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Game Of Thrones’ Sean Bean Recalls Horror & Disbelief At Ned Stark’s Death

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Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean recalls filming Ned Stark’s final moments in season 1’s penultimate episode. Throughout its eight seasons, Game of Thrones delivered some of television's most shocking moments. By adapting George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO created a fantasy series comparable to blockbusters inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. However, Middle Earth has proved much more forgiving than Westeros—which became evident the second Lord Eddard Stark lost his head.

Season 1’s “Baelor” set the tone for a narrative largely concerned with consequences. For those unfamiliar with Martin’s A Game of Thrones, seeing Bean play the righteous lead in a big-budget series offered a false sense of security. That said, it’s Ned’s honor that leads to him being betrayed and labeled a “traitor” for exposing Joffrey Baratheon’s (Jack Gleeson) illegitimate claim to the Iron Throne (among other things). Initially, Ned refuses to confess to treason and accepts his sentence so that he may die with dignity. It’s not until he’s dragged in front of a King’s Landing’s mob, and sees his daughters, that he sullies himself for the sake of his family. Despite this, Joffrey utters the now-infamous line, “Sir Ilyn, bring me his head.”

Bean recently discussed Ned’s execution in an interview with EW. He recalls having to film for an entire day while staying focused on the fact that his character was about to die. Aided by the reactions of the other actors, Bean reflected on Ned’s mixed emotions when Joffrey decides to ignore his mother’s counsel:


"It was horror and disbelief -- that Joffrey changed his mind [about exiling Ned] -- and then resignation and [realizing that he was] seeing his daughter for the last time, Arya," said Bean. "I was trying to think of all four [things]. It wasn't just, 'Oh God, I'm getting my head chopped off. Those mix of feelings is what made it what it was, I suppose."


Bean also talks about Game of Thrones’ scrapped pilot (calling his scenes “alright”), David Benioff and Dan Weiss’ rewrites, and subsequent reshoots. Unfortunately, Bean did not elaborate on one of the most interesting aspects of Ned’s death. In the seconds between Joffrey’s verdict and Ned’s head being put on the block, the latter goes from panicked to strangely calm—he closes his eyes and whispers something before being beheaded by his own sword. Fans have speculated/theorized as to what he said but Bean has remained silent. According to James Hibberd’s book, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, Bean asked what kind of prayer someone who believed in the Old Gods would recite and created something based on that.

Ned’s “prayer” is an example of how HBO improved upon Martin’s work; doing justice to one of A Song of Ice and Fire’s most powerful moments. Ned’s death (which set a precedent for readers/viewers) causes a full-fledged civil war in the War of the Five Kings and is arguably the catalyst for shocks that would follow—from the Red to the Purple Wedding. Joffrey’s decision (given his character) and Ned’s fate makes sense in the world of Westeros, where narrative decisions have consequences. The “horror” and “disbelief” of seeing such honest consequences in a fantasy series has had a ubiquitous influence on popular culture (in spite of a divisive final season). Bean conveying those emotions in “Baelor” perhaps epitomizes what it’s like to watch Game of Thrones.

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