Novel Structure Breakdown: A Game of Thrones (Ned Stark)


Format: Novel

Released: 1996

Written By: George RR Martin

Run Time: 72 Chapters

Character: Eddard “Ned” Stark


A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Ned Stark deals with life in the North and deserters on the Wall (the imperfect situation) and faces the impending winter and demands from the king (oppressive opposition) as he lords over Winterfell (the initial goal). But when the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn, dies (the disturbance), the King visits and asserts that Ned relocate to the Capitol to replace his recently deceased friend (the dilemma) as Hand of the King (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: Ned worries over the growing number of deserters from the Night’s Watch guarding the Wall and the impending arrival of winter. He also learns King Robert is coming to visit, and must make preparations.

Initial Goal: Ned wants to be the Lord of Winterfell and prep for winter. Because like it or not, it’s coming.

Oppressive Opposition: Robert Baratheon is the only man in the Seven Kingdoms with the authority to oppress Ned’s goals, which is exactly what he does by asking Ned to relocate to King’s Landing and serve as the King’s hand. Ned wants to decline, but his wife begs him to investigate the death of their brother-in-law. In addition to this, deserters from the Night’s Watch are making his job difficult.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: While in the godswood, Ned and Catelyn Stark discuss deserters from the wall. She breaks the news about Jon Arryn’s death and the King’s impending visit.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: After 4 of 72 Chapters (5.5%) – King Robert Baratheon arrives at Winterfell to offer Ned the position of Hand of the King, as well as the opportunity for Ned’s daughter, Sansa, to marry the crown prince, Joffrey. Ned must choose whether he will stay in Winterfell as the Warden of the North, or travel to King’s Landing and become the Hand of the King.

The New Role: If Ned accepts the King’s offer, he will become the Hand of the King.

Act Run Time: : Chapter 1 through 6 (6 of 72 Chapters) (8.3%)


The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: After 6 of 72 Chapters (8.3%)

Ned learns the complexities of navigating the King’s court (unfamiliar situation) and faces the manipulations of people around the king (incidental opposition) as he travels to King’s Landing to serve as the Hand of the King and investigate the mysterious circumstances of his friend’s death (transitional goal). But when animosity between the children of Houses Stark and Lannister stirs up old disdain between the two families, culminating in the discovery the Lannister’s attempted to have Brandon Stark assassinated (the reality check), Ned vows to obtain proof of the Lannister’s treachery (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Ned is forced to play politics as he travels to the Capitol as the newly appointed Hand of the King. With Cersei as Queen, the royal court has become a treacherous place.

Transitional Goal: Ned wants to go to the Capitol, serve as the Hand of the King, and investigate his friend’s death.

Incidental Opposition: Back in Winterfell someone tries and fails to assassinate Ned’s comatose son, Bran, in his absence. The assassination attempt is later revealed to have been orchestrated by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in attempt to frame Tyrion Lannister.

A spiteful encounter between the Lannister/Baratheon and Stark children puts a strain on Ned’s relationship with the King.

When Ned arrives in King’s Landing, he learns of the attack on Bran from Catelyn, and that the assassin’s knife belonged to Tyrion Lannister.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check: On the road to the Capitol, Sansa Stark and Prince Joffrey go riding together. They encounter Sansa’s sister Arya play-fighting with a butcher’s boy. Joffrey begins tormenting the boy prompting Arya to hit Joffrey with a stick. When Joffrey threatens Arya with his sword, her direwolf attacks him, maiming his arm. With Joffrey distracted, Arya throws his sword in the river and runs off. Joffrey is angry with Arya but takes his anger out on Sansa.

It takes Ned’s men four days to find Arya. Cersei has Arya taken before the king. Arya and Joffrey tell King Robert conflicting stories of their encounter. When Sansa claims she doesn’t remember, Queen Cersei demands the death of a direwolf. With Arya’s wolf gone, Sansa’s direwolf is sentenced to death instead. Ned volunteers to do it himself, as opposed to letting the queen’s royal executioner do it. Apparently, being the Hand of the King isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: After 17 of 72 Chapters (23.6%) – Catelyn Stark arrives in King’s Landing by ship. At a secret meeting with Littlefinger and the royal Master of Whisperers, Varys, Catelyn is told the assassin’s knife belonged to Tyrion Lannister. Dun dun duhn.

When Ned arrives at King’s Landing, he is approached by Littlefinger who leads him to the brothel where Catelyn is hiding. Cat tells Ned about Tyrion’s dagger, and together they plot a strategy to find proof the Lannister’s killed Jon Arryn. Ned commits himself to remaining in King’s Landing in his New Role as the Hand of the King. His plan to reveal the treachery of the Lannisters to King Robert brings him into the Central Conflict.

Act Run Time: : Chapter 7 through 20 (14 of 72 Chapters) (19.4%)


The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Act Start Time: After 17 of 72 Chapters (23.6%)

Ned clashes with the Lannisters (the central conflict) and faces opposition from the King and the court (intentional opposition) as he attempts to expose and depose them (the false goal). But when Ned’s wife Catelyn captures Tyrion Lannister, prompting Jaime Lannister to take revenge against Ned (the turn), Ned’s comes to realize the true reason his friend Jon Arryn was killed: the king’s children were actually conceived by Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Ned confronts Cersei, reveals he knows the truth and gives her an ultimatum to leave King’s Landing (the moment of truth).

The Central Conflict: The honorable Starks face off with the considerably less honorable Lannisters.

