At this point it's no spoiler to say Sean Bean's leave-taking from "Game of Thrones" was one of the great TV stunners of recent years.

His character Ned Stark's death, way back in season 1, signaled that anything could happen in that epic series. The only righteous figure in the whole piece was dispatched with no warning.

Previously best known for "The Lord of the Rings," Bean returns to TV this week in a contemporary piece, free of magic. And, for the near future, he lives.

Bean plays an undercover agent having a literal identity crisis in the TNT spy drama "Legends," a thriller based on the book by Robert Littell and adapted by the producers of "Homeland."

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"Legends," premiering Aug. 13, on TNT, showcases Bean's chameleon acting talent and facility with accents. Here, as undercover agent Martin Odum, Bean not only switches in and out of his native British accent to take on various American deep cover identities, he also adds a stutter.

Using several "legends," or fabricated identities, Odum (Bean) takes identities on and off with his wardrobe. One minute a meek jobless construction worker, the next a high-rolling international playboy. But he begins to question who he really is when a stranger contacts him in a subway station with alarming news: "There is no Martin Odum," the man says. "He's a legend."


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Here comes another "trust no one" conundrum. Odum comes to understand that he doesn't know where his life ends and his legend begins. He's been warned: "They don't want you to know the truth!"

The agency tracks his moves via GPS. But are they offering "a leash or a lifeline?"

It's all a fairly standard spy-thriller template, but the cast and crew give "Legends" an edge. Trust Howard Gordon ("Homeland," "24") and company to devise a well-plotted mystery.

Ali Larter ("Heroes") plays a fellow FBI Deep Cover operative, an agent who uses sex to gain access and who has a romantic history with Martin. Unfortunately, the pilot goes to a familiar plot device for visual excitement: Larter appears in lingerie at a strip club within the first 20 minutes, posing as a lap dancer to get a message to Odum. Really? Do female FBI agents, even the deep undercover ones, spend their days in skimpy undergarments, or can we thank the conventions of TV and movies?

Morris Chestnut ("American Horror Story," "Nurse Jackie") is Tony Rice, a Deep Cover agent suspicious of Odum; Steve Harris ("The Practice") plays Nelson Gates, their boss; Tina Majorino ("Grey's Anatomy," "True Blood") plays Maggie, the wide-eyed new member of the team (a computer whiz always popping in with forward-pushing bits of plot — "sorry to interrupt, but I just saw this on the regional threat matrix!"), and Amber Valletta ("Revenge") plays Sonya Odum, Martin's ex-wife.

"Take some personal time, get your head together," Odum's boss Gates suggests.

Well, sure. All of TV's spies, counter terrorists, special agents and superheroes ought to take some time off, catch up on sleep and behave less erratically.

Thankfully, that's just the kind of advice our hero will reject in favor of plunging deeper into the mystery.

Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830, jostrow@denverpost.com or twitter.com/ostrowdp