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I have a group of friends that all have read the books (not so solid on the show though), and one of them brought up that Ned (Eddard) Stark was one of the best swordsmen in Westeros.

At the time, he couldn't remember what the evidence to back this claim up was, just that he had "read it on the internet somewhere". Though Ned holds a special place in my heart, and I would love to believe that this is true, is there any real evidence in the books/show that support the claim of his swordsmanship?

Note: after him saying this and with it in mind, you can see that in the episode of "Game of Thrones" where the Lannisters apprehend Ned that he holds his own against Jaime for a short time before being stabbed, and during which time Jaime had a look on his face that seemed to acknowledge his opponents skill and enjoy the challenge. This, of course, it not enough to support/debunk the claim, but I thought it an interesting place to start.

marked as duplicate by TheLethalCarrot game-of-thrones Mar 29 '18 at 8:17

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    It would probably be Jamie in hand-to-hand but Ned if they were commanding armies. – Daft May 29 '15 at 14:39
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    Only Howland Reed can reveal truth. Hope he makes it in the upcoming books and tells in details what really happened during Showdown at the Tower of Joy – Nika G. May 29 '15 at 15:30
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    In real life, things aren't like Dragonball where everyone has a specific powerlevel and that determines who wins. Most fights in real life have a high degree of randomness, on one day one guy will win and on the next the other. – Mark Rogers May 29 '15 at 15:50
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    @yondaime008: "Any boy whore with a sword could beat three Meryn Trants!" – user46271 May 31 '15 at 17:03
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    @USFBS Hi, This question was closed as dupe of that question because they have the same answer (See your accepted answer) and that question is broader so it can be used to close all future Ned Vs X type questions. That fact that it is older is irrelevant the way I see it is. Dupes aren't a bad thing, this is not done as an insult to you. This is done purely just to make sure that the Broader question remains valid for the future dupes. – Aegon Mar 30 '18 at 11:32
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George R. R. Martin is on the record calling Ned merely a "competent" swordsman and Jaime Lannister one of the best swordsman in the history of Westeros.

Of note are a couple of details which are of relevance to the series, such as Martin's stipulation that Jaime Lannister is one of the greatest swordsmen in the history of the Seven Kingdoms and his indicating yet again that the Ned Stark of the novels isn't really a great warrior, that his talents lie elsewhere.

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    Well damn. I come up with a long, in depth answer and it gets swatted down by George RR. Oh well, at least we have a definitive answer now. – USFBS Jun 3 '15 at 12:08
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Disclaimer: So, after asking this question, I felt that I should also conduct my own research into the claim of Eddard Stark's swordsmanship. I used various sources, and also built off from some of the ideas in some of the answers. I did not, however, feel that any answer wholly brought together all of the pieces that I will present here.

Show Evidence

As noted in the question and the answer by The Honorable Ned Stark, in Season 1 of HBO's "Game of Thrones", we see in episode 5 ("The Wolf and the Lion") the interaction between Ned and Jaime is intended to lead the viewer to get the sense that Ned was able to hold his own, and, as seen in the clip below, Jaime seems to enjoy the challenge.

This is, of course, supported by the script from the first episode of the show in the quote (page 35) that was included in the answer from System Down

He smiles down at Ned. Jaime is taller and broader in the shoulders. They are considered two of the greatest warriors in the Seven Kingdoms, and there can be little doubt that right now each man wonders who would win a fight.

Therefore, you can see that, to some extent, there is evidence from the show that Ned know his way around with a sword fairly well.


Book Evidence

To look a the evidence straight from the book, though, is a different story. In this area, I made two lists: Evidence to support the claim and evidence to hinder the claim.

