffle with his melancholic music, just as Orpheus uses his music to move Hades and Persephone to tears to allow him to take his wife back to the living.
The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.(aSoS, Bran II)
But in aSoIaF, our Orpheus ends up stealing Persephone from the underworld, instead of retrieving his wife. Worse, his wife is alive. No wonder that ends in disaster for the both of them. If that had occurred in Greek mythology, the Iliad would be a walk in the park in comparison to what Demeter and Hades would unleash in their anger – a nuclear winter and walking dead. Oh, wait, that scenario sounds familiar. This world-on-its-head script coincides with a time when the previous Lord of Winterfell, Rickard Stark, has southron ambitions. And everything goes indeed South: Lyanna missing, Ned fostered in the Vale, Rickard and Brandon Stark executed. Solely young Benjen Stark is left at Winterfell, and just like Bran he is still only a child.
Meddling in the affairs of the Underworld
The guarding of the North has been going increasingly wrong for centuries. The Targaryen conquest of Westeros, starting with the creation of the Kingsguard, after an assassination attempt on Aegon the Conquerer and his sister-wife Visenya, made another position more interesting than the Night’s Watch for second or third sons who get to inherit nothing.
But out of all the tragedy was born one glorious thing: the Sworn Brotherhood of the Kingsguard. …[snip]…On one occasion in 10 AC, Aegon and Visenya were both attacked in the streets of King’s Landing, and if not for Visenya and Dark Sister, the king might not have survived…[snip]…It was Visenya, not Aegon, who decided the nature of the Kingsguard. Seven champions for the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, who would all be knights. She modeled their vows upon those of the Night’s Watch, so that they would forfeit all things save their duty to the king. (aWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon I)
Visenya’s Kingsguard was modeled after and contrasted against the Night’s Watch. Where before knights and noble warriors could gain honor as a second or third son in the Night’s Watch, the White Swords of the Kingsuard became the more sought after position. Even if there were only seven lifelong positions to be filled, second and third sons preferred to try perform at tourneys and prove their loyalty to a king in King’s Landing over the Night’s Watch. In less than three hundred years the number of Black Brothers dwindled from ten thousand to less than thousand.
Sadly, the most important truth about the Night’s Watch today is its decline.
The vast expense in sustaining the Wall and the men who man it has become increasingly intolerable. Only three of the castles of the Night’s Watch are now manned, and the order is a tenth of the size that it was when Aegon and his sisters landed, yet even at this size, the Watch remains a burden. (aWoIaF – the Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)
While Maester Yandel (the in-universe author of the World Book) may assert that the Night’s Watch may have been in decline before Aegon’s conquest, obviously the drop in quantity has exponentially decreased since then. A tthe time of Aegon’s conquest it could hardly have been a tenth the size of the original size, because that would mean the Night’s Watch was originally an army of 100.000 men strong once. That would be too farfetched a number. Also, one would suppose that with a unified Westeros, instead of seven kingdoms warring each other (or petty kingdoms warring before the arrival of the Andals), there would be a surplus of young noble sons who could seek glory at the Wall. But that never happened. The numbers just plumeted down so much that they have to close down at least two forts 100 years after conquest. So, the Targaryen’s reign have had the worst impact on the Night’s Watch.
Not just the quantity has dwindled, the quality too. Instead of able fighters, criminals are picked out of the dungeons and sent to the Wall, turning it into a prisoner colony where the noble volunteers have to watch their back against mutiny and act as jailors. The Night’s Watch cannot guard the realm anymore – not against wildling raiders, not against a wildling army, let alone an army of wights and Others.
Still, with the remarks from several maesters we can say that these scholars had an agenda to weaken both the Starks and Night’s Watch as well, by historically claiming certain threats to be extinct (such as giants) or being no more real than children’s tales. One of their archmaester’s once wrote a book accusing the Night’s Watch and Starks of lying about the Long Night and the Others in order to affirm their domain.
