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Posts Tagged ‘Ned Stark’

First of all, Happy President’s Day!

Now, to business…

Part 1 was more in-depth than this post is going to be — this time I just want to look at some basic elements of leadership that distinguish good leaders from bad, as exemplified by Ned Stark and Joffrey Baratheon.

Again, please be aware that there are some spoilers here.

JoffreyWe covered bad kingship in our look at Joffrey’s father (though not his biological father, as we soon learn), Robert.  But unlike Robert, whose bad kingship is characterized more by a sort of laziness, Joffrey is a full-on tyrant whose mode of government is cold, deliberate, calculated force.

He, too, is a figure of the entrenched ego, but carried farther in the direction of its extreme.

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Ned Stark stands out as a good leader.  He is not perfect, by any means, but the way he exercises authority is exemplary and praiseworthy.  That he is not dominated by his own ego is suggested to me by the dungeon scene, which occurs after Ned is arrested on a false accusation of treason.

Rather than betray his honor, Ned is ready to die a warrior’s death.  True, he does end up acknowledging Joffrey’s kingship in order to save his family; whether or not this was the right decision can be debated, but his interest is clearly other-oriented, not self-oriented.

In any case, Ned has no interest in betraying his conscience to save his life.  He explains to Varys the eunuch that a soldier “knows how to die.”

Christians are called to die daily to selfishness by imitating this kind of detachment:

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it (Luke 17:33).

That’s precisely why Joffrey’s rule is one of terror and force: It’s all about him.  From his perspective, his ascent to the throne is not about service to the Seven Kingdoms, the protection of his subjects, or any transcendent principle.  It’s about his own exaltation, his own glory.

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Concern for the greater good on Ned’s part is further evidenced by the quality of mercy.  Ned is just, but he is no stranger to clemency.  In this he shows the depth of his magnanimity.  A true leader will be concerned about the common good, not his own aggrandizement.

And sometimes, the best way to serve the common good and to restore order is to reach out to perpetrators with the opportunity for redemption.

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In his great book “Go in Peace,” Pope John Paul II had this to say about the relationship between mercy and societal well-being:

Forgiveness neither eliminates nor lessens the need for the reparation that justice requires, but seeks to reintegrate individuals and groups into society, and countries into the community of nations.  No punishment should suppress the inalienable dignity of those who have committed evil.  The door to repentance and rehabilitation must always remain open.

Joffrey

The ego, however, cannot take such chances.  As far as it’s concerned, the only good enemy is a dead enemy.

Meanwhile, the good leader will give his neck to his enemy rather than betray his innate sense of what is right.  So we can say that even in death, Ned Stark triumphs over Joffrey Baratheon.

Image of Pope John Paul II from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search.

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Here is the second in a series of posts on HBO’s fantasy/adventure series “Game of Thrones” (third, if you count the introductory post, which I don’t).  Anyone interested in reading the first post can access it here: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/kingship-and-power-in-game-of-thrones-robert-baratheon/

Please note that there are some spoilers here.

This installment will focus on the contrast in leadership between Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), the main character of Season 1, and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), the young usurper of the High King’s throne.

In contrast to Robert Baratheon with his lazy egotism, Ned Stark shows us the qualities of a good king (even though he himself is only a lord).

Ned
In the show’s first episode, it falls to Ned to execute a criminal.  We can see that he does not enjoy this task, but he does it without wavering.

We might be forgiven for wondering, however, why he did not assign the task to an executioner.  Immediately after the execution, he explains to his young son, Bran, that a man must never pass any sentence unless he is willing to carry that sentence out himself.

joffrey-baratheon-1024Contrast him with Joffrey, who orders a minstrel’s tongue to be torn out after he sings a comedic song in which Joffrey’s mother, Queen Cersei, comes across badly.  Does Joffrey do the honors himself?  Nope.  He has his soldiers do it.

Ned's Execution

And then of course there is the scene in which he has Ned executed.  Joffrey gives the order, but the executioner does the honors.

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It’s possible to interpret these instances in terms of regal propriety, but I think any such delusions are dispelled when we see Joffrey with his new queen, 13-year-old Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).  Sansa makes the mistake of offending him at one point, and he remarks that it would be improper for a king to strike his queen.

So he turns to the guard accompanying them, and the guard promptly strikes Sansa on Joffrey’s behalf.

Obviously, a lot more could be said about both Ned and Joffrey.  But I wanted to start with this detail because it is particularly important when it comes to authority.  What makes the difference between a good leader and a bad leader here is the willingness to assume the greatest burdens of responsibility oneself.

It is, no doubt, hard to give an order of execution, but it is even harder to be the executioner.  I think this is just one instance of how Ned, as a good leader, ensures that the worst burdens of government fall on him rather than on his subordinates.  Joffrey, meanwhile, dispenses sentences of capital punishment very lightly (which I think is another mark of bad kingship — I’ll revisit that in Part 2), but apparently has no courage to take the burden of delivery upon himself.*

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Ned’s model of kingship reflects the kingship of Christ, who went even further than carrying out the sentence due to mankind’s sins by actually submitting Himself to that sentence.  As the “Lamb of God,” He takes the sins of the world on Himself and becomes the living sacrifice, the offerer and the victim…the Priest of the human race.

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Joffrey’s brand of authority, on the other hand, more closely resembles Satan’s.  Like Joffrey, Satan uses others to execute his enemies — he uses the authorities in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman soldiers to kill Jesus.

“Rulers” such as Joffrey and Satan, for all their pomp and show of muscle, are cowards at heart.  The magnanimity of one like Ned Stark shows us what a true leader looks like.

*To be fair, I must restate that I have only seen the first season.

Images of “Christ Carrying the Cross” by El Greco and “Depiction of Satan” by Gustave Doré from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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