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Eddard Stark hadn't seen Robert Baratheon for nine years when Robert came to Winterfell. Catelyn hadn't seen her sister for five years when she met her at the Eyrie. I'm sure there are many other examples.

The main reason that I can think of is because traveling takes very long between these places. I recall that traveling from Winterfell to King's Landing took something like a month of traveling.

Even so, it bugs me for several reasons:

  • I was under the impression that Robert and Eddard were very good friends. Surely you wouldn't let nine years go to past, especially missing the birth of some of their children. The same could be said about seeing family members.

  • In the events in the books people travel all the time. Especially in the TV show, it seems that people are in one place in one scene and in another place leagues away in another scene, even for small errands or other less important things. Of course you can't know how much time has passed exactly between scenes or chapters in the book, but I have the feeling that people are much more willing to travel during the events of the books.

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When it takes months to travel and you have to pack up hundreds of guards and retainers to do it, the price becomes prohibitive. I only live 12 hours by car from my parents but that distance is already expensive enough to travel. Not to mention your kingdom is left unruled for months as well – Himarm Mar 22 at 12:41
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Also remember, most of the travel we see is during wars. Kings and Commanders have a need to move their armies as quickly as they can and will not have to worry about the "expense" as victory and life are greater than any monetary cost. – Skooba Mar 22 at 13:23
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If you're wondering how people remain friends over the course of nine years while not seeing each other at all: they write each other letters. The books show a system of messenger birds, and trade caravans probably also carry letters. It's unclear to me how widespread literacy is, but it seems as though it's common at least among the nobility. – zwol Mar 22 at 16:27
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@Himarm 12 hours? I set across the floor from some of my coworkers and I still never see them. Phones are plenty :). – David Grinberg Mar 22 at 17:19
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I haven't seen Bob in 40 years, Greg for maybe 30 years, other Bob for maybe 8 years, saw Jim last year for 1st time in maybe 25 years, maybe 9 years since seeing Tom. Each was a "best friend" over years-long stretches and each could show up here in the morning for a visit and we'd have a great time for at least a few days or longer. Not sure why long absences would be a concern. Seems normal to me. – user2338816 Mar 23 at 4:38
up vote 46 down vote accepted

From the Online Etymology Dictionary (emphasis mine)

Travel: late 14c., "to journey," from travailen (1300) "to make a journey," originally "to toil, labor" (see travail). The semantic development may have been via the notion of "go on a difficult journey," but it also may reflect the difficulty of any journey in the Middle Ages. Replaced Old English faran. Related: Traveled; traveling. Traveled (adj.) "having made journeys, experienced in travel" is from early 15c. Traveling salesman is attested from 1885.

Our concept of travel is very modern, and recent. Even in the 19th century when travel by train was possible, still most of the population didn't travel without good reason. The main reason for this was travelling was really expensive. Firstly you'd have to pay to get where you were going, then you'd have to pay for accommodation when you got there. Travel was only realistically possible for the rich.

Roll back to medieval times, adding to the expense you've danger. If you couldn't pay for armed guards you're at the mercy of everyone you meet on the road. You've to either pay for food and lodging or forage and camp as you go, which effectively halves your daily distance & doubles your travel time. In medieval times it was completely the norm for people to be born, live and die of old age without ever venturing more than 10 or so miles from their home.

Given, in the west, how quickly we can travel from one side of the country to the other, and even travelling to the other side of the world is possible, it does seem unreasonable that people didn't move or travel, but it's only because we're looking through our "affluent western reality filters". If you go to parts of the developing world, you'll find people who "don't travel" and would be slightly bemused at the idea.

Consider, 40 or 50 years ago, lots of people left my country (Ireland) to find work abroad. People who were leaving for America, Canada & Australia were often "Waked" (as in a funeral/celebration of their life). Yes it was a party, but the concept of "wake" was added because it was understood that those people would never return. While parents/siblings would receive letters, their wider family and acquaintances would never see or hear from them again, and it was like they'd "died".

We are incredibly lucky to live in this age of easy travel, it's only been around for 40 or so years. Roll back to the 18th century (introduction of rail travel) and before and try to imagine how difficult it was to get from Warsaw to London, through - for the time - heavily populated areas, over difficult, badly maintained roads, expensive coaches, dangerous sea crossings ... Contrast that with London to San Francisco, weeks long sea voyages, then wagon train across hostile country that could take months.