Archmaester Fomas‘s Lies of the Ancients—though little regarded these days for its erroneous claims regarding the founding of Valyria and certain lineal claims in the Reach and westerlands—does speculate that the Others of legend were nothing more than a tribe of the First Men, ancestors of the wildlings, that had established itself in the far north. Because of the Long Night, these early wildlings were then pressured to begin a wave of conquests to the south. That they became monstrous in the tales told thereafter, according to Fomas, reflects the desire of the Night’s Watch and the Starks to give themselves a more heroic identity as saviors of mankind, and not merely the beneficiaries of a struggle over dominion. (aWoIaF – Ancient History: the Long Night)
The Targaryen meddling did not stop with setting up the kingsguard. Good Queen Alysanne effectively weakened the North itself as well as the Night’s Watch when she forced the Starks to give land away to the dwindling Night’s Watch, called the New Gift, and made the Night’s Watch move into new headquarters and out of the Nightfort.
His queen, Alysanne, was also well loved throughout the realm, being both beautiful and high-spirited, as well as charming and keenly intelligent. Some said that she ruled the realm as much as the king did, and there was some truth to that. It was at her behest that King Jaehaerys at last forbade the right of the First Night, despite the many lords who jealously guarded it. And the Night’s Watch came to rename the castle of Snowgate in her honor, dubbing it Queensgate instead. They did this in thanks for the treasure in jewels she gave them to pay for the construction of a new castle, Deep Lake, to replace the huge and ruinously costly Nightfort, and for her role in winning them the New Gift that bolstered their flagging strength. (aWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaeris I)
How could the New Gift have weakened the Starks and Night’s Watch both? The Night’s Watch does not man the New Gift with armed men to protect the tenants, nor have the money or labour force to maintain buildings, roads, dredging, … Their focus, manpower and energy is spent on ranging beyond the Wall, repairing the Wall and the forts there, and manning the Wall. Meanwhile, with the abandoned castles, wildlings slipped through and over the Wall more easily, and the unprotected farmers of the New Gift were subjected to raids. In two hundred years, the New Gift has mostly been abandoned and is barely even a food source for the Watch anymore. Simultaneously, the Starks were hampered in their ability to grant keeps and castles to loyal families or second sons, lost harvest and timber revenues, and had less people to raise levies from. The New Gift was nothing but a poisoned gift. Even maester Yandel admits this.
Later still, it was said that the Starks were bitter at the Old King and Queen Alysanne for having forced them to carve away the New Gift and give it the Night’s Watch; …
Though in these days it is said that Lord Ellard Stark was glad to aid the Night’s Watch with the Gift, and took little convincing, the truth is otherwise. Letters from Lord Stark’s brother to the Citadel, asking the maesters to provide precedents against the forced donation of property, made it plain that the Starks were not eager to do as King Jaehaerys bid. It may be that the Starks feared that, under the control of the Castle Black, the New Gift would inevitably decline—for the Night’s Watch would always look northward and never give much thought to their new tenants to the south. And as it happens, that soon came to pass, and the New Gift is now said to be largely unpopulated thanks to the decline of the Watch and the rising toll taken by raiders from beyond the Wall. (aWoIaF – The North: the Lords of Winterfell)
“A queen stayed there for a night.” Old Nan had told him the story, but Maester Luwin had confirmed most of it. “Alysanne, the wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator. He’s called the Old King because he reigned so long, but he was young when he first came to the Iron Throne. In those days, it was his wont to travel all over the realm. When he came to Winterfell, he brought his queen, six dragons, and half his court. The king had matters to discuss with his Warden of the North, and Alysanne grew bored, so she mounted her dragon Silverwing and flew north to see the Wall…”(aSoS, Jon V)
That King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysane did not expect the Starks to surrender part of their lands away with a big smile is testified by the fact that they visited the North and the Wall with dragons. The World Book only speaks of the two dragons of the royal couple, while Old Nan’s story, mostly confirmed by Maester Luwin, mentions as many as six. Even visiting Winterfell with only two dragons and half the court is a clear display of power and an unspoken threat.
