Westeros is overrun with dragons, zombies, and other supernatural forces, but House Stark remains the human heart of Game of Thrones. Unwaveringly noble, honorable to a fault, and utterly devoted to one another, the rulers of the North are the closest thing this show has to heroes. Viewers can cling to to the pure, sweet Starks in a sea of violence, betrayal, and disillusionment—that is, until another Stark gets killed.
But things are finally looking up for House Stark. As the Stark siblings (and secret Stark cousin/Targaryen heir Jon) look to the future, let’s recap the most satisfying triumphs and gut-punching tragedies of one of our favorite families.
10. Ned confronts Cersei
1.07 “You Win or You Die”
Eddard Stark was no man of science, but his careful investigation of Robert’s bastards unlocked the secret of Westerosi genetics. Armed with the knowledge that only two blonde parents could produce three blonde children, Ned laid it all out for Queen Cersei and gave her a chance to flee with her incestuous brood. Cersei, who is allergic to both kindness and mercy, seized the opportunity for a power grab and never looked back.
Stark levels: 4 out of 10 honorable deeds. By giving Cersei a heads-up, Ned was being kind...but ignoring the letter of the law. This was not the time for leniency.
Gamesmanship: 2 thrones. At least Ned craftily changed the wording in Robert’s last decree to exclude Joffrey and pass the crown to a rightful heir.
9. Theon takes Winterfell
2.06, "The Old Gods and the New"
Due to lack of preparedness and misplaced trust (a theme, with this family), the newly-crowned King Robb let his foster brother Theon steal his ancestral home. Oh, and everyone thought Bran and Rickon were killed. They weren’t, but since Theon murdered two other innocent children and passed them off as the Stark heirs, it’s not much of a win.
Stark levels: 0 out of 10 Starks in Winterfell. Robb’s tactical error lost him a great deal of respect and split his attention during the War of the Five Kings. Nothing good happened here.
Gamesmanship: 1 throne. Bran and Rickon escaped.
8. Robb executes Lord Karstark
3.05 “Kissed By Fire”
A better house motto for the Starks might be “Hoisted By Mine Own Petard.” Though Lord Karstark was grieving when he disobeyed orders, Robb came down with the maximum (and seemingly only) punishment: death. As he swung the sword, he lost a contingent of key Northern allies.
Stark levels: 7 out of 10 loyal bannermen. Robb passed the sentence, swung the sword, and later paid the price.
Gamesmanship: 1 throne. Robb did make a political calculation here; it was just wrong.
7. Frey Pie
6.10 “The Winds of Winter” and 7.1 “Dragonstone”
Payback’s a she-wolf. Arya celebrates her homecoming to Westeros in murderous high style. She first disguises herself as a serving wench and feeds Lord Walder Frey a pie filled with his own sons. Then she uses her faceless assassin skills to disguise herself as Lord Walder Frey and poison all his sons, at last avenging the Red Wedding. Though it’s what the late Lord Frey deserves, it’s a bittersweet moment: revenge can’t bring Arya’s family back to life, and it’s been unsettling to watch the carefree tomboy become a cold-blooded killer.
Stark levels: 5 out of 10 Northern memories. Arya is a badass now, but has she sacrificed too much of her humanity?
Gamesmanship: 6 thrones. It’s unclear whether wiping out House Frey offers anyone a tactical advantage, but it’s certain to boost morale among the Northerners.
6. TIE: Robb and Jon, Kings in the North
1.10 “Fire and Blood” and 6.10 “The Winds of Winter”
Robb, the King in the North
When Robb became King in the North, we were sweet summer children, full of hope. For a while, Robb Stark was an inspiration. He was valiant, his battlefield victories were glorious, and he represented a path to victory for the Starks. With Robb around, declaring Northern independence just felt right. Our first King in the North was gone too soon.
Stark levels: 9 out of 10 battle-hardened Northern warriors.
Gamesmanship: 6 thrones. It was a good idea, but Robb’s reign wasn’t meant to last.
Jon, the King in the North
Stannis Baratheon once offered to legitimize Jon Snow, but our bastard hero declined. Instead, he was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. But after his Watch brethren, you know, killed him (his watch is ended now!), the resurrected Snow had a change of heart. He returned to Winterfell, beat the Boltons, and accepted when the Lords of the North swore allegiance to a new King.
Stark levels: 7 out of 10 huge bearskin cloaks. Finally being a legitimized Stark has been a long time coming for our boy Jon.
Gamesmanship: 7 thrones. Jon ascended from an embittered bastard boy to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to King of his ancestral homeland. But he’s still vulnerable—when people find out he’s not Ned’s son, his kingship might not stick.
5. The Red Wedding
3.10 “The Rains of Castamere”
The less said about this one, the better.
Stark levels: 0 out of 10 direwolves. Not only did Robb trigger retaliation by reneging on his contract with the Frey family (very un-Stark), the King in the North left his wolf protector Grey Wind outside. In a shed.
Gamesmanship: Negative 10 thrones. The Red Wedding nuked the whole board.
4. Ned executing the Night’s Watch deserter
1.01 “Winter Is Coming”
Nobody this side of Ser Ilyn Payne really likes performing executions, but sometimes the path to Northern justice runs through a guy’s neck. Besides, as the old Stark saying goes, “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” Our introduction to Lord Eddard Stark was pitch-perfect: he solemnly performed a difficult duty and enjoyed family time right after.
Stark levels: 10 out of 10 reminders that winter is coming. The first Stark moment on the show is still one of the most Stark moments on the show.
Gamesmanship: No rating. Executing Night’s Watch deserters is just something you gotta do.
3. Re-hanging the Stark banners in Winterfell
6.09 “Battle of the Bastards”
After defeating Ramsay Bolton, Jon’s forces unfurled the Stark direwolf banners over Winterfell’s ramparts in perfect slow motion. It’s the first time the Stark flag had graced the castle since season two, and it felt good to restore a little bit of order to the world. Sansa and Jon, all grown up and bonded by trauma, took the chance to contemplate anew what it means to be a Stark.
Stark levels: 10 out of 10 direwolf sigils. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.
Gamesmanship: 8 thrones. Let’s hope it lasts.
2. “A Girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.”
6.08 “No One”
You can take a wolf out of the North, but you can never take the North out of the wolf. After a long journey through the Riverlands, several missed connections with her family members, and a short stint in assassin school, Arya decided it was time to graduate. Despite what Jaqen Hg’har told her, Arya always knew she could never be “No One,” not with Stark blood in her veins.
Stark levels: 10 out of 10 Needle jabs.
Gamesmanship: 9 thrones. Lone wolf no more: Arya can now do some serious damage on behalf of the Starks.
1. The Pack Survives
7.04 “The Spoils of War”
When Sansa met Jon at the Wall, it was nice to see the two of them reconnect. But when Bran and Arya returned to Winterfell, well, cue the waterworks. Finally, something unambiguously good happens! And when the Stark siblings came together to trick the trickster and give Petyr Baelish the coward’s death he so deserved, it was beautiful—or, as beautiful as an arterial spurt from a freshly severed neck can ever be.
Stark levels: 10 out of 10 unstoppable wolf packs.
Gamesmanship: 10 thrones. The Starks are always stronger together, and what’s left of this family is prepared to take on zombies, dragons, zombie dragons, and anything else coming their way.
Whatever does happen in the eighth and final season of GoT, it’s likely to feature even more moments for the Starks to shine. After all, winter is now officially here. It’s kinda their thing. Get caught up in advance of the premiere by revisiting your favorite Game of Thrones episodes on DIRECTV.