Game of Thrones seventh season may have been too fast, too predictable or too short, but let's not allow those issues to blind us to this season's real purpose; it was all about legacy and carrying the torch, while setting new rules, building new expectations and forging alliances in honor of not making the same mistakes of previous generations.
Since the remaining Starks were foremost key players in Games of Thrones Season 7, having their patriarch's principles being a common occurrence was merely consequential. Eddard Stark lost his head in the show's first season (and, just like Arya and Sansa, we miss him), but his words and teachings migrated all the way into this season through his children. One might even say it was Ned Stark who shaped the future of Westeros in the war to come.
Who Ned Stark Was
It was awfully nice coming into Game of Thrones as spectators of Eddard Stark's journey from Warden of the North to Hand of King Robert Baratheon — and it didn't hurt one bit to have the wonderful #SeanBean bringing Ned to life. In his very first scene in the pilot, Ned Stark showed off his wisdom and caution when he decided to take his young son Bran to see the execution of a traitor. "He won't be a boy forever, and winter is coming" were Ned's words to his wife, and they could very well stand in as a round up summary of what his children would go through in the course of seven seasons.
Eddard was a truly honor-bound man, who firmly believed in doing the right thing no matter the consequences — either to himself or to others. He was a loving father, a family man and faithful friend, and it was inevitable that his morals and values would rub off on his children (the ones who were old enough to grasp it, anyway). That's why it was interesting to see how some of Ned's choices and actions still cause such an impact in Game of Thrones, six seasons after his demise.
How His Values Influenced His Children
Ned left the care and upkeep of his beloved Winterfell to his wife, Catelyn Tully, and Jon Snow — who was brought up by Ned, despite not being his trueborn son — sported the same confidence in leaving a woman to rule the North, when he traveled to Dragonstone and left Sansa in charge. The former Lord of Winterfell was also outstanding at keeping secrets, as he kept his sister Lyanna's son well protected and cared for, never revealing who Jon really was — even if his honor paid the price for it. In the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale, Bran — now the Three-Eyed Raven — finally entrusted his knowledge of Jon's true parentage to Samwell Tarly, possibly because Bran knew that Sam needed to know it, in order to add in that interesting bit about Jon's legitimacy.
The Stark girls, Sansa and Arya, also carried their father's legacy with them this season, even though Sansa wasn't so close to Ned and Arya was only a child when her father died. After being played (time and again) by #Littlefinger, Sansa opted to serve him justice instead of seeking revenge — as opposed to how she enjoyed Ramsay's death last season after all he'd put her through. She acted like the true Lady of Winterfell when she offered Littlefinger a trial and a skilled executioner. Arya too, has finally accepted her father's words that she "is Arya Stark, of Winterfell," and abandoned her quest for vengeance in the south to keep her family safe up north.
Even #NedStark's ward, Theon Greyjoy, seized the chance to do what he was honor-bound to do, and gathered the Iron men to rescue his sister Yara. After struggling through six seasons with the choice to either be a Greyjoy — as his birth made him, or a Stark who was brought up under Ned's guidance, Theon realized (with the help of Jon Snow) that he was allowed to be both. Theon eventually learned that taking a beating and doing the honorable thing wasn't a weakness, but that it allowed him the respect he'd always sought.
Forging A New Path
Ned's influence, however strongly present, didn't mean his children blindly replayed his choices and mistakes. As Sansa pointed out to Jon earlier this season, in order to become better leaders, they'd need to avoid making the same mistakes their predecessors made. Although standing by her family has seemingly become a priority, Arya was on a completely different path at the start of the season, when she avenged her mother and brother by killing the Freys.
Bran is apparently asserting enough control over his Raven self to stand for his family, by serving as irrefutable witness to the wrongs the Starks have suffered over the years. But he was initially so consumed with his role in the upcoming war against the Night King that he was unable to care for his family — leaving Sansa and Arya to do the heavy lifting without him.
And Sansa, although she'd previously fallen prey to Littlefinger's manipulation, was able to see through him in a way her father (and mother) never could. Thus, the new Lady of Winterfell has managed to exercise justice in a manner the North has rarely seen before, where the one who passes the sentence doesn't necessarily swing the sword. As Arya put it, she was "only the executioner," since it was Sansa "who passed the sentence."
Throughout the seven seasons of Game of Thrones, perhaps the Stark (yes, he's technically half Stark) who hardly strayed from following in Ned's footsteps has been #JonSnow. He learned to abide by the rules early on, living in a house where he wasn't welcome; he understands the honor in protecting those who can't protect themselves, which led him to join the Night's Watch; he's always been loyal to his friends, even if not all of them returned the favor; he's chosen justice over vengeance time and time again; and he's truthful to his words, even when they might cost him dearly.
Clearly, since Season 7 made the point of drilling it into our heads, Ned wasn't Jon's true father. But, Eddard was more of a father to him than Rhaegar ever had the chance to be. As he so pointedly said in the finale, Ned "is a part of" Jon, the one that guides his conscience and actions, the part Jon chooses to follow and be loyal to. Perhaps this means that Game of Thrones will find its end right where it started: Following Eddard Stark's code of honor in the hopes of creating a better and more just world.