- "Five hundred men just stood there and watched. All the great knights of the Seven Kingdoms. You think anyone said a word, lifted a finger? No, Lord Stark. Five hundred men and this room was silent as a crypt. Except for the screams, of course, and the Mad King laughing. And later... when I watched the Mad King die, I remembered him laughing as your father burned... it felt like justice."
- ―Jaime Lannister to Eddard Stark
The Execution of Rickard and Brandon Stark was one of the events that led to the outbreak of Robert's Rebellion.
For unknown reasons, the heir to the Iron Throne Prince Rhaegar Targaryen abducted Lyanna Stark, the daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North and hid her away in Dorne. This event was extremely scandalous as Lyanna was betrothed to Lord Robert Baratheon, the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Rhaegar was married to Princess Elia Martell, with whom he had two children.
After Lyanna's abduction, her older brother Brandon was enraged and rode to King's Landing demanding the release of his sister and the death of Rhaegar. Aerys arrested him for treason and called for his father to come to the capital to ransom him. When Lord Rickard complied, Aerys, now utterly mad, arrested him for treason as well.
Lord Rickard demanded a trial by combat, and Aerys declared "fire" the champion of the House Targaryen. He had Lord Rickard suspended from the rafters of the throne room while pyromancers lit a blaze beneath him. As he burned, Brandon was brought into the throne room, a leather cord attached to a strangulation device was wrapped around his neck. Aerys told Brandon his father was a dead man but there was a chance to save him. A longsword was placed on the floor just out of Brandon's reach, and the more he struggled to reach it, the more the cord tightened around his throat. Brandon Stark strangled himself trying to free his father, who was roasted alive in his own armor. The entire court stood and watched this atrocity take place, Ser Jaime Lannister and the Kingsguard among them.
Their deaths left Eddard to inherit Rickard's responsibilities, becoming the new Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. Brandon had been betrothed to Catelyn and Eddard also inherited his brother's bride. House Tully would soon join the rebellion after the marriages of Ned Stark to Catelyn Tully and Jon Arryn to Lysa Tully. House Lannister joined very late when it became obvious that the rebels would win.
Many years later, during his first meeting with Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow relates to the execution of his uncle and grandfather (incorrectly stating that they were both burned alive). Daenerys admits that her father was an evil man, and formally apologizes on behalf of House Targaryen.
Behind the scenesThe execution was set to be featured in a flashback scene. Footage of the scene appeared in the "Fear and Blood" first season trailer but has not appeared in any aired episode of the series. The scene was cut for time restrictions.
In the scene, Aerys was played by Liam Burke and Brandon was played by an unidentified actor. It is unknown if an actor was cast to play Rickard.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Brandon received word of Lyanna's abduction en route to Riverrun for his wedding to Catelyn Tully. Brandon, along with his squire Ethan Glover, Kyle Royce, Elbert Arryn, and Jeffory Mallister, rode to King's Landing immediately, while Hoster Tully became incensed, thinking it a rash action. Upon entering the Red Keep, Brandon shouted for Rhaegar to "come out and die". Rhaegar was not there to answer the challenge; they were arrested by King Aerys and charged with plotting Rhaegar's murder.
Aerys had them all imprisoned on charges of conspiring to kill the crown prince and summoned their fathers to answer for the crimes of their sons. The nobles went and were immediately executed with their sons by Aerys. As was his right, Rickard demanded a trial by combat. Aerys granted Rickard's request but to Aerys, the Targaryen champion was fire. He had Rickard burned, with the pyromancer Rossart lighting a fire beneath him while Rickard was dressed in his armor. Brandon was made to watch his father die with a noose around his neck and a sword just out of his reach. Trying to reach the sword to save his father, Brandon strangled himself.
Aerys would become sexually aroused while watching someone burn and would then brutally rape his sister-wife Rhaella. Based on the amount of time that elapsed between the start of the the rebellion and her birth, it is likely that their daughter Daenerys was conceived in the aftermath of Rickard and Brandon's murder.
When Catelyn Stark interrogates Jaime, he tells her in detail about the execution of Rickard and Brandon. The only difference from the story told in the show is that Jaime does not say there were five hundred knights present, but mentions only Gerold Hightower, who noticed that Jaime disapproved of the unjust atrocity and told him "You swore a vow to guard the king, not to judge him".
Wildfire plot · Sack of King's Landing · Siege of Storm's End