Eddard “Ned” Stark was the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, and briefly served as Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon. He was a POV character for fifteen chapters in A Game of Thrones, the first novel of the series (and the only one in which he was present.) While other lords in the Seven Kingdoms often noted that Ned was cold and prickly, he is warm and loving to his family and friends. He is also respected throughout the realm as an admired lord who is dedicated to duty and honor. He possesses the Stark features of black hair and gray eyes. The only two of his children that inherited these features were Jon and Arya.
The second son of Lord Rickard Stark, Ned was sent to the Vale as a young boy to be fostered by Lord Jon Arryn, and admired him as a father figure. Ned forged a lifelong friendship with Robert Baratheon who fell in love with his younger sister Lyanna. When his sister’s abduction by Prince Rhaegar resulted in Ned’s father and older brother Brandon being executed by Aerys II, Ned became Lord of Winterfell and married his brother’s betrothed Catelyn Tully of Riverrun who conceived their first son Robb, on their wedding night. Joining Robert in his revenge-driven rebellion against the Targaryens, Ned battled the Kingsguard before finding a dying Lyanna, whose last words were, “Promise me Ned.” She, at that time, was begging him to take her body back to Winterfell, so she could rest with her ancestors in the crypts of Winterfell. Though Ned kept his promise, her words haunted him for the rest of his life. During this time he supposedly fathered Jon Snow with a woman he told Robert was named Wylla. In the war’s aftermath, Ned brought Catelyn, Robb, and Jon back to Winterfell. In time, though Catelyn resented him for rearing Jon as a member of their family, Ned had a happy marriage with her as they gained four more children: Sansa, Arya, Brandon, and Rickon. After this war, the Greyjoys started a rebellion. After the rebellion was crushed, Ned fostered the disgraced Lord Greyjoy’s only surviving son, Theon, and also raised him at Winterfell. Theon resented this his whole life, and resented Ned for even trying to be a father to him.
At the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Ned brings his young son Bran to watch him behead a Night’s Watch deserter. He wants to teach him that if you condemn a man, you should do the killing. Ned learns of Jon Arryn’s death and that Robert and the court are on their way to Winterfell. Though pleased to see Robert, Ned is reluctant to accept the king’s offer to take Arryn’s place as the Hand of the King. But after Catelyn presents him a letter from her sister Lysa that claims the Lannisters murdered Arryn, Ned accepts the offer so he can investigate the matter. Young Bran has an assumed accident, a result of Lannister incest, which leaves him paralyzed and in a coma, so he stays with his mother at Winterfell when Ned rides off with his daughters to King’s Landing. Ned sees Jon off on his way to join the Night’s Watch with the promise to tell him about his birth mother the next time they speak.
In King’s Landing, Ned is thrown into the world of courtly intrigue by two of the realms’s greatest spies: Lords Petyr Baelish, also called Littlefinger, and Varys. He is spied upon by both of them, as well as Queen Cersei Lannister, as he pursues his inquiry into Arryn’s death. Grand Maester Pycelle gives him a book that lists and describes the physical features of noblemen and women throughout the history of the realm. When Catelyn secretly arrives in the capital to meet with him about an assassin the Lannisters supposedly hired to kill Bran, Ned promises to find additional evidence against them for the crime. The two part on happy terms. Ned later receives a lead through Petyr Baelish that leads him to one of Robert’s illegitimate children Gendry, and realizes that Arryn’s death is part of a larger conspiracy. He briefly resigns his position when Robert insists on having Daenerys Targaryen, the last of the Targaryens, and her unborn child killed.
Ned concludes that Robert’s children (Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen) are illegitimate and were actually fathered by Jaime Lannister, Cersei’s twin, and Cersei admits her affair with her brother. Ned intends to tell Robert; however, Robert is fatally wounded during a boar hunt. On his deathbed, Robert dictates his will to Ned, saying that Ned would be Regent while his “son” Joffrey is young. Ned actually writes “until his true heir” takes the throne. After Robert’s death, Ned writes to Stannis, the eldest of Robert’s younger brothers, telling him of Joffrey’s illegitimacy and Stannis’s own right to sit on the Iron Throne. Ned’s correspondence is discovered and he openly declares Joffrey’s illegitimacy before being arrested for treason. Though at first he refuses to take back his words (with the offer of exile to the Night’s Watch), Varys reminds him that Sansa is held hostage and that Robb has gathered an army to fight the Lannisters. It is agreed that if Ned pleads guilty to all charges and declares Joffrey the rightful heir, Ned’s life will be spared and he will be sent to the Wall as punishment. Unfortunately, at the Great Sept of Baelor, Joffrey goes back on his word and has Ned beheaded to make an example of him.
All this effectively triggers the War of the Five Kings. After learning of Ned’s execution, Robb is declared King in the North, and Stannis declares himself the lawful heir to the Iron Throne, as does his younger brother, Renly. Cersei and Jamie’s younger brother, the dwarf Tyrion, is named the new Hand of the King. When Ned’s head is mounted on a spike outside the castle gate, Tyrion orders that Ned’s head and body to be sent to Catelyn for a proper burial. While Catelyn is able to see his body in the Riverlands, Ned’s bones are not delivered to Winterfell’s crypt before the Iron Islanders take Moat Cailin, isolating the North.
In A Dance with Dragons, Lady Barbrey Dustin tells Theon Greyjoy that she is waiting for word that Ned Stark’s bones have reached Moat Cailin, now freed from the ironborn, saying she intends to feed Stark’s bones to her dogs.