Contains major spoilers from Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 6.
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.
It's a core message of the show, and one we learn in the harshest way possible through the eyes of Lord Eddard Stark. Ned is our entry point into this world; he is, as far as we know, the main hero of the entire series when we first begin back in Season 1. In a world of monsters and mayhem, he's a guiding light of honour and goodness. He's the protagonist, on a journey to protect his family, take down the wrongful rulers, and set about restoring order to the Seven Kingdoms.
And then his head gets cut off.
His execution remains one of the most jaw-dropping scenes not just of the entire show, but in TV history. It's an almost unprecedented shock that, unless you'd read the books, you simply could not see coming. It was a moment that told us this wasn't like other TV shows. It was the moment we learned, horribly, that all men must die and just about anyone could do so. And it was when the show revealed the truth: Ned Stark wasn't the main character.
As the years have worn on, we've seen the rise of others: Jon and Daenerys have become the central focus; Tyrion was the player in Seasons 2-4; Joffrey, Ramsay, and Cersei took turns being the Big Bad; the wheel kept on spinning. Ned's children were pushed farther away from each other, scattered on the winds of winter, all having to suffer their own trials and tribulations. Jon journeyed beyond the Wall and broke his vows. Bran and Rickon had to escape Winterfell. Arya would end up fleeing Westeros completely. Sansa was passed from abuser to abuser. Catelyn and Robb were brutally murdered at the Red Wedding. There was no Stark in Winterfell, the North was lost, and the legacy of Ned Stark started to be erased.
There was a point when you could've reasonably wondered if any Starks would survive, given the show's predilection for punishing them while the villains of the story triumphed. As Jon was murdered, Sansa married off and raped to a monster, Bran lost beyond the Wall, and Arya gave up her identity to become No One, it was the lowest ebb for House Stark; a confirmation that here, the good guys don't win. They die, just like Ned Stark.
Except, these Starks didn't. They were pushed and challenged, and in part forged by those around them: Bran is the Three-Eyed Raven; Arya has learned a lot from the likes of Syrio Forel, Jaqen H'ghar, and Sandor Clegane; Sansa took everything she could from Cersei and Littlefinger; Jon was formed by Aemon Targaryen, Jeor Mormont, and Mance Rayder.
But they're all Ned Stark's children to their very core.
NCTJ-qualified journalist. Most definitely not a racing driver. Drink too much tea; eat too much peanut butter; watch too much TV. Sadly only the latter paying off so far.
A mix of wise-old man in a young man's body with a child-like wonder about him and a great otherworldly sensibility.