Honorable Heroes: Too Good for their Own Good? Game of Thrones Edition

As shameful as this is to admit, I’m one of the few remaining wayward souls who’s come late to the Game of Thrones party. But rest assured, I’m working hard to fix that inadequacy. In preparation for season four which starts next month, I’ve been binge watching previous episodes like a starving person who just wandered into an Old Country Buffet.

So far I’ve watched the first two seasons so – SPOILER ALERT – I’ve witnessed how evil and horrible the Lannisters are (except for Tyrion who is full-on adorbs), how honorable the Starks are, how power-mad Stanis Baratheon is, and how kickass Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons is. And let’s not forget how freaky-scary the White Walkers are.

Yes, I know I’ve got a whole other season still to watch and all my expectations and affections are likely to change because All. Men. Must. Die.  And, despite my protestations to the contrary, I’ve been assured by one good friend that I will come to love Jamie Lannister.

Pish posh. How could that be true? He’s evil, I tell you. Evil!

But that’s got me thinking. Not just about the purported allure of bad boys. But also about the surprising non-allure of the supposed honorable guys.

I’m thinking specifically about one Eddard “Ned” Stark, the erstwhile and now very dead hero of season one. Ned was goodness and honor personified. Well, except for having fathered a bastard while on a long campaign, but that seems to be the only chink in his Valyrian steel.

In season one, King Robert, Ned’s best friend and ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, asks Ned to be his Hand. Ned doesn’t want to take the job but being the honorable friend and Lord that he is, he agrees even though he’s heard a rumor that the previous Hand was murdered. Soon, he’s uncovered a secret incestuous relationship between the King’s wife, Cersei and her brother, Jaime, but doesn’t reveal it to the King because he doesn’t have definitive proof. When Robert is killed on a hunting trip, Ned has the chance to seize power himself, even temporarily, and/or jail Cersei and her bastard children who have no right to the crown. Again, Robert chooses the honorable route and refuses the opportunity to strike. Before you know it, Cersei has turned the tables, bribed Ned’s allies to become his enemies, and arrested Ned for treason. Soon, her maniacal son, Joffrey cuts off his head.

And you know what? As sad as all that was, I thought, meh, he had it coming. Because he was too good and honorable for his own good.

Or maybe his out-sized virtue made him too dumb too live. I mean, seriously, he realized Cersei was somehow involved in the previous Hand’s death, and knew she’d been birthing her brother’s children for years, how could he not see this coming????

So it’s made me wonder about the intrinsic likeability of wholly (or mostly) good and honorable characters, especially heroes. We like them, but can we love them? Do they inspire us to follow in their righteous footsteps? Do we root for them to stick to their honorable guns even if it means their head? Or do we want them to stray from that goodness when necessary to stay alive and in the Game?

Which brings to mind my aforementioned favorite Game of Thrones hero, Tyrion Lannister, a cleaver, cunning, and basically kind-hearted character. He understands how to play politics, manipulate people, and when necessary, fire and imprison those who betray him. He also knows how to be kind and honorable, like when he sent Ned’s bones to his widow. I suspect I like Tyrion because he is multi-faceted, and is smart enough to play dirty when self-preservation is at stake.

So what about you? Can you think of any purely good and honorable heroes to die for? Does Ned Stark’s intrinsic goodness, make his death (and all the conflict it incited) worth it? Or do those who chose honor over pragmatism deserve the hand (or head) they’re dealt?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!


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About Lea Nolan
Lea Nolan writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen—smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She also writes smart, witty contemporary stories filled with head-swooning, heart-throbbing, sweep-you-off-your-feet romance. She lives in Maryland with her heroically supportive husband and three clever children. You can learn more about her at www.leanolan.com


  1. Kimberly Quinton says:

    Great post! I have not watched the show *ducks head*… But I read the books. And they were AWESOME! Don’t know if I can go through the emotional roller coaster that is GoT again. I want to watch it… Really do, but finding the free TV time with no little ones running around is hard enough and hubby and I have to finish The Walking Dead and Justified before we start a new series. :)

    As far as your question- the anti hero always wins in my opinion. Who doesn’t love a redeemed bad boy or a good hearted man with a past or the soldier who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect who he loves? They are much more interesting characters. Is it a sign that society is more jaded when truly honorable prince charming’s aren’t the ones we look to to save the day?


  2. Talia Hunter says:

    Hi Lea. I love GOH, both the book and the series. I was totally shocked when Eddard Stark bought it… totally didn’t see it coming. But then on reflection I realised he would have made a great king, but how boring would that have been? He had to go! Great post :)


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