‘Game of Thrones’: What Was Sean Bean Thinking While Filming Ned Stark’s Death Scene?
Ned Stark’s death in Game of Thrones Season 1 was the series’ biggest shock. Having been the main character for the entirety of the show’s first season, his beheading at the demands of King Joffrey established what would become Game of Thrones frequent habit of killing off main characters in shocking ways. (Of course, most of these deaths were part of George R.R. Martin’s novels, so they came as no surprise to readers.)
Sean Bean played the Stark family patriarch, who became Hand of the King to King Robert Baratheon—a move that triggered a long string of dramatic events that eventually led to his death. Moments before Stark’s beheading, he whispered something inaudibly. There have been lots of fan theories pointing to what the actor said, but Bean recently opened up about what he was thinking while filming that infamous scene.
Ned Stark’s last words were a prayer
The scene was harrowing. Joffrey had changed his mind about sparing Stark’s life and decided to publicly behead him in front of a massive crowd, including Stark’s young daughters, Sansa and Arya. In a 2018 interview with The Huffington Post, Bean finally revealed what Stark was saying in those final moments.
According to the actor, he was “just saying a prayer.”
“It’s quite subtle in that many people wouldn’t pick it up,” he said. “It was an interesting thing to do for me at that point. There’s not much you can do really, you’ve got your head on a block. That’s about the only thing you can do is murmur.”
In the moments leading up to the prayer, Stark looked around the crowd searching for Arya. To his horror, he knew Sansa was standing nearby, and he had spotted his youngest daughter in the crowd moments before.
Arya had disappeared from sight because Yoren, a brother of the Night’s Watch and friend of the Starks, forced her to avert her eyes. When Stark could no longer see her in the crowd, a flitter of relief came over the father’s face, and then he said his private final words.
Sean Bean revealed how he created Ned Stark’s final moments
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bean revealed how he emotionally prepared for his character’s final scene. (He knows a bit about characters dying—the actor has become known for taking roles in which his character is killed off).
“It was horror and disbelief,” the Lord of the Rings alum said, “that Joffrey changed his mind [about exiling Ned]—and then resignation and [realizing that he was] seeing his daughter for the last time, Arya.”
“I was trying to think of all four [things],” he continued. “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 then noted that the pivotal scene took an entire day of filming, and it required a lot of discipline for him to stay in that headspace all day, as it would for any dedicated actor.
“It took like a whole day or so to film it and you so you have to just keep focused on the fact that you’re about to meet your death without messing around,” he said. “I was very hot at the time, so that probably helped. And everybody else’s reactions were fantastic — Cersei and the kids. It was very moving with a lot of pathos in that scene. Then I put my head in the block and I was finished for the day.”
Unfortunately, so was Ned.