Game of Thrones Boys of House Stark, Men of the North
Written by ‘Surly’ Jacob Murray
*** WARNING – Post contains Game of Thrones spoilers ***
There comes a time in every boy’s life when he knows he has become a man. The moment can be relatively passive, as with Jewish boys like myself. We simply turn thirteen, get lifted up on a chair, given a few drops of sugar loaded wine and told that all those funny feelings going on between our legs make us a man.
In others cases the corner from childhood is turned aggressively. For example, sometimes in Westeros, it happens when you shatter a terrifyingly evil undead White Walker into itty bitty shards of ice with a swing of your Valyrian steel-forged sword. The great hope of all Northmen is to witness their once midwife suckling tot take that bold step into manhood and redeem their own mortality by imbuing another with the brazen ferocity and coolness of counsel that is the hallmark of all those born in the Seven Kingdoms north of the Neck. Unfortunately, for Eddard Stark, he lost his head a little too soon to see any of his boys don the mantle of manliness.
Luckily, we are here to feel that pride and joy in Ned’s place. So let’s step into those frosty shoes and take a look which sons of House Stark have transcended from whelp to wolf.
The youngest of the Starks, Rickon is definitely not a man. In fact, no one knows what the heck he is. He may be quietly training under the Greatjon of House Umber, outside the purview of the Lannisters and Boltons who would happily turn him into pigeon pie. He could have passed through Shaggydog’s colon some time ago. Direwolf bond aside, winter sucks and that dog is crazy. Maybe Rickon and Osha are traveling through Easteros as the world’s weirdest pair of mummers.
He might also be a young Ned in the making, but at this point it’s safe to assume Rickon has not yet become a man.
Perhaps the most interesting young wolf is the legless wonder, Bran. Though he is yet to make an appearance in season 5 of Game of Thrones, one cannot help but get the sense that Bran is the sleeper Stark of the series. Able to take control of all manner of creatures, this dude is basically a medieval Professor X. It’s all wolves and ravens for now, but it’s only a matter of time until one of Daenerys’ scaly children comes wandering into Westeros – and if I were a betting man, I’d have money of Bran’s warg abilities being ready for such a fortuitous occasion.
Still, while Bran has gone through a lot for his age and seen some rather strange things, this boy is no man. At this point he might even be unrecognizable to his dear old dad. Could you imagine that conversation? Ned was many things, but a fan of witchcraft was probably not one of them.
A solid case for Robb Stark being a man can be made, the fact that he’s currently rotting at the bottom of a river outside the Twins notwithstanding. But Robb was something Ned could never claim – King in the North. The eldest Stark was the apple of his father’s eye. Strong with his sword, caring and trusting of his family, a confident and decisive leader. He also couldn’t keep his sword in his pants and there is where the similarities stop.
Yes, Ned betrayed his marriage vows, succumbing to a night of passion. He got a nice little bastard out of it and left it at that. On the other hand, Robb got so lost between a woman’s legs he went back on a promise altogether, shirking a treasure trove of Frey women for love. Instead of giving Ned a grandson, Robb gave his dad some company hanging out with the Seven.
We all love Ned Stark and Ned Stark loved his family, but one thing Ned Stark never did was make an important decision out of love. In this way Ned was more like the spider Varys than he was his son. “For the realm” is lesson that was apparently lost on the poor boy.
So ultimately, that’s all Robb was before taking a knife in the gut, a boy.
Jon Sta…Snow. Jon Snow
At last we come to everyone’s favorite product of Eddard Stark’s icy loins, the Lord Commander, Jon Snow. While some may theorize that Jon is no son of Ned’s, there is neither man nor boy in Westeros more like Ned than Jon. If the late Lord of Winterfell were alive today, he would be beaming with pride at his bouncing baby bastard boy. Let’s examine the evidence.
1.) Proper Violence
Jon Snow cut off Janos Slynt’s head. Now I know what you’re saying, “Robb cut off Rickard Karstark’s head!” Why doesn’t Robb get credit for treating heads like mushroom caps? Simple, Robb knew what he was doing was wrong. When Robb dropped a blade on Karstark’s neck, he immediately dropped his sword and stormed off in a huff. There is no surer sign that a boy is not yet a man than when he throws a temper tantrum. Men, particularly Northmen, are solemn creatures. Papa Stark took no joy in his duties and similarly, no anger or resentment. Robb was a boy consumed with emotion, overburdened and holding a tenuous grasp on his convictions. His enemies and friends alike saw that.
Jon is different. When Jon cut off Slynt’s ugly head, he only showed the slightest flash of emotion, because how could you not enjoy slicing through that smarmy piece of flea-bottom vermin’s neck. In the eyes of his men, Jon kept his composure and stood in dour adherence to the laws of the First Men. He didn’t do it because he felt betrayed, as Robb did. He didn’t do it because he felt like he had to do it, as Robb did. He did it simply because it had to be done. In that moment, Jon Snow was a man.
2.) His Word
Shortly after, Stannis Baratheon offered Jon something he’d always dreamed of, never believing it to be possible; the name of Stark and seat of Lord of Winterfell, Warden in the North. Finally, a win for the Starks. With a Stark in Winterfell, Roose Bolton would fall, the banners would rally, Dorne would likely join the North in dethroning the Lannisters and Tyrells and Jon Stark would help Stannis take King’s Landing and Stannis would probably die in the process because he’s old and stuff and Jon Stark would have no choice but to take the Iron Throne himself and Danaerys would probably love him too and marry him and have little dragon-wolf babies and everything would be awesome because Jon Stark and Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons-Stark could ride on Drogon and Vyserion together and maybe Rheagal would be strong enough to lift Sam’s fat butt in the sky and they would light all those stupid White Walkers on fire and everything would be super awesome and amazing if only Jon Snow was Jon Stark!
Jon Snow denies the name Stark to remain Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Why? For honor. For the realm. He took the role he wanted less because it mattered more, as his father did when he agreed to become Hand of the King. In that moment, Jon Snow was a man.
Having already shown himself to be a stern leader and a man of oath, Jon Snow has portrayed one final characteristic Ned left in the womb of a strange woman; mercy. When Jon Snow offered to let the Wildlings through the gates of The Wall he put humanity before territory, knowing a defeated enemy when he saw one and the value in friendship over rivalry. This is going to sound like a strange comparison, but Tormund Giantsbane is Jon Snow’s Theon Greyjoy. When confronting an enemy, instead of slaying the leaders and their offspring as is Tywin Lannister’s hobby, Ned Stark showed mercy on the Ironborn and took in Theon, raising him as one of his own. Similarly, Jon Snow extended safe harbor to the Free Folk and camaraderie to Tormund. Great leaders know when to fight and when to make peace. Great men can pull it off.
Of course, being a great man like Ned Stark doesn’t seem to be the safest path to survival in the Seven Kingdoms. The mantle of Hand of the King didn’t work out so well for old Eddard. Talent in chopping off heads didn’t save his and all the stoic father figures in the known world couldn’t turn Theon into a man worth having around, so let us hope that Jon Snow is not the same man as his father, but a better one.
Regardless, our point here is made. No, the point was not simply to whittle away the long days between episodes by geeking out over fictional characters we would mostly prefer were real (OK it was a little) but the real point was Jon Snow is the manly Stark we’ve been missing since the end of Season One. Because although for some, that moment a boy wields his great Valyrian steel sword and shatters a White Walker into a million billion pieces is when he finally becomes a man, by the time Jon Snow did it he already was.
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