Supporting Evidence

  • Taking the Iron Throne: After the sacking of King's Landing, Ned enters the throne room to find Jaime Lannister sitting upon the Iron Throne. When Ned confronted him about it, there was hesitation, a moment where Jaime considered making it a Lannister rule instead of Baratheon. This, of course, never came to pass, and Jaime stepped down, allowing Robert to claim the throne. We can see that, though Jaime was young, brazen and ready to pull his sword on whomever he saw fit to, he did not want to challenge Ned for the throne. An arguement could be made that he never wanted the throne (see Why didn't Jaime Lannister succeed Aerys Targaryen in place of Robert Baratheon?), but with the power plays that we see the Lannisters doing now, it would be safe to say that claiming in the name of the Lannisters was within the realm of possibilities (see Lord Roland Crakehall's words to Jaime).
  • Robert Baratheon: Robert was one of the strongest men in all of Westeros (until he became king). It is known that Ned and Robert both served as wards of Lord Jon Arryn and spent much of their younger years learning and training together. Having a man like Robert as a sparring buddy would have readily prepared Ned for fights with stronger and more brazen opponents, as well as the ability to have both been trained by a Master-at-Arms. We know that Robert was a fearsome fighter, so for Ned to have held his own he would have had to at least be moderately skilled.
  • Tower of Joy: This is perhaps the only place that we hear of Ned Stark actually getting into a real, nitty-gritty battle of skill with other top swordsman (Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower, and Oswell Whent). Now, as the books state, Ned Stark rode to the tower of Joy to rescue his sister, Lyanna Stark, with six other men (Howland Reed, Martyn Cassel, Theo Wull, Mark Ryswell, Ethan Glover, and Willam Dustin) in his support. It is known that the only two men to survive this conflict were Howland Reed and Ned Stark. Now, this is where things can get a little fuzzy. We never actually get to see what happened during that fight, but we do know a few things about what happened afterwards. We do know that Ned did return Ser Arthur's sword, Dawn, to Starfall, the home of House Dayne. This point is critical. We also know that Ned returned the horse of Lord Dustin to his red stallion to Barrowton. These two actions do not, alone tell us anything. But together, they can make a statement. We do know that Ned was a very honorable man, and that he would feel compelled by his honor to return a token of a man's death if he were to be the one responsible. We can see that in his returning of Lord Dustin's stallion and we can see it in the return of Dawn. That, then, can lead us to believe there is a strong possibility that Ned was the one to kill the legendary Arthur Dayne.

Hindering Evidence

  • Tower of Joy: This piece made both lists, as though it is likely that Ned killed Arthur Dayne, he also told Bran that he owed his life to Howland Reed. This could mean that Ned wasn't able to handle fighting Dayne on his own or that Reed blocked an attack from someone that would have otherwise been the end of Ned. We do not know for sure, perhaps the next book will shed some light on the matter.

  • Lack of Swordplay: This is the largest and most glaring hindrance to the claim of Ned having superior swordsmanship. In the books, we never actually have any instances where Ned is in a fight. He doesn't participate in tournies, he does not have a huge reputation for his skill (as with Jaime or Barristan Semly) and he his humble about what he can do.

  • He can't show us: He has no other opportunities to display his prowess (y'all know why).

Conclusion

So what we have is a few pieces to the puzzle. Bread crumbs left by the writers of the show and George RR Martin towards whether or not this has any sort of merit. George did say that

He [Howland Reed] will appear eventually (source)

Only then will we really know for sure.

(Note: Also was able to get my friend to find the webpage he found the info on originally)

  • The video is unavailable :( – Gallifreyan Aug 3 '17 at 17:05
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TL;DR - Only in the script for the pilot episode.

The only reference to Eddard Stark being an exceptional swordsman comes from the script to the pilot episode of Game of Thrones, which was released prior to airing (probably to drum up excitement). The script described the first meeting (in the series) between Jaime and Ned:

He smiles down at Ned. Jaime is taller and broader in the shoulders. They are considered two of the greatest warriors in the Seven Kingdoms, and there can be little doubt that right now each man wonders who would win a fight.

This is never alluded to in the books themselves, nor spoken of in the series. Some fans have retroactively used this to make Ned a swordsman in par with Jaime Lannister, but the books themselves have little to no evidence to back this claim. While Ned was indeed a great military commander who helped take down the Targaryen dynasty, there are no records of his performance in single combat. His disdain for tournies is well known, and there are only two incidents where we see him draw his sword for combat:

  • The Tower of Joy. Nothing is known about the actual battle, but we do know that Ned had six other men with him and they fought three of the Kingsguard (including the legendary Ser Arthur Dayne). All were killed except for Ned and his friend Howland Reed, whom Ned says saved his life. The lack of detail for this battle means we don't know how well Ned fought.

  • The Lannister ambush outside of the brothel. While in the series Ned and Jaime sparred for a while, in the books Ned's horse slips and falls on top of him (knocking him out) before he could do anything. So we never even saw him swing Ice in anger.

