An awful lot has been made of Ned Stark's death in Game of Thrones this past season, particularly the values he instilled in his children and how his memory continues to influence their actions. This was never more clear than in the Season 7 finale, when all of his "children"—including Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy—rose to the better angels of their nature with Eddard Stark's guidance in mind.
Every storyline that dealt with the Stark brood in the finale called back to Ned Stark at some point: Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy had a conversation about Ned taking them both in; visions involving Ned gave Bran insight on two separate occasions; Arya and Sansa discussed their father's legacy after dispatching Littlefinger.
Yet I couldn't help but be irritated as I watched that scene on the snowy battlements unfold between the Stark sisters:
Arya: 'In winter, we must protect ourselves. Look after one another.'
Sansa: Father. 'When the snows fall and the white winds blow the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.'
Arya: I miss him.
Sansa: Me, too.
So much made of Ned, but no mention ever of their mother, Catelyn Stark.
Say what you'd like about the questionable writing of Season 7, one of the strangest sins of omission committed by the #GameofThrones writers this season has been the erasure of Catelyn Stark and her legacy. They seem to have forgotten all about her, and so the Stark kids seem to have entirely forgotten about her, too. But while Catelyn's influence upon her children may not be as obvious as Ned's, it has quietly been there all along and is just as important.
Catelyn's Inner Steel Helped Her Children Survive
Ned Stark's legacy has always been that he was a good man; it's that inherent goodness that defines the Starks and always will. But it was that very nobility, Ned's faith in others and his refusal to play the game that got him killed. Their upended world meant that his children needed not just nobility, but inner steel to survive, and that came from Catelyn. The former Lady of Winterfell doesn't often get enough credit for leaving her family and all she'd known in Riverrun to move to the inhospitable climate of the North, with its strange Old Gods, to become the lady of a people who considered her an outsider. Yet she did it and she thrived. That sort of adjustment takes an inner resilience and an aptitude for politics that she passed down to her children.
It's true Catelyn had a hardness to her, a piece of flint buried deep inside, that Ned lacked—but it's that exact hardness that has helped five out of seven of the Stark brood survive in a world that was poised to eat them alive. Of all the Stark clan, it's Jon Snow who is the spiritual successor to Ned and shares his same naivete, and that naivete quite literally got him betrayed and killed—just like Ned. The resurrected Jon still has his inherent nobility, and that will never change. But it was the post-resurrection Jon Snow, the no-fucks-given version that was a bit less Ned and a bit more Catelyn who went on to become King in the North. Ned never wanted to play the game and his life was the tradeoff. #CatelynStark was smart enough to know that sometimes you had to play to survive, and it seems her children have finally learned just enough of that to survive, as well.
The Lessons Credited To Ned Were Also Taught By Catelyn
The message Ned Stark preached was that as Starks, they had to stick together to survive. It was something that Ned told Arya in the very first episode of the series, before the family got caught up in the political quagmire of King's Landing.
But that "family first" ethos was also echoed in Catelyn's values. In the 'Garden of Bones' episode from Season 2, the Lady of Winterfell admonishes the bickering Baratheon brothers, Renly and Stannis, and reminds them of their familial ties:
"Listen to yourselves. If you were sons of mine, I would knock your heads together and lock you in a bedchamber until you remembered that you were brothers."
In Catelyn's world, just as it was with her husband, blood is bound to blood and there is no rift so deep it's worth family turning on one another or abandoning each other. Catelyn was fiercely protective of her children, a true tigress of the North; there was nothing she wouldn't do for them, and that fierce loyalty and willingness to fight for her family is a sentiment shared by all of her children, whether biologically born Starks or not. Even Theon, broken, cowardly Theon, finally showed some measure of courage and the start of a redemption arc when he decided to save his sister, Yara, in the finale. Fittingly, it's after a conversation he has with Jon in which Jon reminds him of their adopted father: "You never lost him. He's a part of you. Just like he's a part of me." Though it was about Ned, he might as well have been speaking of Catelyn.
Catelyn And Ned Stark Both Emphasized Family Values, Not Just Ned
The Stark children have all been, in their own ways, driven by the need to protect or avenge their family and it has eventually brought them all back to Winterfell, whether literally or metaphorically: Theon takes the lessons he learned from both Catelyn and Ned to save his sister; Jon Snow just wants to protect the people of the North whom the Starks have sworn to defend; Arya and Sansa rooted out the traitor in their midst when he tried to turn them against one another; even Bran, creepy Three-Eyed Raven that he is, had a hand in sentencing Littlefinger for his crimes against their family.
It's fitting that Littlefinger's death, perhaps the most satisfying in Game of Thrones history, was sealed by none other than Sansa Stark. Sansa, who looks so very much like Catelyn as to be her replacement in Littlefinger's mind. Sansa, who has taken her mother's place as the Lady of Winterfell. Sansa, who, like her mother, had to learn to navigate a landscape ruled by men with her guile and brains and political savvy. Ned Stark always preached to his sons that "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword," but upon her children, Catelyn impressed the importance of them needing to work together to get ahead in a world run by powerful and vicious men. It was both symbolic and fitting that the death of Petyr Baelish, the man who had betrayed their father and ultimately gotten their mother killed, happened in a way that would have made Catelyn proud. Sansa Stark the judge; Brandon Stark the jury; Arya Stark the executioner.
Catelyn Stark deserves just as much credit for raising her children as Ned. She deserves to be missed by her children and mourned just as much as Ned. Her teachings and sacrifice deserve to be honored just as much as Ned's. It's a shame that the Game of Thrones writers have, for whatever reason, chosen to bury Catelyn Stark's legacy. But some of us in the North, we remember.