Inspired by this question (Is there any proof that Jaime Lannister is actually a good swordsman?), the OP mentions Ned in a way that he thinks Ned is a great swordsman. I don't recall anything from the books or show that indicate anything at all about his swordsmanship, he's usually talked about it terms of his honor, or skill as a commander. Aside from vague "we were great once, Ned" comments from Robert (and weren't we all great in our youth? :) ), what evidence do we have that Ned was notable as a swordsman?

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    He did have a sword of Valarian Steel, which would at least have given him an edge (no pun intended) on his opponents.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 15:30
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    @Paul "Asked if Ned ever used Ice in battle. George points out it was a greatsword, very large and cumbersome, a ceremonial sword for beheading people more than a fighting sword, so he suggests that it was "probably too heavy and clumsy" to use unless you're the Mountain."
    – Skooba
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 16:37
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    @Skooba That disappoints me greatly, if he actually said that. Greatswords were very much usable—and it’s kind of preposterous to suggest that someone would make a ceremonial sword out of Valyrian steel.
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 22:13
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    It's clear that Ned survived many dangerous battles (by the lights of either books or the show) and is not regarded by people who saw him as one who shrank from his fights or was in any way shirking his duty or choosing weak opponents, so he must be quite good. There's nothing to suggest he would beat the few most legendary fighters in the land - e.g. it seems like Jamie was reasonably confident he would be able to beat him one on one for example - but unless he had been somehow supernaturally lucky, he couldn't be just an average fighter either, or he'd never have survived the rebellion.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 23:54
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    @AdamDavis That whole time manipulation thing is Show malarkey. In the books, 3 eyed Raven clearly explains to Bran that while they can learn from the past and watch it, they can't change it. So Bran isn't gonna go back in time and slip into his father or someone else. In Code of Skingchangers, taking hold of a human is considered abomination anyways (But Bran doesn't know that and experiments with Hodor)
    – Aegon
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 6:51

5 Answers 5


Books Answer

No there is no such proof or indication about Ned's talents.

He was an aristocrat so obviously he received martial training but never quite shone like many other big names of Westeros.

As you noted, he is known for his honesty and honor, not for his skills as a fighter.

He must have been good enough however as he fought directly in many battles including the raid at Tower of Joy but there is no evidence suggesting that he was a great warrior.

Others like Jaime, Arthur Dayne, Barristan Selmy, Loras Tyrell, Garlan Tyrell, Oberyn Martell, Lyn Corbray, Qhorin Halfhand etc are all described as exceptionally gifted. Even Robert was counted as a great warrior once. The same has never been said about Ned.

And he is not alone in it, the same has never been said about Tywin Lannister, Jon Arryn or Hoster Tully either. Mace Tyrell is explicitly called out as an incompetent Commander. I am actually glad that ASOIAF doesn't follow the silly tropes that the Good Guy (there are no good guys in the series but that's how some people view Ned) is supposed to be a great warrior, oh and warning, TV Tropes link. Ned has other redeeming talents, he was great at administration and laws.

So in conclusion, there is neither any evidence, nor a claim in the first place that Eddard was among the biggest fighting stars of Westeros.

And I have found a Citadel entry on this same question. This is what GRRM is reported to have said himself:

GRRM has previously stated that Eddard was a competent swordsman. However, Brandon was the real swordsman in the family (SSC).

If George says he was a competent (and therefore not an exceptional one) swordsman, I guess that settles it. Good enough but not Excellent.

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    IIRC, Ned was able to at least briefly hold his own against Jaime Lannister. That suggests he was more than competent as a swordsman, although he might not have been on a level with Jaime and other famous fighters. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:33
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit When did that happen? Jaime and Eddard never fought except in the show heresy. Jaime simply walked away when he cornered eddard in streets of KL, at least in the books
    – Aegon
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:36
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    I think this answer is more authoritative, though I like both responses. The conversation with Barristan in the show could easily have been polite flattery.
    – Paul
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 22:28
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    Remember that Ned was part of the team of 7 that KILLED Arthur Dayne (and 2 other Kingsguard), so he must have been at least competent.
    – GreySage
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 22:57
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    @GreySage Right, so 7 on 3. He wasn't a chump, but he also wasn't a total rockstar.
    – Paul
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 0:58

In the episode, The Wolf and the Lion, following conversation took place:

BARRISTAN: Life is strange. Not so many years ago we fought as enemies at the Trident.