The jewelry to build Deep Lake and abandon the Nightfort was another of Alysanne’s poisoned gifts.
Bran wasn’t so certain. The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan’s scariest stories…[snip]…All that had happened hundreds and thousands of years ago, to be sure, and some maybe never happened at all. Maester Luwin always said that Old Nan’s stories shouldn’t be swallowed whole. But once his uncle came to see Father, and Bran asked about the Nightfort. Benjen Stark never said the tales were true, but he never said they weren’t; he only shrugged and said, “We left the Nightfort two hundred years ago,” as if that was an answer. (aSoS, Bran IV)
…as the Watch shrunk, its size made it too large and too costly to maintain. Maesters who served at the Nightfort whilst it was still in use made it plain that the castle had been expanded upon many times over the centuries and that little remained of its original structure save for some of the deepest vaults chiseled out of the rock beneath the castle’s feet. (aWoIaF -The Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)
“It was the first castle on the Wall, and the largest.” But it had also been the first abandoned, all the way back in the time of the Old King…[snip]… Good Queen Alysanne had suggested that the Watch replace it with a smaller, newer castle at a spot only seven miles east, where the Wall curved along the shore of a beautiful green lake. Deep Lake had been paid for by the queen’s jewels and built by the men the Old King had sent north, and the black brothers had abandoned the Nightfort to the rats. That was two centuries past, though. Now Deep Lake stood as empty as the castle it had replaced, and the Nightfort . . .(aSoS, Bran IV)
Maester Yandel cites ranger reports sent to the Citadel by the Night’s Watch maesters regarding giants, wildlings, wargs and greenseers in his World Book. Obviously the Citadel also received maester reports regarding what existed beneath the Nightfort. Yandel minimizes or evades to tell about it in detail. He may not even known himself. But we can be sure that high level maesters in Oldtown have read reports about the magical weirwood gate, the Black Gate.
“There’s a gate,” said fat Sam. “A hidden gate, as old as the Wall itself. The Black Gate, [Coldhands] called it.”…[snip]…”You won’t find it. If you did it wouldn’t open. Not for you. It’s the Black Gate.” Sam plucked at the faded black wool of his sleeve. “Only a man of the Night’s Watch can open it, he said. A Sworn Brother who has said his words.”…[snip]…”The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it . . . old ones, and strong. He cannot pass beyond the Wall.”
[Bran] could see the door, though. The Black Gate, Sam had called it, but it wasn’t black at all. It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it.
A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that.
The door opened its eyes.
They were white too, and blind. “Who are you?” the door asked, and the well whispered, “Who-who-who-who-who-who-who.”
“I am the sword in the darkness,” Samwell Tarly said. “I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”
“Then pass,” the door said. Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. (aSoS, Bran IV)
That is some serious magical gate, contradicting all that the maesters try to propagandize as supersition and children’s stories. If a Wall was built with such a magical weriwood gate through which only men of the Night’s Watch can pass that would show that there actually might be some truth in the legends of the Age of Heroes. It would have spooked the hell out of the maesters in the Citadel, when maesters of the Night’s Watch reported such a discovery, down in the catacombs of the Nightfort. Perhaps they truly believed the gate and spells in the Wall were enough to keep out Others and Children of the Forest, that there was no more risk. Still, it is very suspicious that this castle was abandoned, for a nearby newly built castle with normal wooden steps (instead of ice) and normal portcullis gates, which was also abandoned.
Voice proposes in his thread A Song of Vaginal Warg-Blocking at the Last Hearth that Good Queen Alysanne was a knowing conspiritor to cease the Stark ability to skinchange and/or warg. I certainly would thank Voice for getting the quotes together, to which I refer in here as well, and I recommend a read of the proposal. I am not myself sure whether Alysanne Targaryen was fully aware how poisoned her gifts were. It is possible she truly believed she was doing the Night’s Watch a favor, while she was manipulated by the Citadel. She was a queen known to stand up for a woman’s rights – stopping the Lord’s right to the First Night, having a man who beat his adulterous wife to death receive the same amount of beatings (minus the legal six he gave his wife), standing up for her granddaughter Rhaenys as heir (but failing). Just the Nightfort’s horror stories alone, especially about Dany Flint, and the economical excuse might have been motivation enough for Alysanne to see such a dreadful place abandoned.
