The weeks leading up to the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones have been full of news stories and interviews, ranging from teasers of the series finale to discussions with current and former cast members about their experiences on the show. And given that the end is near, it’s only fitting to return to the beginning of the series, which Vulture discussed at length during an interview with Sean Bean.
It seems like a long time ago that Bean appeared on Game of Thrones as Ned Stark, a man who once seemed like the main character of the series. That illusion didn’t last long, as Ned died in the penultimate episode of the first season, beheaded at the executioner’s block. It’s just another day on the job for Bean, who dies in everything:
But even though he died, Ned’s presence has lingered on Game of Thrones, always present in the actions of his children. Just last season, Arya and Sansa discussed just how much they missed their father. And, honestly, most fans can relate.
According to Bean, however, he didn’t mind his character’s early departure. “I just did my bit and then I had to go!” he said. “I don’t get to argue about that, right?” Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were up front about Ned’s fate from the get-go, something the actor appreciated.
And just because Bean is no longer involved with Game of Thrones doesn’t mean he hasn’t been keeping up with the show. Although his career doesn’t allow him to follow the series religiously, he does try to watch new episodes here and there. “I go in and out,” he admitted. “With working and traveling and stuff like that, it’s difficult to keep in touch. But I’ve meant to just sit down and watch them all over one weekend. I like to binge-watch, especially for something big like this.”
Of course, it’s hard to watch episodes at random without being spoiled for certain parts of the series. And Bean will probably want to catch up quickly if he doesn’t want the finale ruined for him. According to him, he hasn’t received any inside information on the big ending. “I’m in the cold,” he said. “I don’t get any updates, no information at all! That’s good, because I want to enjoy it like everybody else.”
Bean even discovered Jon Snow’s parentage the old-fashioned way: by hearing about it after it was revealed on the show, although he had his suspicions beforehand.
But no matter who’s son Jon is, Bean is still rooting for the Starks; the pack has to stick together, after all. Still, when asked how Ned would feel about the way his kids grew up, Bean sounded uncertain. “He’d have mixed feelings about what happens and whether he’d done things in different ways…He probably feels he should have done more.” Poor Ned.
When HBO first approached Bean to play Ned, he hadn’t heard of the Song of Ice and Fire books, although he later read the first one “just to get a flavor” of the story and character. He recalled the excitement and passion the show runners had when explaining the details to him during their first meeting. “I was very enchanted by the prospect of portraying this great man called Ned Stark.” Prior to Game of Thrones, he’d played characters he described as “decent,” but not “genuinely good,” citing Lord of the Rings’ Boromir as an example.
Bean reflected on the show’s original, unaired pilot as well, recollecting that it was an opportunity for potential cast members to determine whether they wanted to continue on with the show. Several characters needed to be recast, including Catelyn Stark, whose role was later taken on by Michelle Fairley.
When the cast members received the news that they’d be reshooting the pilot and moving forward with the series, there was plenty of excitement. “I think we knew it was good,” Bean remembered. “We didn’t expect it to be the phenomenon that it is now.”
Years later, with nearly everyone speculating about how the show will end, it’s hard to believe there was a time when Game of Thrones wasn’t a huge deal. The eighth and final season premieres this Sunday. Let’s just hope Bean has caught up on episodes by then!