At first, I thought there was no possible way that Eddard could return. He was publically beheaded in front of a crowd of thousands of spectators and three POVs (Arya, Sansa, and Cersei.) But when I thought about it, the surprise factor of bringing Eddard back from such an undeniable death would be enough to justify his 'resurrection.' But how could he have survived? I ruled out a Thoros-like resurrection (I don't care how powerful the magic is; you can't reattach a head.) After re-reading the chapter, I began to get some idea. The man who confessed treason before the masses was not Eddard.
The chapter describing Eddard's death is not told from his perspective. The last we see of him is in the dungeon, talking to Varys. I had always thought it odd that Varys had not suspected that Joffrey would kill Eddard if Eddard confessed. I think that Varys knew what would happen, and thus switched Eddard with another man. If Eddard was presumed dead, then no one would search for him. If it was revealed that he escaped his cell, he would be searched for. Therefore the pseudo-death was clearly advantageous if Varys wanted to get Eddard away. But this hinges on Varys wanting Eddard safe. Why would he want that? One possible reason is that Varys respects Eddard as the honest, dutiful man he is ("You are an honest and honorable man, Lord Eddard. Ofttimes I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life."). A more likely explanation is that Varys wants to give Eddard to Daenerys to forever ingratiate him to her. If Daenerys holds Eddard, then she holds the North. We know that Varys is in touch with Illyrio, so this is not impossible.
But no doubt you are asking how Eddard could be replaced with another man when his daughters and much of the court would be in attendance. Theoretically, they should recognize him. If you examine the last Arya chapter closely, though, you see that "Eddard" was on a podium far above the level of the crowd as he confessed his crimes. As long as Varys paid for someone with a similar profile (medium build, brown hair, etc.) to replace him, no one would be able to notice the difference. His emaciated and pained state would increase the difficulty to visually identify him.Only three people were within close range of him during the confession: two gold cloaks, who supported him, and Ilyn Payne, who chopped off his head. The gold cloaks likely knew him only be hearsay (a man of medium build, brown hair, etc.), and thus would not know if it was the real Eddard. Ser Ilyn would immediately know it was not him, but I dout he would tell anyone. ;) Finally, Eddard's voice is described as "so thin and weak [Arya] could scarcely make him out." It would be impossible to identify him by voice. Thus, it is quite possible that Eddard Stark is alive.
Two final things I would like to note that further support my thesis. When Joffrey takes Sansa up to look at her father's head she thinks "It did not look like Lord Eddard..." Now, admittably, the face has been dipped in tar and rotted away. She also cannot recognize any features on any of the other heads. But still, I believe that GRRM was saying something in this quote besides the fact that the face was rotted. I believe this was a little hint that this head was not Eddard's. Also, in Clash, when Catelyn is shown "Eddard's" bones, she thinks, "Bones, this is not Ned, this is not the man I loved, the father of my children." Again, this can be explained by the simple fact that Eddard's remains look nothing like what he did in life. However, once again I believe that more is said by this than just the dissimilarity of corpse and man. If this was taken singly, it could simply be a coincidence, but the duality of it seems to indicate that the remains are not Eddard's.
Well, I have said all I had to say. I hope you don't think this idea is too crackpot; I certainly don't. I would like to humbly apologize if this has been discussed. I could not find it anywhere.
Edited by Reestlord, 29 May 2007 - 04:23 PM.