Also, the books give a better impression of distances travelled and the time spent on the roads and in the wilds. The travellers are knights or travel with guards, and are less worried than most about bandits. They are mostly landed gentry with money or have liege lords to give them travelling expenses.

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As an additional bit of information; Until the rail lines were joined across the US, it was quite literally more convenient to get on a ship in New York, sail around South America and dock in San Francisco than it would be to travel by ground. The north-south distance is about 20,000 kilometers, with probably several thousand more added because of the eastward direction also required. – Michael Richardson Mar 22 at 16:02
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Awesome answer! One should also remember that Ned and Robert were busy ruling their holdings. Going away on vacation for months at a time for no good reason isn't feasible. – System Down Mar 22 at 16:35
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Fun fact: the word "travel" comes from "travail", which literally means "toil or trouble". In other words, until recently "travel" was literally synonymous with pain and suffering - something an ordinary person would only do if you were basically a refugee. etymonline.com/index.php?term=travel – JosephStyons Mar 22 at 19:45
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@SystemDown more correctly, Robert was not busy ruling the kingdom. He was busy drinking and having fun – Schullz Mar 23 at 8:56
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@BinaryWorrier no i certainly don't mind. That piece of trivia always comes back into my mind whenever we are taking a long trip with the kids in the car :) – JosephStyons Mar 23 at 13:47

I agree with Binary Worriers point that considering the time in which GOT is set is was incredibly expensive to travel across Westeros. Bearing in mind, wherever Robert went he had to take a large entourage with him. This would have included knights, regular soldiers, maids, servants, maesters, bannermen and their soldiers, along with the Kings Guard, freeriders etc. To quote the ASOFAI

Poured through the gate...three hundred strong

Therefore to equip, feed and supply such an entourage is exceedingly expensive. Also you put pressure on your host to accommodate for such a large party, as they must provide accommodation and food for everyone. This also enforces considerable expense upon them, which they may or may not be able to afford.

Other points to consider

  1. With Ned in the North as Warden, it ensures Robert has someone who he can depend on to keep the kings peace. Westeros is well know for spontaneous rebellions, especially from the Iron Born, whom are located closer to Winterfell than King's Landing. Knowing Ned is gone for at least two months (a month to travel forth and then another to travel back) could provide them with an opportunity to rebel.
  2. Robert has Jon Arryn as his Hand in King's Landing, so he doesn't really need Ned with him, again this feeds from point 1 that its safer to have him in the North in case rebellion breaks out.
  3. This is a theory that has been circulated previously, Jon Snow is actually the son of Robert, and fearing Cersei's wrath it was secretly agreed between Ned and Robert that Ned would care for him as his own. To extend on this point, the other scenario is that Jon could be the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, thereby potentially putting him at risk of Robert. If these theories are true then it's logical having Ned and Jon out of the way prevents Jon from coming to harm at the hands of Cersei,Jaime or Robert. Jon Snow/Theories
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3. I think you misread that theory. The timeframe of the rebellion leaves no opportunity for Robert to have sired Jon with Ned's sister. The theory is that Rhaegar Targaryen is the father (possibly even legally wed). – Michael Richardson Mar 22 at 15:50
    
@Michael, I included this to add fuel to the fire of the theory. I had read somewhere previously that there was evidence that Jon could be Roberts and I've been hunting for it but to no avail. That said the link above does retain significance to this question since Ned could be avoiding Robert, believing that if he knew Jon was the son of Rhaegar and heir to the throne then he might kill him. – Scanner Mar 22 at 16:13
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The "Jon Snow is actually the son of Robert" is ludicrous WRT its reason "fearing Cersei's wrath": Robert had fathered dozens of bastards and no harm came to any of them until after his death. – BCdotWEB Mar 23 at 10:28
    
Can you provide any rationale to support your "ludicrous" statement? Of course Robert fathered countless bastards but none of them have the same prominence as Jon. To be potentially adopted as his own son by Ned if the theory is true, removes Jon from Cersei vengeance. Are you now going to tell me that Cersei would have willingly accepted Jon as Robert's son, first born and legitimate heir to the Iron Throne thereby negating her own children's claims? I don't think so. Cersei plays a cruel game of manipulation & always puts her children's interests first. – Scanner Mar 23 at 10:45

From Ned's perspective we can also add given his reluctance to becoming the King's Hand. Ned has little to no interest in travelling to King's Landing if there was no real imperative or urgent matter. He was really invested in his duties as warden of the north. Him being so invested in the socio-political affairs of the north was a continuation of a Stark tradition and it paid off with loyalty of the north when Robb started his rebellion.

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