Game of Thrones returns for its final season on HBO tonight with the fantasy epic left with six episodes to conclude its story and reveal who will ultimately sit on the Iron Throne. But even with the series starting its journey to the end, there are still plenty of questions and theories about various elements of the series, including some with their roots all the way back in the very first season -- namely one involving the death of Ned Stark.
Since it's been a bit since Eddard "Ned" Stark died in Game of Thrones, here's a brief refresher. Ned (Sean Bean), Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, reluctantly takes the position of Hand of the King when asked by his old friend King Robert Baratheon. However, this new role leads to Ned discovering that Robert's children with wife Cersei were actually fathered by the queen's twin, Jaime Lannister. Robert is killed right around the time Ned discovers this and before he is able to place Robert's brother Stannis on the throne, Ned is betrayed by Littlefinger. Cersei then imprisons Ned for treason and, despite making a fake public confession to save his daughters, Ned is beheaded by Joffrey -- Robert's "son" and new king.
Ned's death was a shocking one for fans of the series (as well as for the books, written by George R.R. Martin, that the series is based on) and beheading seems very, very final. That hasn't stopped fans from theorizing and thanks to fans on Reddit and another forum, "A Forum of Ice and Fire", there's an out there but also weirdly plausible one that Ned Stark didn't die but was, instead, saved from execution by Varys by way of a faceless man (via Barstool Sports). While the two theories differ about the mechanics of the Ned swap -- one posits that the faceless man was Jaquen H'ghar and the other that it was Syrio Forel that took Ned's place -- they both play off a few moments from the series that question the appearance of Ned's corpse.
Specifically, Ned's death is seen from Arya's point of view and it's noted that Ned is so beaten that he appears barely alive even before he's killed. Then, when seeing Ned's head above Maegor's Holdfast, Sansa notes that it doesn't really look like Ned, though she dismisses it due to the tarring process and the fact that he was decapitated. The third "hint" is when Lady Catelyn notes that Ned's bones appear to be from a man smaller than Ned. It's a sentiment that can be seen as the general idea that in the end all people are "smaller" than they appear in life, but if you're looking at the idea that Ned's not dead, those smaller bones could literally be from a smaller man.
So, if Ned didn't die by decapitation, if Varys swapped someone else out for Ned and then got Ned out either to the Free Cities or the wall depending on which theory you choose, if he is still alive it could have interesting implications, specifically for Jon Snow. As fans know, Jon is actually Aegon Targaryen, the son of Daenerys Targaryen's brother Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. As the last male Targaryen, this in theory gives Jon a claim to the throne however, there's really only one person who can back the claim up -- Ned Stark, who was there at his birth. Ned showing up, back from the supposed dead, and vouching for Jon's parenthood would be a stunning turn of events, one not entirely out of character for Game of Thrones.
Then again, the complexity of the theory makes it seem a bit implausible so it may be nothing more than just wishful thinking. Choose your own adventure on this one.
What do you think? Could Ned Stark actually be alive? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Game of Thrones Season 8 premieres Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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