The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: Bingeing On the Many Deaths of Sean Bean

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

The world of TV is aflutter right now, with (pre-)finale buzz, upfronts by all the major networks, the official announcements of cancelations and pick-ups and the decade-long in-the-making of Smallville’s conclusion.
So this is the perfect week to take a step back from the weekly TV antics, right?

Alright, so maybe it isn’t. Maybe you want to read more thoughts on the finale of The Vampire Diaries (I refer you to the podcast below), or on the victim of Bones’ sniper (again, listen to the podcast) or why NBC passed on the Wonder Woman pilot. But really, I wasn’t inspired to write about any of this and rather than faking my way through a column, I’d rather write about something I do care about. Which these days is little more than Sean Bean.

I hope it is accurate when I say you all know pop-culture binges, you’ve indulged in them and you’ve enjoyed them. Those times in your lives when one movie, one TV show, one comic book (series), one book (series) is all you can think about, talk about and go hunting for more info about. These binges don’t last forever, eventually you run out of fodder, but they instill in you a long-lasting fondness for the object of your binge and if it wasn’t a teenage hoax, chances are your passion can be reignited years later, when there’s new news to be had about your object of infatuation.

Sean Bean has long been an object of my infatuation (and I feel very wrong calling him an object, even though it might be oddly fitting). Obviously his inspired turn on Game of Thrones is more than enough to reignite my binge-behavior and inspire a few others to take it up as well. Luckily, Sean Bean is a very industrious man, so a binge circling him can last much longer than a binge involving, for example, Alex Pettyfer (I shudder at mentioning him in the same sentence as Sean Bean and vouch on my life I have never binged on Alex Pettyfer, he’s simply a point of reference). I have to admit though that even though a Bean-binge can last a long time, it’s not always intensely pleasurable.

As industrious as he is, his choices haven’t always been the best and I don’t even need to bring up his four failed marriages to prove that point. Let’s keep it professional here and simply pose the question: what on earth made Sean Bean think starring in The Hitcher, Silent Hill or Death Race 2 was a good idea? Those were tough to sit through, even for Sean Bean’s sake, and it didn’t help that two out of those three had him trying on an American accent, which – bless his heart – he’s not very good at.

But isn’t it because of the flaws and not in spite of them that we love? Exactly. So I don’t fault Sean Bean for some of the atrocious movies he’s made, because I won’t hold it against him that he just wanted to have some fun every once in a while. His resume reads like the resumes of three other actors smashed into one and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon and I give him credit for that. For over a decade he has carried one of Britain’s most popular TV movie series, Sharpe, he has given us unforgettable characters such as Boromir in Lord of the Rings and Partridge in Equilibrium and starred alongside pretty much any big name you can spit out, it’s very hard to argue with all of that. Even just on paper Sean Bean is impressive.

However, there is one major gripe I have: Sean Bean doesn’t survive in approximately 70% of the fare he stars in. It’s gotten to a point so tragic that I have to laugh every time he dies on screen, because I wouldn’t be able to stand it otherwise, there’s only so many times your heart can be broken. What is with everyone that they always have to kill him off? And even when they don’t kill him off on screen, they have him running out naked into the winter of the arctic tundra, what are the chances of him surviving that?
So in the face of all these fatalities, I have developed a theory: they kill him off because he is just that good.
(It’ll make sense in a minute, bear with me.)

Sean Bean is memorable. Even though he is not the prettiest man to ever grace a screen (in the classic sense of beauty; plenty of women still swoon over him), you remember him, he leaves an impression. Whether it’s his piercing green eyes, his thick Yorkshire accent (when he’s not trying to mask it) or simply his talent radiating off him, you’re likely going to remember his presence on screen. As you should, he didn’t get a scholarship for the most highly respected school of acting in, dare I say, the world, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, for nothing. It is precisely this craft and artistry derived from his training and honed through years and years of working in the industry that gives the characters Sean Bean portrays so much weight.

More often than not, Sean Bean finds himself with a sword in his hand, or at least in history-inspired clothing and armor when he takes on a part (see Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Black Death, Troy, Sharpe etc.). He seems perfect for embodying a spirit of honor and duty that has long died out. He can play the charismatic leader everyone follows into battle with ease, even in modern fare like Outlaw. And this precisely is his doom. So often the best stories involve a beloved character, one who inspired people and who will be remembered for a long time no matter what, dying to heighten the dramatic impact and lend an air of poetry and larger than life meaning to the story. Sean Bean is destined to be cast as this beloved character, who will be sacrificed to elevate the story.

Precisely because he has such an aura of gravity, because he looks so firmly rooted in the earth even when he just stands in a doorway, because he has a thunderous voice (when he wants to, that is, in real life he is a very soft-spoken man most of the time), he can create a character no one is likely to forget or overlook in a matter of a few small scenes. Give him more to play with and he can flesh out epicness for you (see the extended versions of Lord of the Rings). And when you need a character whose spirit will resonate with the other characters for a long time – be it the remaining runtime of a movie, two more movies of a trilogy, or uncounted seasons of a TV show – you cast an actor like Sean Bean, to make sure the character stays with the audience as well.

