- "My mother wishes me to let Lord Eddard join the Night's Watch... stripped of all titles and powers, he would serve the realm in permanent exile. And my Lady Sansa has begged mercy for her father. But they have the soft hearts of women... so long as I'm your King treason shall never go unpunished! Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!"
- ―King Joffrey sentences Lord Eddard to die.
- "I know the truth Jon Arryn died for."
- ―Eddard Stark to Cersei Lannister
During his tenure as Hand of the King to King Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark discovers that Jaime is the father of Cersei's children. While Robert is hunting, Ned confronts Cersei about this, unwisely reveals that he knows her secret, and gives her a chance to flee King's Landing with her children before he tells Robert the truth. Cersei remains calm, since she has already arranged Robert's death, by instructing her cousin Lancel to give him too much wine during his hunt.
Robert is fatally wounded and names Joffrey as his successor. Ned does not reveal the truth to Robert, but instead contacts Robert's younger brother and true heir, Stannis Baratheon, to inform him. Meanwhile, Cersei and Joffrey seize the throne. Securing help from Janos Slynt and Petyr Baelish, Ned challenges Cersei and orders her and her children arrested, but Slynt and Baelish have already been bribed by the Lannisters and they turn on Ned, resulting in his men being massacred and him imprisoned.
While in the dungeons, Ned is visited by Varys, who informs him that his son, Robb, has called all of House Stark's banners to march on King's Landing and free him, and though Arya has escaped, Sansa is still the Lannisters' hostage. However, Varys also claims that Cersei has promised that if Ned confesses to his "treason" and orders Robb to stand down, he will be spared and sent to the Night's Watch; Ned initially refuses to sully his honor by making such false confession, but reluctantly changes his mind after Varys points out that Sansa's life is at stake.
False confession and execution
- "I am Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King. I come before you to confess my treason in the sight of gods and men. I betrayed the faith of my King and the trust of my friend Robert. I swore to protect and defend his children... but before his blood was cold, I plotted to murder his son... and seize the throne for myself. Let the High Septon and Baelor the Blessed bear witness to what I've said. Joffrey Baratheon... is the one true heir to the Iron Throne... by the grace of all the gods, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm."
- ―Ned Stark
After agreeing to Cersei's terms, Ned is taken to the yard before the Great Sept of Baelor to publicly confess his treason. Present for the confession are King Joffrey, Queen Cersei, Sansa, Lord Baelish, Lord Varys, Grand Maester Pycelle, the High Septon, several Kingsguard and the King's Justice, Ser Ilyn Payne. Unbeknownst to all of them, Arya is also present, standing at the feet of the statue of Baelor the Blessed.
Ned is taken by two Gold Cloaks before the King and his entourage, while the people of the city gathered yell insults at him. Aware of his daughter's pleas, he relents and gives the false confession the Queen demanded: confessing his plot to murder Joffrey and seize the throne for himself.
The Grand Maester intervenes and after speaking of the justice and mercy of the gods he asks the King what will be done with the traitor. The people yell out in anger until Joffrey holds out his hand to speak. He mentions that his mother wishes to let Eddard join the Night's Watch and live the remainder of his days at the Wall, stripped of lands and titles, while his betrothed, Lady Sansa, has begged mercy for her father. However, Joffrey dismisses the two as soft-hearted women and promises that, for as long as he's King, treason will never go unpunished. Then he turns to Ser Ilyn and demands Ned Stark's head.
The crowd calls out for Ned's death. Sansa desperately begs for her father's life, only to be restrained by a Kingsguard. The Queen also asks her son to reconsider his sentence. Varys also runs to the King, who remains adamant in his decision. Lord Eddard is pushed to his knees by two Kingsguard, and Ser Ilyn puts on a black hood to conceal his face. He then swings Ice, the greatsword of House Stark itself, and takes the head of the Lord of Winterfell.
- "Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither! Why should they rule over me and mine from some flowery seat in the south? What do they know of the Wall? or the Wolfswood? Even their gods are wrong! Why shouldn't we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we bowed to... and now the dragons are dead. There sits the only king I mean to bend my knee to... the King in the North!"
- ―Jon Umber
The execution of Ned Stark, similarly to the execution of his father and brother, has not discouraged people from defying the Crown, on the contrary: it has extremely infuriated the Starks and the people of the North, inciting them to fight the Lannisters.
The execution is largely condemned by many major houses throughout the Seven Kingdoms on both sides of the war. Tywin refers to the action as "madness and stupidity", as it shattered the plans of House Lannister to make peace with House Stark and House Tully, allowing them to deal with both Renly and Stannis. Tyrion laments that the execution "will haunt our family for a generation."
When the news of Ned's death reach the Northern and River lords, they choose not to support either of Robert's brothers, declaring independence from the Iron Throne under the rule of Robb as King in the North.
After receiving Ned's letter, Stannis notifies all of Westeros about Joffrey's parentage, declares himself King of the Seven Kingdoms and resolves to take the Iron Throne and rule over the same kingdom that Robert once did, and destroy any who stand in his way.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the execution occurs in an almost identical fashion to the TV series. There are only small differences, such as the fact that the High Septon is the one who speaks of the justice and mercy of the gods, and he and Varys protest Joffrey's decision to execute Ned. The book also gives no indication that Ned spotted Arya in the crowd or instructed Yoren to protect her; Yoren seems to find her by chance.
Slynt has more active part in the books at Ned's execution: he gives the command to the Gold Cloaks to fling Ned to the marble, to be beheaded (this is the scene from Arya's POV; Sansa recalls that Slynt did it himself). In the fifth novel, while Cersei performs the walk of atonement, it is revealed in her flashback that Slynt lifted Ned's severed head after the execution; this detail is not mentioned from Arya's and Sansa's POV.
Ser Barristan Selmy is present at the execution in the guise of Arstan Whitebeard, though this is not revealed until "A Dance With Dragons", after he has joined the service of Daenerys Targaryen. Barristan notes that afterwards he went into the Sept and thanked the Seven that Joffrey has stripped him of his cloak. When Daenerys angrily denounces Eddard as a traitor who rebelled against his rightful king, Barristan tells her that Eddard was against the murder of her family and the assassination attempt on her and her son, but she still considers him equally responsible and labels him as one of the "Usurper's dogs". Ser Barristan is annoyed by this and doesn't agree with his queen, but remains silent as it is not his place to speak.
It is also mentioned in the books that the High Septon and the Faith of the Seven are outraged that the execution was performed on the steps of the Sept, profaning the holy site with blood in their eyes, as well as irreparably damaging the Crown's relations with the Faith (as Cersei had assured the High Septon beforehand that Eddard would be allowed to live after he confessed his treason, only to then appear a liar in the High Septon's eyes). Even several years after Eddard's death, members of the Faith (such as the High Sparrow) would continue to berate Cersei for allowing Joffrey to commit such a wanton act of sacrilege on a holy site.
While Cersei performs the walk of atonement, she muses that Joffrey made a terrible mistake by commanding to execute Eddard; had he lived and joined the Watch, the North would have not gone to war, and Tywin would have dealt with Robert's brothers.
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