False Goal: Power and Wealth (Superior Ideal) vs. Honor and Duty (Inferior Ideal)

Intentional Opposition: During a celebratory tournament, Ned has to convince the King not to participate in the melee.  When the tournament ends, Varys tells Ned that Robert was meant to die in the melee. Later, Ned and Robert argue over a plot to assassinate the fourteen-year-old Daenerys Targaryen across the Narrow Sea. When the small council sides against him, Ned resigns in protest.

Littlefinger takes Ned to the brothel Jon Arryn visited shortly before his death in hopes of finding answers. As they are leaving, Ned’s party is ambushed by Jaime Lannister. Jaime has Ned’s men killed in retribution for the abduction of his brother. Damn those Lannisters.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: Littlefinger leads Ned to the brothel Jon Arryn visited. There he talks to a young whore with a daughter who bears a striking resemblance to King Robert. On their way back to the Red Keep, Ned’s small party is ambushed by Jaime Lannister and a large party of Lannister men. Ned’s leg is broken in the ensuing scuffle, causing him to lose consciousness.

Ned dreams of the showdown at the Tower of Joy, which happened during Robert’s uprising. He awakens to an angry King Robert’s complaints about the abduction of Tyrion Lannister. The King demands Ned make peace with the Lannisters. He also reinstates Ned as Hand of the King and orders him to sit the Iron Throne while Robert goes on a hunting trip.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: After 43 of 72 Chapters (59.7%)

Ned tells Sansa he is sending her and Arya back to Winterfell. Sansa insists that she cannot leave because she is to marry Prince Joffrey, who is nothing like his father and will give her children with golden hair. This is an epiphany to Ned

Ned now knows the truth of how Jon Arryn died for. He also learns from Pycelle and Littlefinger that Lord Tywin Lannister is preparing for a war. Later, Ned meets with Cersei and tells her that he will tell Robert the truth when he returns, offering her the chance to flee and save her children. Cersei warns that Ned has made a mistake.

Act Run Time: : Chapter 21 through 45 (25 of 72 Chapters) (34.7%)


The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: : After 45 of 72 Chapters (62.4%)

Ned elicits the help of Littlefinger and the gold cloaks (the doomed plan) and goes against the wishes of all his advisors (self-inflicted opposition) to install the King’s brother, Stannis, as king (the penultimate goal). But when Ned is betrayed by Littlefinger, and taken prisoner (the lowpoint), Varys convinces him he can still save his daughter, Sansa, by swallowing his pride and confessing to treason (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: Ned plans to reveal the Lannister’s incestuous secret and install Stannis Baratheon to the throne.

Penultimate Goal: Ned attempts to expose the Lannisters and install Stannis as the king.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Ned learns King Robert has been mortally wounded by a boar while hunting. In his will, Robert declares Ned the Regent, giving him temporary control of the throne. Robert’s youngest brother, Renly, urges Ned to seize the royal children to secure his power, but Ned refuses. Instead, he writes a letter to Robert’s eldest brother, Stannis, proclaiming him the rightful heir. Because he needs manpower to install Stannis to the throne, Ned asks Littlefinger to arrange the support of the City Watch. This ultimately leads to Littlefinger’s betrayal and the failure of Ned’s plan. Fail.

When Ned convenes the small council to confirm himself as Protector of the Realm, they are interrupted by a summons from “King Joffrey”. When they arrive at the throne room, Queen Cersei destroys Robert’s will, and Robert’s “son” Joffrey declares himself king. Ned reveals Joffrey has no right to the Iron Throne, but when he calls for the City Watch to arrest Cersei and her children, the watchmen instead attack Ned’s men, revealing Littlefinger’s betrayal.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: Ned is imprisoned in the windowless, urine-scented, black cells. He thinks back to Cersei’s words, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” and realizes he has indeed lost. Ned broods over all that has transpired and the mistakes he has made, finally realizing the error in his ways. He is kept in the cells for days with no food and eventually resigns himself to his fate.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: After 57 of 72 Chapters (79.1%)

Act Run Time: : Chapter 46 through 58 (13 of 72 Chapters) (18.1%)


The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: : After 58 of 72 Chapters (80.5%)

Ned publicly confesses to treason (the longshot) and is ridiculed by the Lannisters and the lice ridden peasants of the Capitol (ultimate opposition) after sacrificing his honor to save his daughters (the ultimate goal). He realizes too late the irrelevance of his honor and is subsequently beheaded (all is lost).

The Longshot: Ned publicly takes responsibility for the plot to overthrow Joffrey, in hopes of saving his daughters and family.

Ultimate Goal: Ned wants to set aside his honor to save his innocent children.

Ultimate Opposition: Ned is publicly shamed by the common folk and beheaded by the Lannisters.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: Ned is taken to the town Sept and confesses (untruthfully) that he betrayed the trust of King Robert. Against the protest of his mother, the High Septon, and Sansa, Joffrey declares that as long as he is king, treason shall never go unpunished. He calls for one of his goons to bring him Ned’s head. Ned’s youngest daughter, Arya, watches as he is beheaded. Damn those Lannisters.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: Start Time: NA – NA for Ned, seeing as how he’s dead.

Act Run Time: : Chapter 59 through 65 (7 of 72 Chapters (9.7%)


Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: After 65 of 72 Chapters (90.2%)

With Ned executed for failing to sacrifice his honor for the good of the realm, Westeros is thrown into a bloody and far-reaching civil war.

The New Situation: This act is definitely NA for Ned, but the uproar caused by his death ignites a chain of events for the rest of the characters that will take George RR Martin a hundred years to finish writing

Act Run Time: : Chapter 66 through 72 (7 of 72 Chapters) (9.7%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

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