Conviction is key. Sean Bean often plays characters with convictions that run so deep, they will die for them, in fantasy, historic and modern fare alike. His characters don’t waver (much), his characters don’t compromise, his characters stand and fight until someone cuts them down, or shoots them down, or has them quartered (seriously, Black Death scarred me for life on that front). Maybe that is also part of what draws us in, because unwavering conviction is not easily found anymore today and if it is, we call it fanaticism and wipe it off the table.
Hence, since we are intrigued by conviction in and of itself, Sean Bean playing conviction with conviction is then just pleasure squared.

Given how rare it is, or at least how rare it feels when watching his body of work, I rejoice at every movie Sean Bean survives and which doesn’t end on a tragic (if sometimes hopeful despite the death) note. The Sharpe series is fairly perfect for this, because after all Sean Bean is the eponymous hero, he can’t die or there’d be no series (although the setting of the Napoleonic Wars makes for little gentleness and lots of fighting yet again). I also hold a soft spot for When Saturday Comes, which is flawed in its execution, cinematography, direction and progression of story, but has lots and lots of Sean speaking in his Yorkshire accent and a very sweet scene with him naked in bed.

I wish nothing more than to see Sean Bean in a happy movie one of these days. A sweet movie, about friendship and family and love and happiness, in which he can showcase his awesome laugh, his gentle mannerisms and the crooning softness of his regular speaking voice (my favorite scenes in Game of Thrones have to be the ones between Ned and Arya Stark, when Sean Bean gets to be the loving father, it melts my heart). And judging by recent interviews, Sean himself would love nothing more than a movie like that himself, only no one thinks he fits the part. This may be a misjudged notion by casting directors, who look at what he has done previously and hence conclude the audience wouldn’t accept Sean Bean as the romantic lead or the smiling, happy character in a movie and so his own body of work condemns him to repeat his doomed fate over and over. I believe audiences (especially the female viewers) would very much appreciate a sweet Sean Bean vehicle, but what audiences want seldom ever plays a role in what audiences get.
So I prepare myself for more action/war movies starring Sean Bean coming our way soon (Soldiers of Fortune, Age of Heroes, Cleanskin and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D) and rewatch the BBC miniseries Lady Chatterley for my fix of a more gentle Sean, because there is no end in sight to my Binge of All Things Bean.

To clarify, I am not saying Sean Bean is the best actor ever. He’s not. I’m not saying he’s the best actor of his generation. He’s not. I’m not saying he’s the best actor in Britain. He’s not. I’m saying he’s the best actor for some of the roles that were given to him, because he gave them the weight they needed and deserved, he made them come to life. He is Boromir. He is Eddard Stark. He is Sharpe. He is Ulric. He is Odysseus. He is Partridge. He is Jimmy Muir.

And if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, with Sean Bean inhabiting so firmly so many characters I remember vividly in my head, Sean Bean is also Sean Bean. And sometimes, that’s the biggest challenge to any binger. The fact that once you go outside of the pop-culture product that may have inspired your binge, you also come along “real” facts, about the actors, the creators, the background, the story. And sometimes these “real” facts are hard to reconcile with the notion in your head, because maybe you violently disagree with something the creator has said, or you find out your favorite actor is a smoker, which usually is a deal breaker for you. Luckily, you don’t have to negotiate a truce, because chances are you will never interact with any of these individuals, so you can blank out the factoids you don’t like and keep your inner peace. You can also just give up on your binge, but that wouldn’t be very geeky now, would it?

In some cases though, what you discover is that you like what’s behind the scene even more than what’s in it, and this in turn can cloud your judgment, tinge it more towards the positive and veil your eyes to some of the flaws others can still see. This may be the case with me and Sean Bean, I won’t deny it. Maybe I give him too much credit and overlook slights others will notice, for the sake of his accent alone (he could read me the phone book any day) or for the archetype he represents (the strong, confident man with a sensitive side), which plays right into my daddy issues. Maybe I am too easily impressed by his dedication to re-forest England, his undying love for his football (we lay claim to the term, we used it first, “soccer” be damned!) club Sheffield United (where he sat on the Board of Directors for a while), his spokesmanship for his native Sheffield, its Children’s Hospital, its youth and sport centers and culture in general.



Maybe I am imagining things when I sense that familiar melancholy in his words when he is asked about the many swords he has wielded, his image as a rough-and-tumble Northerner and what he would still like to achieve in his vagabond life that brought him three daughters and four failed marriages. Maybe I got wrapped up in the poetic sentiment of the idea that Sean Bean is “very good at moving but not so great at standing still”, which I can relate to in more ways than one. Maybe my head is off in the clouds when I declare “Some people just have more soul than others” and include him in that group.

Or maybe Sean Bean just is that good.




Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 6 below.

Topics include Game of Thrones (I couldn’t shut up about it even if I tried), The Vampire Diaries, Bones and Parks and Recreation.




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