Welcome to the first of a new series of articles from Geek Exchange. Inspired by the question “what if?” The series will be taking a look at some pop culture staples and asking how things might have gone differently. Today we begin with HBO’s biggest hit ever – Game of Thrones.
It’s hard to find a show out there with more twists and turns than our beloved Game of Thrones. And if you’re anything like those of us at Geek Exchange, then you have deep questions about events that occur in the show, most commonly – “What if (fill in the blank) hadn’t done this?” or “What if (fill in the blank) hadn’t died?” I admittedly did this a lot while reading the books, my biggest question being what if Rhaegar hadn’t kidnapped Lyanna Stark, an event which sparked the conflict that would engulf Westeros for the next generation?
For the first in our series, we have to start with the biggest no-brainer:
What if Ned Stark had taken up with either Littlefinger or Renly after Robert died?
There’s no doubt that there was quite a crossroads after Robert Baratheon died, shortly after signing a decree naming Ned Stark the Protector of the realm until his “heir” came of age. At this point, Ned had two viable options open to him from two powerful players on the Game of Thrones chessboard. On one hand, you have Renly Baratheon offering Ned Stark the 100 men with him to help his own household guard seize Joffrey and the other Baratheon/Lannister kids so that they could place Renly himself on the throne, effectively passing over his older brother Stannis. Also offered up to Ned is a plot by Littlefinger to use the City Watch and the Stark household guards to impose the order signed by Robert Baratheon and make Ned Protector of the realm, basically controlling Joffrey and the Lannisters by threat of force, and by using the knowledge of Joffrey’s incestualized birth as blackmail should he or the Lannisters step out of line. Alas, poor old dead Ned didn’t decide to go with either option. But, what if?
An outcome of Renly being placed on the Iron Throne:
To be sure, the War of the Five Kings could have been avoided with Renly placed on the Iron Throne. He would already have the support of House Tyrell and the Reach, along with the support of House Stark and the North after Ned helped him secure the throne. And we all know that with the Starks comes the support of the Riverlands led by my boy, the Black Fish. Also, the Lannisters would have no choice but to swear allegiance with their heirs as hostages. Out of principal, Stannis Baratheon would have taken issue with this but with no one to support him and no knowledge of the true lineage of Joffrey, he may have begrudgingly accepted things. Even raising a small army with a fraction of the Storm Lords would not have been enough to withstand the united armies under Renly. With the Lannisters neatly under control, King Renly would most likely have the support of Dorne and the Vale as well. This option, if chosen by Ned may have prevented a good amount of folks from being killed in the War of the Five Kings, specifically himself and half of his family.
An outcome of Ned being Lord Protector, allied with Littlefinger:
Like the first option, the Baratheon-Lannister children would be held as hostages, secured with the blackmail knowledge of them being Jaime Lannister’s children with his sister Cersei. With neither Renly or Stannis aware of the incest, they may have stayed in line with Joffrey sitting on the throne and knowing that the Lannisters were under control. We all know Stannis is a stickler for succession rules. The Reach, in turn, would fall in line with the Storm Lords, and the Vale and Riverlands would go along with Ned being the true power behind the throne due to their Tully blood ties in both of those kingdoms. The only wild card to lower the probability of this gamble paying off of course would be Littlefinger. Really, when is this slippery son of a bitch not a wild card? He stated that his price would be modest but as we’ve seen from Lord Baelish in multiple incidences, he wants everything eventually, even the Iron Throne. Odds are he would eventually find a way to knock off Ned so he could end up being with Catelyn, but that doesn’t mean everything would fall apart.
With both of those outcomes, there would still be plenty of other variables at play. Wild cards like Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle running amok, and not to mention the impending arrival of Daenerys and her Dothraki horde along with her trio of dragons.
As we know though, Ned did the
honorable stupid thing and threw in for Stannis, who was nowhere near King’s Landing at the time. This, of course, led to Ned’s imprisonment and eventual beheading. After that, it was a long and winding road for the Stark family. And while those who have survived are finally reunited, and perhaps stronger for it, there was no shortage of suffering along the way. Oh, and the subsequent wars resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths along the way. Thanks, Ned.