In the space of one week, Sean Bean was beheaded and stabbed. Luckily for him, one of those traumas was fake — even if it did mean the shocking end of his character Ned Stark on Game of Thrones. (Well, shocking for those who hadn’t read the books.) Vulture talked to Bean about losing his head, fans losing their heads, and what he’s doing next. (His bar-fight wound, however, was strictly off limits.)
What do you think about the reaction to your swan-song episode? They’re calling it a game-changer, and it’s already being submitted for the Emmy …
That’s good news! It really sets the standard, which is high already, for what you would expect from HBO. This was a courageous venture to take on in the first place, with such a vast, big-scale production, and this very bold, daring narrative structure. That’s what people admire about it. I think people who weren’t as familiar with the books were shocked. I know I was, when I read the script; then I read the book. It’s a good thing about George R.R. Martin: He’s prepared to kill off the main guys. You don’t get the feeling that the good guy is going to last forever, like James Bond.
Some people are really upset.
I saw this video, these two black guys from L.A., and the older one tells him I died, and the young one is really pissed off that I’m dead! He keeps going, “That can’t be fucking true. He killed off my man!” It’s fantastic. It’s so funny. I can’t stop laughing at that. They’re the last people you would expect to be so pissed off!
What was it like shooting the actual scene where they cut off your head? Obviously, it’s a dummy …
It’s a dummy of my head. I was holding it at one point, which was a really creepy feeling, to hold my head and look at it. It was very heavy, just like a proper head!
Do you think Ned’s death is akin to, say, Gandalf’s or Dumbledore’s? Wizardry aside, the father figure dies off so someone smaller can go on a hero’s journey? In this case, the Stark kids?
Yeah! You start with Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, who’s strong when he’s introduced and gets weaker and weaker as he goes along, physically and psychologically, because he’s in this corrupt environment, in this real den of snakes, which gets him in the end, and someone else is going to have to take his place. Once he’s imprisoned, for instance, his son Robb has to take control. Ned was very much needed, and he’s the last person you want to see disappear. He’s a voice of reason.
Why do you think Ned lied, claiming he was planning to steal the throne for his own, when he confessed?
I think it was demanded by the queen. He had to humiliate himself, so there was no doubt left as to his betrayal, which wasn’t really a betrayal. It’s so Draconian — lie, and we’ll let you live on the Wall. And he trusted them for the sake of his children, so even he’s shocked when Joffrey’s going, “The man is a traitor, off with his head!” The deal didn’t pay off. It would have helped if Ned had a little more guile, a little more cynicism, was a little more calculating.
But he is calculating, in at least one matter: Jon Snow’s parentage. When it comes to Jon Snow’s mother, Ned is extremely tight-lipped, save for his one terse comment to King Robert. The fandom is teeming with theories that Jon isn’t Ned’s bastard at all.
That’s another twist [to come]. It’s a great conundrum. Who do you think it is?
My money’s on the mother being Ned’s dead sister and the father being Rhaegar Targaryen. If Ned swore to protect his dead sister’s son from his own best friend, the best way of doing that would have been to claim him as his own and take him in.
Ned really knows who [Jon’s parents are], but he can’t let on. That’s why it’s such a moving moment, those poignant scenes I have with Kit Harington [who plays Jon], because I couldn’t say what I really thought. There are so many things I could have said, because there is a love there between the two of them, but I can’t express it as overtly as I can with the other children, who I can hold and kiss. Even if I were his true father, I can’t talk about it for fear of offending my wife, who’s really bitter about this. So it’s really a cruel situation. Through no fault of his own, Ned took on a lot by taking Jon in.
What was it like to reteam with Kit for Silent Hill: Revelation?
We just finished that a couple weeks ago. It was so strange, seeing him dressed in jeans and a T-shirt on! No beard, no sword! We’re in contemporary times, and we’re both playing Americans, so it’s a total shift from Game of Thrones. He’s a good guy, a lovely guy, and we can look forward to big things from him.
A couple of Thrones folk who die come back to life in various ways, as we’ve seen with the reanimated corpses and other characters to come who manage to defy death. There are fan theories that Ned might as well.
Maybe there’s hope for Ned yet! They can do anything. Anything can happen. It’s a very complex show. Very multilayered. And even the most absurd thing is believable. They’re about to start up again, and I’m feeling a twinge of envy, because the saga gets to go on without me. I’m doing something else now, but sometimes I go, “Aw, shit, bring me back.”
At least they can’t kill you off unexpectedly on Missing [his upcoming ABC mid-season show]. Your character’s already dead!
Um, yeah. [Laughs.] It’s got a lot of twists and turns, and people are not like what you think they are. I guess it’s a contemporary Game of Thrones!
Did you sneak anything off the Thrones set to remember the show by?
I didn’t, really. I should have asked for my sword, because I try to keep all my swords — the Sharpe series in the U.K., Macbeth — because it’s always nice to have something as a token. We got tattoos for Lord of the Rings: the number nine, in Elvish. Mine’s on my shoulder. Maybe I should get a Game of Thrones tattoo! A direwolf, across my back!
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