You know, Mako, all those years I spent living in the past, I never really thought about the future. Until now. I never did have very good timing.
"Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus in Gladiator was certainly an inspiration for my characterization of Joffrey, that had a big impact, the smirk. It’s interesting sometimes when an audience can empathize with a villain. But to get completely lost in it, it’s exciting just to be intrinsically evil and not to have a speck of good or humanity in their bones."- Jack Gleeson (x)
Martin’s willingness to deconstruct tropes has, I think, been greatly exaggerated by fans who haven’t actually read very many novels (or history books). What Martin really does is confuse us and disorient us so that we don’t expect what are actually totally conventional narrative maneuvers.
In the larger structure of ASOIAF as a whole, Ned’s death is not only non-subversive, it’s exactly what we should predict. Four of the major points-of-views are of his children. He is the wise father whose death will be the motivating factor for his children to grow up and avenge him. This is not an unusual type of character – Duke Leto from Dune springs to mind as the closest analogue, but they seem pretty innumerable to me. What Martin actually does is trick us into not realizing that Ned is fulfilling this standard trope by instead structuring AGOT as a murder mystery, with Ned as the detective. The detective doesn’t get killed! But that’s just a screen for what’s actually going on.
Martin accentuates his disorientation of us by hiding his intentions from us for as long as possible. So even after Ned’s coup fails and he is in prison, he holds out what seems like a very plausible hope that Ned will survive and be sent to the Wall. The thing is, that in terms of standard narrative expectations, of course Ned has to die. Martin disorients us by making us think the standard narrative device isn’t going to happen, and then makes it happen anyway, and in the cruelest and most painful way possible. But I don’t think Martin actually subverts many traditional narrative tropes at all."
The viewing stand had already begun to fill, the lords and ladies clutching their cloaks tight about them against the morning chill. Smallfolk were drifting toward the field as well, and hundreds of them already stood along the fence. So many come to see me die, thought Dunk bitterly, but he wronged them. A few steps farther on, a woman called out, “Good fortune to you.” An old man stepped up to take his hand and said, “May the gods give you strength, ser.” Then a begging brother in a tattered brown robe said a blessing on his sword, and a maid kissed his cheek. They are for me. “Why?” he asked Pate. “What am I to them?”
“A knight who remembered his vows,” the smith said.
—The Hedge Knight, George R.R. Martin
Every time I read this passage I love it a little more.
pre-asoiaf characters ♔ Duncan the Tall (192-259 AL)Dunk was a large man who grew up in Flea Bottom. Nearly seven feet tall, Dunk had a humble personality and thought of himself as thick-headed. Ser Arlan of Pennytree took Dunk as a squire and raised him from a youth and they travelled together. After Arlan died, Dunk decided to compete in the Ashford Tourney himself. On the way, he met a bald-headed boy named Egg, who begged to become his squire. They camped just outside of Ashford under an elm tree and watched a shooting star fall from the evening sky, which later became his personal arms. After Egg took the Iron Throne as King Aegon V, he asked Dunk to join the Kingsguard and he eventually became the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Aegon named his first son and heir Duncan. Ser Duncan escorted Maester Aemon and Brynden Rivers to the Wall on Aegon’s command, and presumably perished along with King Aegon and Prince Duncan in the Tragedy of Summerhall.