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By Anna Brand

"Game of Thrones" fans are hopeful Ned Stark might return — dead or alive — for the final season, even though the former Lord of Winterfell was executed in an epic beheading on the wildly popular show almost eight years ago.

Eddard Stark, as the character was formally known, was the first of many major figures to die in shocking ways on the show, but his legacy cast its shadow on subsequent seasons.

As the series approaches its conclusion (the final season premieres on HBO on April 14), new theories have emerged about the ending, and interest in Stark has grown. Since the start of 2019, and particularly in the last month, Google search traffic around the character has spiked. One of the top searches since November: "Does Ned Stark Die."

The character was played by Sean Bean, who in a brief interview with NBC News admitted he may be one of the few who hasn't binge-watched the entire series ahead of the final season. In fact, he hasn't had much time to catch up at all. Though it's hard to believe, Bean has had a life outside "Game of Thrones" in the several seasons since his execution, taking on new roles that require travel.

Still, when he can, Bean says he tunes in at home, and is excited for the final season. In a relaxed interview, he talked about his predictions, whom he wants to see on the Iron Throne, and whether Ned Stark will return to Westeros.

Are you looking forward to the final season? How are you planning to watch?

Flying to New York, going to see the first two episodes, I think, over there. On a big screen, I think.

The way everyone would want to watch it.

Yeah! Otherwise, have just been watching it at home on my TV.

Have you been watching every episode as they’ve come out since Ned died?

No, I’ve kind of caught up when I can. I’ve been traveling around working quite a lot around the world. So, I’ve not really been tuning in. I’ve caught up a little bit. Interested to see what happens.

You didn't binge-watch the whole series the way others did ahead of the last season?

Not too much of last season, so I’m going to have to catch up before I get to New York. But you know, just dipping in here and there, it’s difficult to follow because of traveling around.

For the upcoming season, do you have any guesses for who you think might be the first to die?

Maybe Cersei, but I think if she does die it will be in the last episode. She might be the last to die. The first, maybe, I’ve got no idea actually. I suppose, I guess, they can just kill anybody they want now. Maybe they all die!

And if they all died…

It’s going to be a massacre.

What do you think would be a more likely potential scenario? Jaime killing Cersei or Cersei killing Jaime?

Probably Cersei killing him or maybe Bran Stark — but he’s a bit friendly with the Lannisters now, isn’t he? I don't know, but maybe he could just lose his mind and kill all the Lannisters. That’d be good.

Speaking of death, of the episodes that you’ve watched, whose has been the most satisfying death so far?

Me. Mine.

Yours??

Well, OK, it’s not really the most satisfying … yeah, no, I didn’t really enjoy mine. Well, parts of it, it was very quick. I can’t remember very much of it. It’s a good way to die: in one chop.

Who would you want to see on the Iron Throne at the end of the series?

Sansa would be good, because she’s my daughter. Either her or Arya.

There are a lot of fan theories about Ned potentially returning in some form for the final season, maybe as a white walker? Will we see him?

Who, Ned?

Yeah!

They’d be shedding a bit of money on bringing me back. ... I’m not aware of that at the moment. But I mean, maybe.

Are you excited for summer once the series ends?

Am I excited for summer? Yes. Summer is coming.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.