  • Clearly your "TL;DR" doesn't refer to A Song of Ice and Fire. ;) – user46249 Jun 1 '15 at 18:48
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    @CalumGilhooley ASOIAF is NF;CR (not finished, can't read) :D – System Down Jun 1 '15 at 18:50
  • Ugh, I'm pretty sure that he didn't swing Ice in the TV show. He used a regular long sword, and Ice is a two handed greatsword. Jaime would have beaten him in seconds against such a heavy weapon. – user46271 Jun 1 '15 at 20:47
  • That's a good bit of information. I wasn't aware that they released the script, least of all it mentioning anyone's skill in battle. I think that that helps to fill in more of the picture for me. – USFBS Jun 2 '15 at 12:43
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I don't know if it's considered canon (I've glimpsed through the books, which I haven't really read, and found no mention of this), but in the TV show (1x05, The Wolf and the Lion), Ser Barristan tells Ned that he's not a bad fighter as well and that Ned had cut a dozen good knights.

In the same episode Ned seems to somewhat hold his own against Jaime Lannister as well, until he is speared through the leg. Of course this doesn't mean too much, but a good swordsman, in a one on one combat will usually try to keep the fight short. Considering the fact that their duel wasn't very short, I'd say that Ned held his own.

  • And you'd know of course ;) – dwjohnston Jun 2 '15 at 22:23
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Ned Stark is one of the only two survivors of the fight at the Tower of Joy, where Sir Arthur Dayne (the most renowned swordman of the moment) died.

The fact that he was one of the fighters attacking the tower is not enough to test his skill, as he could have insisted in join the attackers entitled to free his sister, however, surviving the fight, probably one of the most deadliest skirmishes of the war, it is.

  • Howland Reed saved Ned from Arthur Dayne. This doesn't mean Ned was a bad swordsman. As surviving the event at Tower of Joy doesn't mean Ned's exceptional swordsman. – Nika G. Jun 1 '15 at 13:24
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Experientia magistra stultorum.

Accepting that we're talking about Game of Thrones, and not ASOIAF, it may be hinted in the show that raw skill is only one dimension of a great sword fighter. Surrounding the Ned/Jaime showdown, there are a few dialogue exchanges of which I took note:

  • Jaime says he looks forward to facing Ned in a tournament, as the competition has become a bit "stale" (S.1 E.1) Ned replies "I don't fight in tournaments because when I fight a man for real, I don't want him to know what I can do."
  • Ned insinuates he wouldn't stand a chance against Ser Barristan Selmy, widely considered one of the greatest swordsmen in the Realm (S.1 E.5) Selmy replies "You're too modest. I've seen you cut down a dozen great knights."
  • Earlier, Jaime compliments Selmy on his dispatching of Simon Toyne, leader of the Kingswood Brotherhood, while Jaime was still just a squire (S.1 E.3) Recounting their duel, Selmy only says "Good fighter, Toyne. But he lacked stamina."
  • When held in the black cells and acknowledging his grim fate to Varys (S.1 E.9) Ned asks "You think my life is some precious thing to me?"

Whereas Jaime was given exceptional training and cultivated among knights such as Selmy and Ser Arthur Dayne, he had yet to experience the rigors of a true conflict, his closest experience coming from an entanglement with the Kingswood Brotherhood while he was still a squire; Selmy and Dayne did most of the real fighting.

Ned, on the other hand, was much more seasoned in combat, having taken the field in both Robert's Rebellion and the Greyjoy Rebellion. Selmy personally saw him "cut down a dozen great knights", and that doesn't include Ser Gerold Hightower at the Tower of Joy (S.6 E.3) as Selmy was not present for that fight; while ultimately bested by Dayne, whom Ned considered the greatest swordsman he'd ever seen, Ned did survive the one-on-one onslaught long enough for help to arrive.

Strictly on personality, you could fairly judge Jaime as cocky, disdainful, and dismissive, whereas Ned is subdued, steadfast, and humble. Jaime acts as though he has something to prove, and Ned does not.

So, finally, breaking down their fight (S.1 E.5).

