Features and Columns · TV

Why Game of Thrones is Casting a Young Ned Stark

By  · Published on August 10th, 2015


Game of Thrones season 6 is currently shooting across Europe. Is Kit Harington there? How long is his hair?

That doesn’t matter today. Well, not entirely. Today we’re talking not about Jon Snow, but of his father Ned Stark. If you’ll dig around your most painful Game of Thrones memories for a moment, you’ll remember that Ned Stark’s death was the moment when Thrones really took flight. In that moment, all bets were off. Anyone could (and would) be killed. It also set off The War of the Five Kings and threw the continent of Westeros into chaos. Ned was a big deal.

So you can imagine that when new reports are saying that Thrones is casting a 13-year old English actor by the name of Sebastian Croft as a younger Ned Stark, it’s something that should catch our attention. It raises questions. For instance, why does Game of Thrones need a young Ned Stark? I would like to take this week’s check-in with Westeros to try and provide some answers. But first, a spoiler warning.

The main reason why Game of Thrones is casting a young Ned (as well as other younger actors who could ultimately play characters such as Ned’s older brother Brandon, his sister Lyanna, his younger brother Benjen or his good friend Robert Baratheon) is because there are more flashbacks on the way. Season 5 opened with a flashback of Cersei Lannister receiving a prophecy that would explain a lot of the driving force behind her actions – actions that led to her fall from grace at the hands of the High Sparrow. It is believed that season 6 will do something similar, perhaps more often.

It all centers on the return of Bran Stark and the Three-Eyed Raven. They recently recast the latter with powerhouse actor Max von Sydow, giving traction to the assumption that Bran’s story will become very important in season 6. One particular element of Bran’s story that will lead to flashbacks is his ability to communicate with the Weirwood trees. This isn’t just about being able to see what’s going on elsewhere in Westeros. The Weirwood trees give Bran the ability to see visions forward and backward in time. Which makes him a perfect vessel for some Stark-themed flashback action.

The next question is more important: why?

Why go back to a young Ned Stark hanging out with his brothers? Why all the talk about his sister Lyanna? This is where things come full circle – right back to Jon Snow. Season 5 dropped a lot of little breadcrumbs about Lyanna Stark and her abduction by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. While it may have seemed extraneous at the time, all of this could be tied together with some flashbacks and some exposition about Jon Snow’s true parentage.

Because if Game of Thrones starts looking back through Ned Stark’s life, perhaps we’ll get to see the sequence at The Tower of Joy, the culmination of Lyanna’s abduction. This is the scene – one of Ned’s memories in the book – in which he finds his dying sister Lyanna and makes her a mysterious promise. This is believed by many book readers to be the moment when Lyanna, fresh off of giving birth to Jon – the product of Lyanna and Rhaegar’s affair and a child of both ice (Stark) and fire (Targaryen) – hands over the baby and asks Ned to keep him safe. The promise is believed to be Ned saying that he’ll claim Jon for his own and never tell anyone about his true parentage.

Of course, The Tower of Joy wouldn’t involve a 13-year old Ned Stark. He would be in his 20s. But the mere fact that Thrones is casting Ned at a different age opens up possibilities for more flashbacks. Season 6 could very well be the year in which we learn a lot more about what happened with Ned, Robert, Rhaegar and Lyanna. And it may happen quickly, especially if a certain Lord Commander is to be resurrected early in the season.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)