It was the face of Sean Bean, as Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark – grave and battle weary as he sat perched on the edge of the prickly Iron Throne — which HBO used to promote its first fantasy drama, “Game of Thrones.”
On Sunday’s episode though, in a heart-stopping twist, the series killed off its leading man.
“It comes as a shock to everybody — everybody, except this young little brat that’s sat on the throne,” Bean told AccessHollywood.com, down the phone from England, of the twist no one new to the George R.R. Martin series saw coming. “I thought it was a very dramatic ending, a very dramatic thing to do, to kill… I suppose I was playing the lead, you know, and you just get killed.”
In his final moment as Lord Eddard, Bean captured the struggle of a man who, in front of an audience of his peers, friends and newly sworn enemies, turns against everything he’s stood for his entire life, and admits to a false treason in order to save the lives of his children. A rare scene, few actors could have pulled off the emotional and tragic moment with the gravitas the Sheffield, England, bred actor channeled.
“You can play it for the kind of sympathy vote, but then you’re signaling that there’s gonna be some head chopping off,” Bean said of figuring out how to portray his character’s final moment. “So I kind of, as Ned, thought, ‘Well, look, I’ve had to form an alliance with someone in order to save my children’s lives.’… It was a wonderful moment to have the stage to yourself, as it were, and to make a speech like that. I know it’s kind of tragic circumstances, but it’s very enthralling, very thrilling to be acting that kind of thing.”
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Bean, who will next head to “Missing,” a drama alongside Ashley Judd for ABC, didn’t immediately know Lord Eddard would meet his end, when the role came up. He quickly learned of his character’s fate, but if things had been written differently, he would have stuck around, at least one more season.
“I enjoyed it so much, I had no problem doing another series because I enjoyed it so much,” he told Access. “But I thought it was a great decision by the writers. They not only kill the king off, they kill his right hand man.”
Keeping Lord Eddard’s fate a secret was of paramount to Bean, who had to dodge reporters questions about Season 2, which is gearing up to begin production shortly.
“I was just talking to someone else, and they were saying, ‘So when do you start the next one?’ and I said, ‘We’ll I’m not sure at the moment,’” Bean explained. “You can’t give it away, can you? I couldn’t tell him really.”
Bean also fielded questions from his two eldest daughters, who are 19 and 23 and both avid “Game of Thrones” watchers.
“They’ve been enjoying it and they want to know what happens next, and stuff like that. That seems to be the kind of general reaction to it — everyone wants to know what’s gonna happen next week, which is wonderful. It’s very thrilling and gripping,” Bean said, before Access asked if he was tempted to share plot secrets with his kin.
“No, no, I’m not telling anybody,” he laughed.
The former “Lord of the Rings” actor admitted he pulled from his experiences with his girls, to inform his character, who shared tender moments with the tomboyish Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), and the frilly Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).
“I’ve got three daughters, so I felt very relaxed and comfortable… That’s how I’d probably talk to them and what advice I’d give them,” Bean said of scenes that saw him giving Arya a great talk about King’s Landing being a dangerous place, and another which saw him growing fearful as he watched the youngster learn to sword fight, knowing she might need to use those skills for real. “I felt very relaxed and it felt very natural, that whole relationship between the daughters. It certainly helps having three I suppose. That’s what I’m trying to say.”
While his own resume includes “GoldenEye,” opposite Pierce Brosnan, “Patriot Games” with Harrison Ford, “National Treasure” with Nicolas Cage and the successful TV movie series “Sharpe,” Bean gave much credit to his co-stars for his detailed turn as Ned Stark.
“You’ve got some great scenes, you’ve got good material to refer back to in the book. You’ve also got someone like Michelle [Fairley, who plays Catelyn Stark], who’s wonderful and so sincere as an actress and so believable, as were the children,” he said. “You kind of work off that. It’s kind of what they give to you as much as you give to them, when you’re performing. I just thought it was a wonderful cast in general, but certainly, my family, I thought they put a great little cast together for my family.”
Now ready to move on, Bean is glad his story line left a powerful impact on audiences.
“I thought it was a good story and a good journey and I thought that was a good way to end,” he said. “It’s a tragic way to end, but as an actor playing a part, it’s a good death as it were, if that makes any sense.”
The Season 1 finale of “Game of Thrones” airs on Sunday, June 19 at 9 PM on HBO.