  • Ned makes the first strike and the second, anticipating Jaime's forward thrust well enough to get a fist on his shoulder, shoving Jaime in the path of his momentum. If Ned were carrying a dirk, Jaime would be dead.
  • Jaime overpowers Ned with the following strikes, and when they turn, Ned anticipates a feint and nearly slashes Jaime's face. Jaime is impressed. Ned remains focused.
  • Ned remains defensive on Jaime's following barrage; when the fighting gets too close, Ned waits for an opening to cut and chop high. Jaime attacks in response, but Ned stands his ground, counterattacking low to back Jaime off until they finally cross swords again.
  • Jaime attempts to push off, but Ned doesn't budge. A genuinely confounded look washes over Jaime's face, while Ned remains unphased.
  • Ned is the first to disengage, and he is stabbed in the thigh.

Now, what we see is simply a very evenly matched fight. In terms of context, however, Ned has regularly fought stiffer competition in life-or-death situations and does not concern himself with whether he lives or dies. Jaime has fought safely in the company of the Kingsguard or in competitions and believes himself, rightly or wrongly, to be the best swordsman in the Realm. However, he has yet to truly see his life endangered.

I would argue that Ned may be the less skilled swordsman in the truest sense, but what he lacks in skill he makes up for with experience. He's looked death in the face by fighting more skilled swordsmen and surviving, learning to embrace his limitations by focusing on responsible defensive technique, stamina, and picking his spots. In this fight, Jaime confronts the possibility of his own mortality for the first time. In this moment, Jaime's façade melts, and Ned watches it happen.

Now, does that automatically translate to a Stark victory? No. But if Jaime begins to doubt his skill halfway through a fight, Ned has put the odds in his favor. Experience is the teacher of fools.

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    Hello and welcome to SFF! This has the beginnings of a decent answer but could be improved by a few things, most notably adding the sources i.e. episodes where the quotes are from. You also seem to be confusing experienced swordsman with a brilliant one who is cocky at times. If you could edit your answer to address this it would be better. – TheLethalCarrot Mar 29 '18 at 8:16
  • Hiya! Sources added. But in what way am I 'confusing' an experienced swordsman with a brilliant cocky one? I'm outlining a contrast between skill, by which I mean a mastery of technical ability, with experience, by which I mean a practical use of said ability. The implication is that technical skill alone, even when possessed by a 'brilliant' swordsman, is not necessarily a match for the practicalities gleaned by experience in combat. – Bryan Mar 29 '18 at 8:49
  • To me, with little experience myself, a 1 on 1 duel is in no way similar to a full scale battle. So yes Ned may have experience in warfare but in a technical duel he does not. In the little experience he did have he was outmatched pretty easily and only saved by the skin of his teeth. – TheLethalCarrot Mar 29 '18 at 9:13
  • I agree a 1-on-1 duel isn't similar to a full scale battle. By that same stripe, a tourney isn't similar to a 1-on-1 duel. Jaime has no duel experience beyond the Kingswood Brotherhood. Coming into his own during peacetime, most of his swordfighting experience was gleaned through tourneys. True, Ned has fought in wars with few documented duels to his credit, but he has regularly faced death, and thus his martial skill is from practical experience. Jaime's is theoretical, and against "stale" competition. I'm not saying Ned is better. I'm saying he's had to fight for his life. Has Jaime? – Bryan Mar 29 '18 at 9:51
  • Well your answer comes from show land and not books so in that regard he's had little life threatening experience that we know of. Ned's experience though is from battles and likely against levies and less than competent swordsman whereas he has been trained from birth. I think my gripe with your answer is that you're drawing too much of a conclusion from one small event. It is a good answer though I'm just more nitpicking because I think it could be better :) – TheLethalCarrot Mar 29 '18 at 9:54
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No. Ned was certainly a good swordsman and fighter in general. But he was not on Jaime's level (remember, Ser Barristan one of the best Knights ever says that he is en exceptional swordsman that is born maybe once every generation). We also se during their fight that he was toying with him and later punches (if my memory serves) the guard who ends his fun. A starved out Jaime who has had no practice and exerciser for years and is in chains almost defeats Brienne who comments that this was the hardest fight of her life.

Who later kills the Hound or so it is believed for a time

So no, Ned might be the better battle commander but not a better swordsman. Age also doesn't help since he is past his physical prime.

The only way for Ned to win would have been if they made a mistake and either shot a Boromir vs Jaime fight or a Tony Stark in armor v Jaime fight.

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