Voice certainly points at a curious coincidence between the Nightfort (and Greyguard) being abandoned two hundred years ago and the disappearance of the direwolf south of the Wall. With Westeros history going back thousands of years, two hundred years is a rather precise timing, and suggests it may not be a concidence at all.
Theon Greyjoy said, “There’s not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years.” (aGoT, Bran I)
There were dragons here two hundred years ago, Sam found himself thinking, as he watched the cage making a slow descent. They would just have flown to the top of the Wall. Queen Alysanne had visited Castle Black on her dragon, and Jaehaerys, her king, had come after her on his own. (aFfC, Samwell I)
Were direwolves able to use the Black Gate as a corridor back in the day? And if so, who then opened the gate for the pregnant direwolf that died the day Gared was executed? How did Gared even manage to escape the Others, the wights and traverse through the Wall all on his own without someone noticing? Did he know about the Black Gate? Or did he get a helping cold hand from a man riding an elk? Regardless of the possible answers, I think we can definitely conclude that the direwolf as a Cerberus symbol disappearing south of the Wall is at the very least a literary parallel to Targaryens weakening the ability of the Night’s Watch to guard the Wall and the Starks in maintaining their primary purpose.
Of course, it were not the Targaryens who hunted the direwolves into near-extinction south of the Wall, but not using the Black Gate anymore might have kept the direwolves north of the Wall from repopulating the area. The lack of direwolves has a negative impact on the Starks. Without a bond to a pet direwolf even potential Stark wargs do not develop their abilities, as we witness with Sansa. With only horses or the occasional cat to skinchange as we witness with Arya, people certainly would not even suspect warging. Over time the Starks themselves do not believe in warging anymore, and would regard marriage as nothing more than a politically strategic tool.
When Queen Rhaenys Targaryen forged a marriage between the daughter of Torrhen Stark (the King Who Bent the Knee) and Lord Ronnel Arryn (the King Who Flew) her brothers were so disgusted about it that they even refused to attend the ceremony.
Whether anti-Targaryen feelings were made worse by Queen Rhaenys Targaryen’s efforts to knit together the new, single realm with marriages between the great houses is left to the reader to consider. That Torrhen Stark’s daughter was wed to the young and ill-fated Lord of the Vale is wellknown; it was one of the many peace- binding marriages forged by Rhaenys. But there are letters preserved at the Citadel suggesting that Stark accepted these arrangements only after much protest, and that the bride’s brothers refused to attend the wedding entirely. (aWoIaF – The North: the Lords of Winterfell)
But hundred eighty years later Lord Rickard Stark considers marriages with non First Men and/or of the Faith advantageous, and even fosters his second son to an Arryn, and the Starks were nearly exterminated by King Aerys. King Robert Baratheon meddles further by taking Ned Stark south as his hand, along with two Stark daughters, as well as getting the Iron Throne into a steep debt and installing corrupt people into places of power, including heirs who are not actually of his own blood. And the government of his faux son nearly exterminates the Starks again. Meanwhile Littlefinger and Varys use the chaos for their personal power agenda.
The whole expose of what went South with the Starks and the Night’s Watch brings me back to the Yggdrasil tree of Norse mythology. Several creatures live in and from the tree and they all end up playing a role in bringing the world tree down, harming it or corrupting it.
- Niddhog: a wyrm (aka a dragon) lives underneath the tree and gnaws at the root of Niflheim.
- Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathro: four harts (stags of red deer) nibble at the leaves and the branches of the top. Their names mean ‘The Dead One’, ‘The Unconscious One’, ‘The Thundering One’ and ‘The Snoring One’ respectively.
