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"I did warn you not to trust me."
―Lord Petyr Baelish[src]

The massacre in the Red Keep was the result of Lord Eddard Stark's failed attempt to place King Joffrey Baratheon and his family under arrest to ensure the coronation of Robert Baratheon's true heir, his brother Stannis Baratheon.

Alongside the attacks against the smallfolk of the Riverlands carried out by House Lannister, this was an early event in the War of the Five Kings.



While King Robert Baratheon lies near death, as a result of being mortally wounded by a boar while hunting, he instructs Eddard Stark to take a letter naming him as the Lord Protector of the Realm, to rule until Robert's son Joffrey comes of age. Eddard doesn't write Joffrey's name, instead saying 'the rightful heir'. Wishing to spare his dying friend any further pain, he does not share with him the discovery he has made of Joffery's true parentage.

Renly Baratheon confronts Eddard and offers him a hundred swords to take Joffrey into custody, but Eddard refuses to dishonor Robert's last hours by shedding blood in the Red Keep and taking frightened children hostage. Renly suggests that he could make a good king, but Eddard angrily points out that Stannis is Renly's older brother and the true heir.

In his study, Eddard writes a letter laying out his findings to Lord Stannis and instructs Tomard to take the message to Dragonstone, Stannis's island fortress. Littlefinger then arrives and talks to Eddard, who tells him the truth about Joffrey's parentage. Littlefinger suggests that they keep quiet, acknowledge Joffrey as king and make him their puppet. If he proves intractable, they can reveal the truth and crown the more malleable Renly instead. Eddard considers this treason. Littlefinger realizes that even though Lord Eddard has Robert's edict naming him Regent and Protector of the Realm, he doesn't have the men he needs to seize control from Cersei. He needs the loyalty of the City Watch. Littlefinger understands that the honorable Eddard Stark can't come right out and ask him to bribe them, but agrees to do what needs to be done.


Eddard is summoned to the throne room by "King Joffrey"; Robert has died. He arrives to find Littlefinger and Varys waiting for him, along with Commander Janos Slynt and a detachment of the City Watch. Varys tells him that Renly has fled the city, along with Ser Loras Tyrell and a number of retainers. They were last seen heading south. The party enters the throne room, where Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne. He demands oaths of fealty from his councilors and subjects. Instead, Eddard gives Ser Barristan Selmy the proclamation naming him as Lord Protector of the Realm. To Barristan's shock, Cersei takes the "paper shield" and tears it up. Instead, she suggests that Eddard bend the knee and swear allegiance. In return he will be allowed to return to Winterfell. Eddard responds that Joffrey has no claim to the Iron Throne and commands Slynt to take the Queen and her son into custody. Instead, the City Watch kill Eddard's bodyguards and Littlefinger holds a knife to his throat, saying, "I did warn you not to trust me."[1]


After capturing Eddard Stark, Lannister soldiers and Gold Cloaks continue their purge of the Stark guards and household staff. Sansa and Septa Mordane hear sounds of fighting. When they are confronted by Lannister guardsmen led by the Hound, Septa Mordane tells Sansa to run and lock herself in her room while she stays to confront them. However, Sandor later finds and takes Sansa into custody.

Syrio Forel confronts Ser Meryn Trant and Lannister guards.

More Lannister guardsmen, this time led by Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard, interrupt a "dancing" lesson between Syrio Forel and Arya. Arya starts to go to them, but Syrio holds her back to ask why Lord Eddard would send Lannister men to find Arya. She then refuses to go with them, and when they try to force the issue Syrio disarms and disables all of the lightly-armored guardsmen with his practice sword. He tells Arya to run as he faces down Trant, noting that for himself, "The First Sword of Braavos does not run."

Arya runs to the stables where the men waiting with their baggage were supposed to be to take them to the ship for Winterfell. The men are dead, but she finds her sword Needle in the bottom of her trunk. Arya then starts to leave the stables (she knows how to get out of the Red Keep via the tunnel under the castle that she found when she was chasing cats and followed the two conspirators). When a stableboy tries to grab her, Arya turns around brandishing Needle and accidentally runs him through and kills him. Horrified she flees.

Varys visits Eddard in his cell in the dungeons. He is incredulous that Eddard warned Cersei what he was going to do. Eddard says he wanted to extend mercy to Cersei's children, whom Robert would have killed if he'd known the truth. Varys bluntly tells Eddard that his mercy is what killed King Robert, to Eddard's shame. Varys then tells him that Catelyn also no longer holds Tyrion as her prisoner, meaning that the Starks have nothing to barter with for Eddard's life. When Eddard suggests they should just kill him, Varys says, "Not today, my lord". As he departs, Eddard asks Varys whom he truly serves; Varys, in a rare display of honesty, replies, "The realm, my lord. Someone must."

Cersei and Pycelle talk to Sansa and convince her to pen a letter to her brother Robb, asking him to bend the knee peacefully to Joffrey. Eddard's fate may depend on what his son and the other Northern lords do, so Sansa agrees to write the letter.

Sansa's letter reaches Winterfell and a disbelieving Robb. Maester Luwin notes the letter is the work of the Queen. Robb refuses to consider the request and sends out ravens, summoning the lords bannermen of the North and their armies to assemble at Winterfell. Released ravens fill the sky.[2]

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the massacre is about the same, with several changes:

  • The first casualty of Ned's guards is Tomard. One of the Gold Cloaks drives his spear into his back, killing him instantly even before his sword hits the floor. The letter that Ned gave him for Stannis is taken from his body and later presented to Sansa as evidence of her father's "treason". Thus Stannis never receives the letter, unlike in the TV show, but he has already known long ago the truth about Cersei's kids - in fact he is the one who initiated the investigation that he and Jon Arryn conducted.
  • Another of Ned's guards to die is Cayn, who does not appear in the TV show. He manages to drive back the nearest spearman with a flurry of blows, and for an instant it looks as though he may cut his way free. Then the Hound attacks him, first cutting off his sword hand at the wrist. The second slash drives Cayn to his knees and opens him from shoulder to breastbone.
  • After Arya escapes from Meryn Trant, she reaches the stables. Outside she finds Hullen, the Master of Horse at Winterfell. He had been stabbed so many times it looked as if his tunic was patterned with scarlet flowers. His eyes open and he whispers "Arya Underfoot. You must... warn your... your lord father..." and dies. Inside the stable Arya finds four more bodies of Stark servants, a groom and three household guards, and one body of Lannister soldier. One of the dead guards is Desmond, who assured Arya earlier that that no harm would befall her father, and that every northman was worth ten southern swords. She kicks the body in a sudden fury and calls him a liar.
  • The dagger which Littlefinger snatches from Ned and holds to his throat is the same dagger the catspaw assassin carried.