Why Ned Stark wasn’t stupid or slow?

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The fans of the books and the show are usually judge Eddard Stark unfairly when they say the length of time it took him to grasp the truth of Joffrey’s parentage shows he’s stupid or unintelligent, are wrong. There, I said it.

These fans are actually betraying their own ignorance of genetics. Consider the following facts: Robert Baratheon has three children who all look like their mother…and so does Eddard Stark. Should we then presume that Catelyn Stark has been schtupping Edmure?

There, I got you! Let’s go to the details.

Below, you can see a hypothetical Punnett square looking at Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, and their first four children together. For the sake of argument, I’m assuming that Eddard Stark has one recessive red hair gene and one dominant brown haired gene (genotype Rr), while we know that Catelyn’s red hair mean she’s a double recessive (rr). So what are the odds that Catelyn Stark bore three children with the “Tully look” and only one with the “look of the North,” given that there’s a 50/50 shot that any one child will get a recessive r from Eddard?

 

catelyn-stark-rr
Punnett Square of Ned & Catelyn Stark

It’s still 50/50, no matter how many times Catelyn has a child; each child is an independent event with the same genetic odds. So while Catelyn finds the coloration of her sons in comparison to Ned’s alleged bastard an aggravation, she really has no reason to complain.

The same situation should apply to Ned’s thought process about Cersei’s children – he has no reason to suspect that Cersei is cuckolding the king, and his own experience teaches him that multiple children can favor their mothers.

Here, fans are committing the arch-sin of historians – presentism. Because we know that Cersei is sleeping with her brother, we assume that it should be obvious to everyone else, but we have access to information and viewpoints that no one else, especially Ned has access to.

This is why Eddard’s gradual process of tracking down all of Robert Baratheon’s heirs is actually a necessary investigative step – if Robert Baratheon has the genotype (Bb) with a recessive blond gene, than it’s not statistically improbable for him to have three blond children. And the fact that say, Gendry, looks like his father but had a mother with blond hair isn’t statistically determinative on its own, just another 50/50 shot. It’s only when Ned has tracked down multiple bastards with mothers with varying genotypes who all resemble their father, and when he confirms in the book that the Baratheon lineage has no examples of recessives (which is genetically improbable, but that’s a topic for a different post), that he has circumstantial evidence that Cersei has been unfaithful – and even then, he has no proof that Cersei was sleeping with her brother as opposed to any other blond man in Westeros.

Given that his accusation would be not merely one of gross treason on Cersei’s part but also of an abomination in the eyes of the Gods, and that Ned Stark will have to prove his accusations at trial, the methodical nature of his investigation is actually a point in his favor.

So fans, this time you’re wrong.


To read the first chapter of my science-fiction “The Lost and The Damned”, click here (read it, it’s awesome, or so does I suppose).

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