NED: I'm glad we never met on the field, Ser Barristan ... as is my wife. I don't think the widow's life would suit her.

BARRISTAN: (chuckles) You're too modest. I've seen you cut down a dozen great knights.

NED: My father once told me you were the best he'd ever seen. I never knew the man to be wrong about matters of combat.

I think this speaks to Ned's skill as a swordsman. Also, dozens, perhaps hundreds of Knights and thousands of soldiers died during Robert's rebellion - the definitely were not all great, as evidenced by their deaths and Ned Stark's survival.

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    +1 Worth noting, this conversation never happened in the books. This is a Show-only answer. I have also taken the liberty of adding source to your answer. You might also wanna note what RoyalCanadianBandit suggested earlier in comments. Despite age taking its toll, in the show, Ned was able to hold his own against Jaime Lannister and at one point seemed to have the upper hand which should be a testimony to his sword skills in showverse
    – Aegon
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 14:25
  • to add on to this, the one moment we actually see him fight (in the show, it takes place after the show outpaced the books) he actually won against the two targareans due to a backstab by a mortally wounded ally. Both the raven and Bran agree that the his targarean opponent is better than he is. We see this through a flashback and it seems he had lied about this to (at least) his sons, as bran seemed shocked by the fact that his father didn't win the fight honourably. So at minimum, we can assume his skill is self-inflated Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 14:01
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    @Seventhsage He didn't lie IIRC. He just never talked about it.
    – Aegon
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 7:36
  • @Seventhsage "Bran seemed shocked by the fact that his father didn't win the fight honourably". This doesn't suggest a lie in my mind - only that Eddard Stark had a reputation as an honourable man.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 9:18
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    @Seventhsage This wasn't "some targaryen". This was the legendary Ser Arthur Dayne, the best fighter ever.
    – madmada
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 14:32

In a roundabout way we know that Ned was not as good a swordsman as his brother Brandon was. From George himself:

[Correspondent] I was wondering if you would comment on Benjen Stark's fighting ability. Is he on a level with Brandon, or is he more like Ned?

[GRRM] Depends on the kind of fight you had in mind.

[GRRM] Brandon was the best of the Starks with sword in hand, and the best jouster as well. But Benjen has other skills that serve him well as a ranger... and Ned was likely the best battle commander.

So Spake Martin, About Benjen Stark, December 15, 2000

Now George was comparing the three brothers, and just because Brandon was better doesn't mean Ned was a slouch, Brandon could have been second to none, but I think that if Ned wasn't even the best in family, he would not have been considered an elite swordsman in Westeros. As shown, Ned's talents lay elsewhere, in command.


In the books, Ned's only a competent swordsman, maybe somewhat above average since he survived many important battles. His brother Brandon was a really good swordsman, though Ned was rumored to have killed Ser Arthur Dayne by himself. (The show clarifies that this isn't quite how it went down.)

In the show, Brandon's skills were never mentioned and Ned was shown to be a highly skilled swordsman who killed Ser Gerold Hightower pretty much by himself and lasted quite some time even against the fabled Ser Arthur Dayne. Even later, when he was past his prime, he was able to duel Ser Jaime Lannister fairly evenly for a while.


If you've actually gone into combat, actually faced and crossed men with your sword, and have come out of it with all your limbs intact - you're a pretty good swordsman. Better than most probably.

This is AFAIK the case for Eddard Stark in the books as well (Battle of the Bells at least, right?), and that's ignoring the initial advantage of being trained in sword-fighting, which is a privilege few people have - and itself makes you pretty decent in relative terms (unless you totally bungle it up like Robin Arryn in the show).

  • This doesn't follow. It's possible he never fought anyone even halfway competent
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 21:27
  • @Valorum: He fought multiple people who were trying to hack and slash him, and didn't get hack-and-slashed, at all. That's far above average. I'm saying that people have unrealistic standards.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 6, 2020 at 22:17

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