Ned has already noticed that Robert has changed from the man he used to know, and their interactions on the kingsroad highlight a few of the differences between them. Robert’s decadence and lax morality highlight Ned’s serious demeanor and strict adherence to principles like loyalty and justice. Where Robert is quick to laugh and enjoy life’s pleasures, Ned is stern and reserved. Perhaps more importantly, the two men hold drastically different concepts of justice. Robert seems to be more lenient with regard to Jorah’s desire to return to Westeros, but Ned’s commitment to duty and honor will not let him forgive the man. Yet Ned can forgive the Targaryen children of their family’s crimes, while Robert would rather pursue and kill the last of his enemies’ family. In other words, Robert judges individuals by the actions of their broader house and family, and so a Mormont deserves forgiveness for a crime and a Targaryen deserves death even if he or she has done nothing wrong. Ned judges individuals by their own actions. Though Robert and Ned were raised together, the two men act as foils for one another.
Tyrion’s observation about people’s aversion to facing difficult truths applies beyond just Jon Snow, relating in fact to many of the major characters in the book. Robert does not want to admit that Ned has valid reasons for mistrusting the Lannisters, and so he chooses not to see the clear signs pointing to their treachery. Ned, meanwhile, has difficulty admitting that Robert has become an unjust ruler, even though it is clear to him. Tyrion, on the other hand, is extremely honest with himself and others, confronting his own difficult truths and pointing the difficult truths he sees others struggling with. Through his mismatched eyes of green and black, Tyrion sees things as they are, whether he is literally slapping sense into Joff or reminding Jon that he is a bastard recruit among outlaws. This clarity of vision serves him well, and the novel suggests it is perhaps his greatest virtue. It allows him to know his weaknesses, but also his strengths, which he can then use to their full advantage. It also reiterates the motif of sight. When Tyrion asks Jon what he sees when he looks at him, Jon answers that he sees Tyrion Lannister rather than saying something about seeing a dwarf or a small man. In doing so, Jon and Tyrion’s conversation builds on the symbolic link between sight and truth that was introduced by the spyglass Lysa Arryn sent to Winterfell.
At Bran’s bedside, Catelyn faces her own conflict between love and duty. Whereas Ned chose his duty to serve Robert over his love of his family, Catelyn chooses her love of Bran over her duties as head of the Stark household. She neglects everythying else in order to stay with Bran, allowing the day-to-day management of the household to fall apart until Robb volunteers to take on that responsibility. Only the attempt on Bran's life brings her back to her senses, prompting her to leave Bran and sail to King's Landing to warn her husband. Significantly, it is Catelyn's hands that are injured when she fights off the assassin trying to kill Bran. Hands are a symbol of duty in the novel, the most prominent being Ned's role as Hand of the King. Catelyn's main duty, as she sees it, is to protect her family, and her injured hands appear to make her realize that she had not been fulfilling that duty. From that point forward, her priority changes, and like Ned, she resolves to carry out her duty, uncomfortable as it might be. As she leaves for King's Landing, she tells Robb she is leaving Bran in order to protect her family.