This post contains spoilers for The Terror, as well as just about every TV show or movie starring Ciarán Hinds though you can probably assume after reading the headline.
AMC’s The Terror tells the true-ish story of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, two Royal Navy vessels that went in search of the Northwest Passage but became stranded and frozen in ice, forcing those aboard to survive the harsh conditions of the Arctic Sea. We say its a true-ish story because no one actually knows exactly what happened to the crew aboard both ships, and also because the story involves a menacing, supernatural creature that stalks both ships and is seemingly killing them all one-by-one.
At the heart of the story is Captain Sir John Franklin, played by Irish actor Ciarán Hinds. Sir John is stately, regal, and completely in over his head. More concerned with pomp and glory than reality and honesty, he’s a fascinating character study worthy of an actor such as Hinds. In the opening credits, he is top-billed over Jared Harris, who plays Captain Francis Crozier, and Tobias Menzies as Commander James Fitzjames. There’s nothing inherently out of the ordinary about that given Hinds’ career and gravitas.
It’s also not out of the ordinary to say that Hinds’ Sir John is dead by the middle of the third episode, killed unceremoniously by the mysterious creature.
For anyone who read the Dan Simmons book that the TV show is based on, you knew this was coming. However, for viewers unaware of the source material, it must have been quite a shock. Not just because Sir John is the central character in the story so far, but because Hinds is a known quantity and gifted actor. Who could have guessed he’d be dead so soon?
Anyone who has been following Hinds’ career, probably.
With his quick exit from The Terror (though we can assume he’ll show up a few more times in flashbacks), Hinds continues to rack up an impressive number of roles in which he’s introduced merely to be killed off soon after.
The patron saint of this kind of thing is, of course, Sean Bean. The British actor has become synonymous with TV and movie roles that sooner or later lead to his demise. Good guy, bad guys, or kinda in-between guy, it doesn’t matter. If you see Sean Bean, you have good reason to believe he won’t be alive when the credits roll. Bean’s most iconic performances in this genre would undoubtedly be his shortlived time as Ned Stark on Game of Thrones and as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings movies. However, once you tack on Goldeneye, The Island, Patriot Games, Equilibrium, Don’t Say A Word, The Hitcher, Black Death, and Death Race 2, just to name a few, you start to understand why the guy became a meme.
Back to Hinds, however, and if you look closely at his filmography, you start to pick up on a similar trend. Hinds has a history of playing high-status, even royal characters who end up meeting their demise quickly. In Jason and the Argonauts (2000), he’s stabbed to death by Dennis Hopper right off the bat. In The Weight of Water (2000), he’s wrongly accused of murder and put to death. In Road to Perdition (2002), he’s a mob boss killed at the beginning of the film. In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003), he’s dissolved in an acid pool. In 2005’s Munich, Hinds’ “fixer” character is lured and killed by a contract killer while in Rome (2005) his Julius Caeser is lured and killed by a whole bunch of killers. His role in In Bruges (2008) amounts to a cameo but even then he gets shot to death. He throws himself in front of a truck in Debt (2010) and detonates a helicopter he’s inside in 2015’s Hitman: Agent 47. In Game of Thrones (2015), Mance Rayder is set up to be a major player but ends up dead after just a few episodes. His character Steppenwolf doesn’t make it out of Justice League (2017) and that brings us up to The Terror.
You can probably find a lot of similarities between Hinds’ and Bean’s careers that make them ripe to be “that guy who always gets killed.” First, they’ve both played a lot of villains. Second, they’ve played a lot of secondary heroes, a.k.a. expendable assets. Third, they’re both character actors, ultimately. And character actors are more likely to play roles where they die at the end of the first act than the stars.
In fact, both of these actors belong to a subset of character actors who seem to embody this notion of “great person to cast, great person to kill off.” While Bean is known as the poster child of the genre, it’s actually John Hurt who probably should be. Hurt actually died in far more TV shows and movies than Bean, though his career did span a longer period of time. But like Hinds and Bean, he played very similar roles, either as the villain in the story or as an expendable secondary character (Alien, The Elephant Man, Contact, Hellboy, V for Vendetta, and Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy).
Hinds has actually had a pretty storied career as well, with over 60 films and over 35 TV shows to his credits. There are plenty of them where his character makes it out in one piece. But sometimes a character just becomes a type without even trying. Sean Bean probably didn’t set out to be “the guy who dies in everything,” but he did anyway. Now, Ciarán Hinds seems to have traveled the same road, especially when it comes to Hollywood films. He’s the guy you call up when you need a give a character that little extra something. Maybe it’s regalness or authority. Maybe it’s something sinister or dark. Whatever it is, Hinds can pull it off. And it also means he’s probably going to pay for it with his (character’s) life.