If you’ve been following entertainment news lately you’ve likely seen numerous headlines proclaiming that Sean Bean is not taking any more parts where he’s going to die. Not only is that not true (more on that in a moment), but the “Sean Bean dies in everything” meme is so out of control that we’ve started seeing him die in movies where he does not. For example, the Time version of this story proudly embeds the following tweet:
@BlackGirlNerds The Sean Bean death memes are endless! pic.twitter.com/mEvZBXGNLt
— Nathan Weeks, Esq. ⚖ (@NateWeeksLaw) January 21, 2016
We’re going to put aside for a moment that a major news publication saw fit to embed a reply tweet with a paltry 9 RTs and 37 Likes from an unverified account with only a couple hundred followers (as of this writing). That’s a much larger issue with journalism as a whole. Entire books are being published about this nonsense as we speak. Instead, let’s examine the examples the tweet put forward.
Top Left, Lord of the Rings: turned into an orc pincushion. Dead. Ok, we’re off to a good start!
Bottom Left, Silent Hill: literally the only lead character in the realm of the living when the credits roll. Oops! Well, maybe the author misremembered the movie. A lot of people died in that one. What’s next?
Bottom Right, Game of Thrones: beheaded about 1/8 of the way through the series. Back on track!
Top Right, Troy: not only was he one of the few major characters to make it out alive, but Odysseus also lives so hard, the sequel book is about him journeying home, killing his usurper, and living into a ripe old age (spoilers for a 4,000-year-old story).
Fun fact, Troy was written by Game of Thrones co-showrunner David Benioff. So that means that Sean Bean doesn’t even die in all of the swords-and-shields dramas written by David Benioff.
So what are we actually talking about here? Well, I have a theory.
Quick, without using google or IMDb, how many Sean Bean roles can you name? If you’re like most people (specifically Americans, this argument becomes even more ridiculous if you’re familiar with Bean’s extensive BBC work), you can name three: Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Goldeneye.
Let’s talk about cognitive bias. “Cognitive bias” refers to humans’ tendency to think we are being rational when in fact our thoughts are irrational. There are several categories of common types of cognitive bias and this doesn’t fit neatly into any of them, but I think the problem here is a combination of the Availability Heuristic (the tendency to only use examples that come to mind immediately) and the Affect Heuristic (the tendency to take one’s emotions about a topic into account) with a little bit of Confirmation Bias (the tendency to only remember things that fit our preconceived world view).
(Quick side note: Don’t be one of those dummies who thinks identifying a cognitive bias alone means you’ve won an argument and are now the supreme ruler of internet arguments. Nobody likes that guy.)
Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and Goldeneye are enormous cultural touchstones, especially for us Nerdy McNerdlingers. And Sean Bean’s characters’ deaths are pretty big emotional beats in all of those. His death in Game of Thrones set the tone for the entire show that became an almost decade long cultural phenomenon! Of course, that’s what we remember! But what other major movies has he been in recently?
A quick scan through Bean’s IMDb page reveals just three major Hollywood movies since his turn on Game of Thrones: Pixels, Jupiter Ascending, and The Martian. In Pixels, Bean plays a gruff, alien-fighting SAS officer. He had plenty of chances to die but doesn’t. In Jupiter Ascending he’s a… bee man, I think? Despite playing the elder mentor character who exists only to explain the plot of the movie–a role that has a higher death rate than Explosive Ordinance Disposal in a Bomberman game–he lives to see Jupiter ascend. And in The Martian, Bean plays an earthbound scientist who, despite his perceived K/D ratio, manages not to get killed by Jason Bourne or The Winter Soldier upon their triumphant return to Earth.
That’s not to say that Sean Bean never dies in anything outside his three most well-known roles. This Nerdist article does a great job breaking down his roles and found that his characters do die at a slightly higher rate than most. But not at nearly the rate you’d expect if you pay attention to social media, where there was even a “Don’t Kill Sean Bean” movement in 2014.
Finally, let’s talk about the source of this most recent rash of articles. All of these reports source an interview Bean gave with The Sun, a publication that is an unabashedly sensationalist tabloid. In that article, Bean didn’t even say he won’t be dying in any more roles. He only said he had “turned stuff down” because the character dies. And it’s not even so much that he’s sick of dying, but rather that he feels that it’s a tale that the character is going to die if he’s in the project.
All of this, as I said earlier, is a microcosm of much bigger problems with journalism as a whole. But maybe I’m just being a wet blanket. So to show I’m a good sport who enjoys a good bit just as much as the next person, here’s a supercut of Sean Bean dying in movies.