Spoiler warning: Buffy, Angel, Serenity/Firefly, Doctor Who, Walking Dead, Supernatural, and Harry Potter
Last week, Proffitt, our friend Amanda and I were talking about how fans need to learn to say goodbye to our favorite characters. Unexpected and unwelcome fictional deaths, when done well, can add needed gravitas to story lines. This doesn’t mean fans need to be graceful about it- cry and curse the writers by all means. But don’t let your love for a character cheapen the impact of their departure. This post is Whedon heavy because he both knows how to unexpectedly knock off a character but he’s also fallen prey to bringing them back from the dead.
I will forever remember those words “I am a leaf on the wind. See how…” They were followed by instantaneous shock. Then anger. How very not shiny! How could Joss Whedon kill off Wash? Wash usually stayed on the ship, avoided battle and was largely the comic relief. He was kind of the Xander of Firefly and Xander got to live! It wasn’t fair. But would I want him to be resurrected if a sequel was ever done? No.
Wash’s sudden exit stage left during Serenity was a necessary evil. It put viewers on edge while Kaylee, Zoë, and Simon were badly injured and Mal looked like he was fighting a losing battle with the Operative. If Wash was fair game- any one of those in the final battle of the film could be killed at any time. Whenever I watch Serenity at home, I fast forward through that scene or change the channel. It is still that painful to watch even though I know it’s coming. I believe that is a testament to the actor (Alan Tudyk) and the writers.
There has been much written about deaths in the sci-fi world. The joke is that they always come back. Case in point- how many times has Rory died on the last two seasons of Doctor Who? I lost count and I’m not sure I even remember why he’s human and alive again. It’s almost a joke. If he dies for real this season, I don’t think I have any more tears left over to shed for him and I honestly might chuckle assuming he’ll be back, again.
As fans, we need to learn to let our beloved characters rest in peace. Appreciate the impact their passing has on the continuing story and the remaining characters. Spike was one of the most well written characters in sci-fi (I think anyway). When he sacrificed himself at the end of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer finale, it was simple, poignant and heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe he reappeared, even as a ghost, in the next season Angel. Now whenever I re-watch the finale episode of Buffy, it isn’t as powerful. I feel no need to fast forward through it.
Sudden, surprise death can also enhance the purpose and value of a minor but beloved character. One of the most recent unexpected deaths that ripped me to pieces inside was Hedwig the owl in the final Harry Potter book. One could argue that Hedwig was barely a character and not of that much importance. But the fact she put herself in harm’s way and sacrificed herself to save Harry-she was catapulted into a character of much importance. The same can be said for Sophia in The Walking Dead. We hardly got to know Sophia, but her death as a zombie is a game changer on the show and will have tremendous impact on Rick, Shane, Daryl, Carol and the rest of the survivors. Her death made her a more important part of the story and possibly a catalyst for changes in the group dynamic.
Now a plea to the Supernatural fans. Please stop campaigning for the return of Castiel. Misha Collins was amazing in the role. Castiel was a well-written character that realistically changed during his time on the show. Castiel was an integral part of the five-season story arc. But- the angels/demons story line is over and, one could argue, was almost overdone. The show needs to move on from angels. Sam and Dean can’t have an ace up their sleeves via an angel on their shoulder giving them advice and help whenever they need it. If Cas returns, what purpose did his death serve? His demise was a lesson about power. Sam and Dean have already died and came back so many times it is a joke- don’t add another. Remember the saying- leave them wanting more.
What are your most profound sci-fi deaths and/or characters that have came back from the dead that you feel should not have? I sense an upcoming “Best deaths in sci-fi/fantasy” post coming soon.
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