- Unnamed eagle and Vedrfölnir: in the top of the tree sits an eagle, with a hawk (called Verdrfölnir) perched between his eyes.
- Ratatoskr: a squirrel that scurries up and down the tree and plays the malicious messenger or gossiper between Niddhog and eagle. He stirs the pot between the two by revealing what the one said about the other, back and forth. The result is that Niddhog gnaws angrily at the root even more. His name is currently believed to mean ‘drill-tooth’, while in the past it has also been argued it may have been a loan word meaning ‘rat-tusk’.
So, we have a dragon undermining and weakening the underworld, four stags gorging on the fruit (the foliage) at the crown of the tree, and a nasty squirrel stirring trouble between the crown and the underworld with gossip and words. And how much does this not resemble the meddling of the Targaryens in the North and the Night’s Watch, the true and faux Baratheons undermining the throne and the realm and both the measters of the Citadel and Littlefinger undermining relations or stirring the pot.
Lady Barbrey Dustin refers to the maesters as grey rats who council lords and houses and yet have their own agenda. Squirrels tend to be regarded as a rat-type, because both compare in size and are rodents. Maester Luwin is at some point compared to a squirrel by Bran, as soon as he gets a paper in his hands, which often tend to contain messages – though in this case it is a drawing of a saddle.
Maester Luwin took the paper from the dwarf’s hand, curious as a small grey squirrel. He unrolled it, studied it. “I see. You draw nicely, my lord. Yes, this ought to work. I should have thought of this myself.”(aGoT, Bran IV)
Now, both Bran and Arya are referred to by others as squirrels too, but Bran hunts squirrels savagely as Summer, while Arya vehemently denies repeatedly that she is a squirrel. And she hunts a squirrel herself for food as well.
Finally, Littlefinger is never explicitly referred to as a squirrel, but he definitely acts the malicious messenger stirring the pot from the start of aGoT, by pointing to the Lannisters as the ones who killed Jon Arryn and attempted to assassinate Bran. And Jon Arryn is a falcon (though not a hawk) whose seat is the Eyrie, or otherwise an eagle’s nest.
One of the implications of the North and beyond the Wall being the underworld realm of Westeros in a meta-view is that it makes the living Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North effectively the ruler of that underworld, who has certain duties – most particularly, making sure that his subjects (aka the dead) remain in the underworld.So, if the expressions and words of the Starks have led to this intuitive belief that the Starks are crucial in preventing the Others from overrunning Westeros, then the chthonic archetypal symbolism supports this expectation.
Ned Stark has physical features in common with the Greek Hades. Hades may be one of the most likable, humane rulers of the underworld in contrast to the various other rulers in other mythologies. His rule fell to him by chance. It was a duty to him, a duty he did well, but took no pleasure in. Ned shares his unyielding nature when it comes to oaths and justice, but likewise altruistic, hospitable, wrathful regarding anyone attempting to dishonor his wife with whom he shares responsibilties of his rule. They both have a rumored mistress of wom their wife is jealous. Winterfell rulers are depicted with Cerberus-like wolves guarding their seat and abode. Ned is more interested in what goes on at and beyond the Wall, than what happens in the rest of Westeros, and is rarely seen outside of the North. When all that is combined with geographical features for both Winterfell and beyond the wall that coalesce with those of the Greek underworld, we can positively identify Ned Stark as aSoIaF’s Hades.
While Catelyn Tully can hardly be said to have been kidnapped by Ned, she very much fits the portrayal of the older, married Persephone. She loves her husband, shoulders his burden by sharing in his duty to rule, but dislikes the North and the godswood even though it has been her home for fifteen years. And when she returns to her own roots, she cannot enjoy it for she misses her husband and children.
