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In the world of Game of Thrones, location is a very telling narrative device. It can explain a character’s motivations for doing something, like trying to retake their ancestral home, or it can be used by the characters to elevate their house above others, like the Freys did when they monetized the crossing. However, the setting also has a very notable effect on how it influences characters’ personalities. Every great house has a castle that has been in their possession for centuries, so it’s natural that a culture and specific stereotypes would become associated with that place. Even whole regions are identified by the specific attitudes and qualities that they supposedly possess. For example, everyone knows that the people living beyond the Wall are complete savages and merciless killers, while people living in the Reach are known for their chivalry and sophistication. Therefore, it’s no surprise when their living areas influence the people residing in them. In fact, some characters represent everything that their locations stand for. The best examples of people whose identities are connected with their homes are Eddard Stark of Winterfell, as well as Daenerys Targaryen while she is living in the Dothraki Sea. Both Ned and Daenerys strongly reflect the qualities that their locations deem important – Ned is honorable, religious, duty-oriented to a fault, and Daenerys, because of living in the Dothraki Sea, is becoming free, powerful, confident, and, to a certain degree, part of the Dothraki.
Eddard is the absolute paragon of everything the North and Winterfell stand for. The Starks have lived in Winterfell for generations, each of them following the traditions and values established by the First Men when they came to Westeros. Their solemnness, regard for courage, honor, and above all else, duty, have permeated every inch of the North. The Starks, as the Kings in the North, had been the ones who adhered to these traditions most. It becomes evident why in the very first chapter – after executing a deserter of the Night’s Watch, Ned explains to his youngest son of why he specifically had to do it: “The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die” (Martin 22). Ned, as a Stark, still adheres very closely to the traditions that have been present in Winterfell for centuries, including taking on the responsibility of carrying out justice, as he has been taught to feel responsible for the decisions he makes and the lives might have to take. His devotion to duty becomes even more apparent as the book and show progress. When Lady has to be put down on the king’s orders, Ned chooses to follow them and, again, carry out the sentence himself: “The words tasted of bile in his throat, but he forced them out. ‘If it must be done, I will do it.’ […] ‘She is of the north. She deserves better than a butcher’ (Martin 154). Thus, even though it’s not always easy, Eddard follows the traditions of Winterfell by performing his duty at all times.
However, that is not the only way that Ned is connected to Winterfell. Like most people of the North, he still follows the faith of the Old Gods of the Forest, instead of worshipping the Seven like most of Westeros. In fact, the only reason why there is a sept in Winterfell is because of Catelyn Stark, who was raised in Riverrun and taught to follow the standard faith. The godswood is where Ned goes to contemplate and concentrate, a place of peace and quiet. As Catelyn describes it: “The blood of the First Men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his [Ned’s] own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest” (Martin 30). Faith does not seem to play a large role in Eddard’s life, yet it is one of the most apparent and obvious connections to the North that separate him from the rest of the country and make him even more identifiable as the lord of Winterfell.
Finally, Ned also shares another quality common amongst the men of the North. He is extremely honorable, often to the point of seeming irrationality. For example, whenever Robert brings up the killing of Daenerys Targaryen, Ned staunchly opposes him, reasoning that she is very young and it would be dishonorable to kill a child who is half a world away and poses no immediate threat, while ignoring the arguments that if Daenerys were to come to Westeros, she would cause a war that would take thousands of lives. In matters of honor, Eddard is unyielding – near the end of the book, when Robert is dying and Ned has figured out the truth about his descendants, he refuses to place the illegitimate Joffrey on the throne, even if that would mean avoiding a civil war. He is confident in his opinion that Stannis is the only rightful king, even saying “Have you no shred of honor?” (Martin 473) to Littlefinger when he dares suggest otherwise. This stubbornness and determination are very reflective of his Winterfell upbringing. The only known time when Eddard Stark decided to choose the less honorable option, was when he realized his family was in danger. Because of the love for his children, and only because of that, Ned allowed himself to plead guilty to false charges and be named a traitor to the Realm. And even though it was dishonorable in the eyes of the public, for Ned, it might have been the most honorable thing he had done – sacrificing himself to protect his children from the harm of living in King’s Landing alone and being killed by the Lannisters. Therefore, because of his religious beliefs, immovable sense of honor, and utmost devotion to duty and tradition, Ned can certainly be considered a perfect example of what a man of Winterfell looks like.
While Eddard Stark is a personification of the Northern values, there’s a different type of connection to the locations that can be felt in Game of Thrones. A very evident one is the influence a particular place can have on a person, like in the case of Daenerys Targaryen, who was completely transformed by living in the Dothraki Sea. Daenerys never had a true place she could call home (except for the house with the red door, when she was too young to be affected by it), always travelling around and never latching on to a place. Because of that, the nomadic way of life that the Dothraki led did not come to her as a complete shock. Even though she was initially afraid of them, when Khal Drogo gifted her a horse, she was finally accepted into a community Daenerys could consider her own. Later on, when Jorah mentions that she is beginning to talk like a queen, Daenerys answers: “Not a queen, […] A khaleesi” (Martin 218). Finally finding a culture that accepted her and set her free of the expectations of being a Targaryen slowly but surely started to change Daenerys.
This acceptance and newfound power made her into a more confident person. Living in the shadow and constant fear of her brother had turned Daenerys into a meek, hesitant girl who had no purpose in life except for marrying Viserys when he reclaimed the Iron Throne. Yet in the khalasar, she began to feel respected. Dany learned their language and earned Drogo’s appreciation, the Dothraki obeyed her and recognized her position. All of this, combined with the sudden freedom from Viserys’ control, made Daenerys gain some self-esteem and recognize that she could be her own person, that she belonged in the Dothraki Sea. She even began to disagree with Viserys: “‘They are my people now,’ Dany said. ‘You should not call them savages, brother’” (Martin 359). And even though she was still trying to be nice to her brother, offering him gifts and trying to integrate him into the Dothraki culture, Daenerys realized that she didn’t have to fear him anymore – she was carrying the Khal’s child, and was therefore extremely closely protected and admired: “‘You are the one who forgets himself,’ Dany said to him. ‘Didn’t you learn anything that day in the grass? Leave me now, before I summon my khas to drag you out’ (Martin 365). Or, as put more effectively in the show: “I am the wife of the great khal and I carry his son inside me. The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have hands” (“Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”). Therefore, becoming part of the Dothraki and travelling with them in the Dothraki Sea had freed Daenerys from Viserys’ influence, made her into a more confident and powerful person, as well as finally gave her a community that she could feel welcomed and accepted in.
Ned Stark’s and Daenerys Targaryen’s experiences are different, yet also similar in some regards. While Eddard was born and raised in Winterfell and had an inborn grasp of the cultural traditions that were present there, Daenerys arrived in the Dothraki Sea when she was already 13 years old. Yet she still adapted to the culture and let it mold her into the person that she would later become. And while Ned was a reflection of what Winterfell and the North was, Daenerys knew she could never fully represent all the Dothraki values, but let the culture of the Dothraki Sea influence her anyway. However, both Ned and Dany were greatly impacted by their environments and both used the experiences and knowledge that they gained from living in those locations in other aspects of their lives. Therefore, it can be said with confidence that the places featured in Game of Thrones have a huge influence on their inhabitants and people associated with them, whether it be through shaping them as people, or by instilling the pre-existing values that they hold.
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