A Troubling New Trend

*This post is about character deaths on television, and therefore a general spoiler alert is in place for the whole post.

Killing off a major character on a television show used to be unheard of, and usually only occurred if an actor sadly passed away or if there was a salary dispute. Then along came a little show called Lost,¬†which became a breakaway hit back in 2004, and proceeded to kill off its characters with wild abandon. There had been shocking character deaths prior to this, but no show racked up a body count of primary characters quite like Lost, and the landscape of television has never been the same. Today, even so called family shows such as Once Upon A Time kill off a character at least once a season, and while some of these plot twists can be quite effective, heartbreaking, and downright traumatic (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones), there’s a new emerging trend surrounding these deaths that is wholly detrimental to the art of storytelling. Several shows have recently embraced the notion that anyone can come back from the dead, no matter how definitive their deaths may have appeared, and the result is that these once shocking plot twists are quickly losing their story value.

Arrow was one of my favourite new shows last season, and although I still love it, this year Arrow has begun to get a bit repetitive with all of the characters that have come back from the dead. The first time it happened it was a nice twist, but by the third reappearance I barely registered a reaction, and any future deaths on this show will be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be a much better show if it didn’t negate the emotional high point of The Avengers¬†right out of the gate. I love Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, but resurrecting him to lead his own TV show completely undermines what was a pretty important plot point in the film, and only serves to ruin future viewings. Finally, the recently aired third season of Sherlock ended with a tease that a character that was officially declared dead by the show’s own creators is instead making a comeback, thereby invalidating his original exit, which was quite frankly a brilliant way to go out.

There are numerous other offenders, but the problem remains the same for all, in that by letting these characters come back to life, these shows are losing their narrative suspense. Much like the common compliant among comic book readers, if no one is ever truly dead, these dramatic death scenes come off as cheap stunts used to induce shock and bolster ratings. Character deaths should be dramatic and narratively fraught, and while it is a nice twist to have someone come back from the dead every once in awhile, if it happens with every other character, the element of surprise is lost. I know many people recoil in horror when their favourite characters bite the dust (again, I’m looking at you Game of Thrones), but I enjoy the risk writers take when they do something so drastic, and I like watching the narrative consequences unfold. Take away the consequences, and all you’re left with is something hollow that feels false and unnecessary. Therefore, I know it sounds morbid, but for the sake of the story, from now on can dead characters please stay dead?

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