The main duty of the ruler of an underworld is to make sure no dead souls get to desert or that an army of undead return to earth. Of course a ruler is not to do it all alone: he has other characters to help him – guards, barriers, gates and hellhounds (or in this case hellwolves). But what happens when scholars help convince the dragonlords on Mount Olympus that Titans and zombies do not exist? That the sole threat from Tartarus are a bunch of pesky unskilled souls, which a wall and guards can deal with all on their own? What happens if those same dragonlords decide Tartarus can be guarded with less guards and close down some of the gates, banish Cerberus to a compound and set Hades to a desk job? And what happens when Orpheus makes Persephone cry, but then steals Persephone from the underworld instead of his wife, who actually turns out to be alive? Well, then everything goes south. If this all occurred in Terry Pratchet’s Disk World we would settle back for 300 pages of hilarity. But in George’s Westeros it leads to a tragic rollercoaster with the Citadel, the Targaryens, the Baratheons and Littlefinger undermining and/or exterminating the Starks and the Night’s Watch, just like Niddhog, four stags and a malicious squirrel harm, profit and corrupt Yggdrasil. .
So, George basically plays around with chthonic archetypes who end up in a mess. And he reveals to us his authorial intent of messing with their duties by starting with them in the underworld, taken down into the portal crypts where they are summoned to abandon the underworld to keep the world of the living straight. We are literally warned several times in the books that Starks and going south ends badly.
Summary of chthonic roles
|Mythological characters or gods||Roles||aSoIaF characters|
|Hades||Ruler of the Underworld||Ned Stark|
|Persephone||Fellow ruler of the Underworld, Wife of Hades // Queen of the Underworld, abducted flower maiden||Catelyn Tully Stark, Lyanna Stark|
|Orpheus||Gifted musician, lyre, visited the underworld to take his wife Eurydice back to the world of the living||Rhaegar Targaryen|
|Eurydice||Orpheus’ dead wife||Elia Martell|
|Hypnos||God of sleep||Bloodraven|
|Theseus||Hero with a fondness for young girls, betrays one sister for the other, abductor of Helen, attempted abduction of Persephone||Littlefinger|
|Minthe & Leuke||Alleged mystresses of Hades, water nymphs, spark the jealousy of Persephone||Ashara Dayne, Wylla, fisherman’s daughter|
|Peleiade of Dodona||Oracle priestess who interpretes the rustling of the leaves of a sacred oak at the heart of the Dodona grove (northern Greece)||Osha|
|Niddhog||Dragon chewing at the root of Yggdrasil||Visenya Targaryen, Good Queen Alysanne Targaryen, Mad King Aerys Targaryen, Rhaegar Targaryen|
|Four harts Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathro||Four stags nibbling at the leaves of the crown of Yggdrasil||Robert Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon|
|Vedrfölnir||Hawk sitting between the eagle’s eyes, manipulated by the malicious Ratatoskr||Jon Arryn, Lysa Arryn Stark|
|Ratatoskr||Malicioius squirrel who sets the hawk against the dragon with backtalk||Petyr Baelish, Citadel|
- I disagree with Varys’ claim that Ned revealing what he knew to Cersei killed Robert. Ned confronted Cersei three days before Sansa and Arya were to sail for Winterfell. That sailing day coincided with Ned’s arrest in the throne room. Robert died in the early morning or late night, having been brought in the evening before. It took Renly and Selmy two days to get Robert to the Red Keep after he had his hunting accident with the boar. Hence, Robert’s accident occurred on the same day that Ned Stark confronted Cersei at dusk. The most opportune moments to hunt any animal would be either dawn or dusk. So, either Robert was already injured in the morning, hours before the confrontation in the godswood, or at the very same moment at dusk. No doubt a fast rider or raven was sent ahead to alert Cersei shortly after the accident. This implies that Cersei already knew Robert was deadly injured before she met Ned, or she learned of it hours after the conversation, in the dead of night. Hence, Ned Stark’s “mercy” did not kill his friend. Lancel already had instructions to make sure that Robert would end up dead. Cersei never ran with her children, because she believed Robert would already be dead by the time Renly and Selmy would get back with the wounded king. Ned Stark’s confrontation though did give her a head’s up that he would be her first enemy and she had two-three days to prepare for it.