Before you draw your sword made of Valyrian steel and start arguing about how noble Ned Stark was, or how many worse parents there are in Westeros, let me say that I don't necessarily think he was one of the worst Game of Thrones characters, but as far as parents go, he was a pretty bad one. The first clue was his tendency to be too loyal and too noble. You know how, in job interviews, they'll ask you to name your weaknesses and you'll try to be all charming with answers like that? In Ned Stark's case, there is nothing cute about being so loyal to his bff the king, but not nearly loyal enough to his family.
Yeah, we get it — it's the freaking king. But it's also your family, Ned, so like, come on. First, Ned agrees to go with him to King's Landing at the drop of a hat (er, knee), and then still goes through with his travel plans even though his young son, Bran, is in a coma and his wife, Catelyn, is all but begging him to stay. But he leaves for King's Landing, thus doing his part in setting into motion a tidal wave of events that eventually effected everyone.
True, we all make bad judgment calls as parents, but Ned Stark made one after another after another until his decisions made him literally lose his head, leaving his oldest daughter under Joffrey's sociopath thumb and his other daughter to roam the kingdom. First as a slave boy, and then as a killer. Good job, Ned.
Meanwhile, Bran is paralyzed, Rickon is M.I.A., Robb is dead, and Jon is dead (but soon to be alive again?). One might argue that it is because of Ned Stark directly that all of his kids kind of lost their sh*t and lost each other. So here we have the reasons why Ned Stark might very well be the worst parent on Game of Thrones.
1. He Never Legitimized Jon
If Jon was a true bastard, as he grew up to believe, then Ned should have done anything he could to legitimize him. If Roose Bolton could legitimize his psychopath son Ramsay, and King Robert Baratheon had been Ned's BFF, then one would only assume that it should have been possible to take care of this at some point over the years.
2. He Should Have Never Left Winterfell/Bran
Ned left Winterfell for two reasons: First, because Robert requested it, and second, because he claimed that it was the only way he could find out if the Lannisters were indeed behind Bran's accident. (Spoiler alert: Of course they were.) But Catelyn practically begged Ned to stay with their family as Bran lay bedridden, and one might argue that Ned leaving Winterfell set into motion the events that led to pretty much everything that happened afterward.
3. He Agreed To The Sansa/Joffrey Marriage Arrangement
Again, it probably isn't easy to say no to the freaking king, but after hearing from Arya about some of Joffrey's cruelty (which was really only the beginning), Ned had at least an inkling about his true nature. But he never stepped in to stop it. At least, not until they were at King's Landing and Sansa was way too invested in the idea, and it was way too late.
4. He Should Have Left Arya With Catelyn
Had he left Arya at home, maybe Catelyn would have more inclined to stay there rather than travel to follow Ned. Who knows. But Arya going to King's Landing is what ultimately turned her into a hardened orphan, so it clearly wasn't the best call.
5. He Had No Common Sense
When he realized that all of Cersei's children were, in fact, products of incest with Jaime, the best thing he could have done was to keep his mouth shut until he could get his girls home safely and talk to Robert. Instead, he basically gloated to her that he knew the truth and ended up getting himself executed for treason. Not prudent, sir.
6. He Was Far Too Afraid Of Robert
Robert Baratheon may have been the king, but he was also an old friend of Ned's and had even been in love with Ned's sister. Not to mention them fighting alongside each other during Robert's Rebellion. I'd say that that gives Ned a little leeway where others may not have any, but he never really exercised it in any way that would've enabled him to be a better dad.
7. He Never Told Jon About His Mother
Shortly before Ned left for King's Landing, he promised to tell Jon about his mother when he returned next, igniting some hope in the bastard boy, no doubt. But since Ned had never said anything sooner, and made a promise he'd never be able to keep, Jon still doesn't know a damn thing about his long-dead mother.
8. He Executed A Man In Front Of Bran
That is, in front of a 10-year-old Bran, who was every bit of the small child you'd expect. Sure, Ned reasoned that it was something Bran would have to see and get used to as he grew older, but making the poor kid watch was just too much.
9. He Never Gave Jon A Choice About The Wall
It may have been partly Jon's choice to join the Night's Watch, but that was only because he had no other options. As a bastard, he was no lord and had no legitimate claim to anything, really, despite the widely known knowledge that Ned claimed him as his son. So he was stuck going to Castle Black, taking a chastity vow, and becoming a member of the Night's Watch.
10. He Thought Bran's Antics Were Cute
Instead of, you know, super dangerous. While Catelyn was warning Bran to knock off his Jackass stunts around Winterfell, Ned was laughing and almost egging him on in a way. And we see where that got Bran. (Being pushed from a window high in a tower, if you needed to relive that for a second.)
11. He Never Told Catelyn The Truth About Jon
Assuming that R+L=J is true, There is no reason why Ned shouldn't have trusted Catelyn to hold onto that secret with him. It would have saved Jon years of resentment from the only mother figure available.
12. Did He Even Know Rickon?
The youngest of the Stark brood, Rickon has understandably had the least screen time but as a result, the least interaction with Ned. In fact, we haven't even seen him for like two seasons in a row, but it's safe to say that we probably know the kid better than Ned did.
13. He Was Too Loyal To Westeros
Ned's main problem was that he was far too loyal to Westeros as a whole. Sure, as an official lord, it was his duty to be patriotic, but it was also his duty as a father and husband to put his family first. At least, like, once.
The tough thing about Ned Stark was that he tried to do what he thought was best for his family, but the ways he went about it all ended up just putting them all in danger and eventually, putting himself in harm's way too.