Characters in TV shows have a shelf life. Most main characters get to make it to the finale, but your average red-shirt or Cousin Joey might not make it to the end credits. By now we’ve grown so used to certain patterns in character death we’re starting to mock it.
Horror films – slashers especially – have become so predictable that even those few directors trying to hang a lampshade on the death-progression have started to be a cliché. Gone are the days of the black guy dying first, in fact he was the last man standing in Deep Blue Sea, a film famous for breaking kill-patterns by eating the biggest star early on… and actually that was Samuel L. Jackson so scrap the first point. Even the love interest ended up dead, which is becoming increasingly common these days, films like Drag me to Hell, and Cabin in the Woods often fatally separate partners.
The death of a character can… and really should be a pivotal moment in a show, a chance for the whole cast to explore depths of emotion, and for the entire dynamic to shift. Take 8 Simple Rules as an example, a very solid family-sitcom with enough drama to keep it interesting that sadly lots the main actor and father John Ritter, and not through choice. The show persevered with a couple of new cast members and an adjustment period which must be praised for its’ sensitivity of a difficult subject considering the genre. Afterwards, while 8 Simple Rules managed to stay funny and of decent quality, it was definitely changed, and still raised moments of dealing with grief, made all the more genuine for the actual loss of the actor.
Perhaps the worst death pattern is the immortal protagonist, the character who just can’t seem to stay dead, no matter how often their killed, like a boomerang with a theme tune… or a DC character. Lazarus pits, ancient mystics or perhaps some other cunning means, like implanting the personality of a character into the body of a shapeshifting murderer until the murderous personality is suppressed, and just pretending like everything’s normal. Points to anyone who gets that one. The problem with immortal protagonists is that people start to actually want them dead for good, and it never seems to happen.
Without question, the show that has managed/is managing to shock and harrow its audience with death the most must be Game of Thrones (accepting all arguments for other shows in the comments and Facebook). Main characters die more frequently than is entirely normal, and the deaths often come out of nowhere and are as dirty and ignoble as reality permits. Always worth making sure your character dies on screen though, if you didn’t see it then it’s only a maybe.
Death should be a big deal because death is a big deal! Game of Thrones was initially fantastic at presenting death in such a way that it was unpleasant, shocking, and pointless but now we sit on needles whenever we grow to like a character, becoming just as predictable as any slasher, but this time the man behind the mask is George R.R. Martin. Have we become numbed to death? Or are we still able to feel for the death of a character and not point and say “saw that one coming”?