June 29, 2016 | Posted in ASH Online
Everyone knows the feeling: becoming too invested in a television series or movie, only to have (one of) your favorite character killed off. I recently saw Lexa, one of my favorite female characters on The 100, who was only a guest star but quickly became a LGBTQIA favorite of many of the show’s fans, pointlessly killed. Many people then got angry at the show’s producers for fulfilling the “gay/bisexual character hit by a stray bullet” – trope and not giving fans the satisfaction of her death with dignity. Of course, fans will always be mad when favorite characters die, as you grow to love them as friends or family. However, it gets more and more infuriating when death is only used as a shock device or a cliffhanger, and not as a satisfying end to a storyline.
Many people recall, for example, one of TV’s most shocking deaths to date which occurred five years ago: that of Ned Stark on Game of Thrones. The popular series based on the equally popular and violent book series A Song of Ice and Fire is of course no stranger to death and has no problem killing off your favorite characters and, most often, the ones people were rooting for. Fortunately, death can still be satisfying even on such a show when it is a character you hate, but even on shows where you expect a lot of blood and misery, it gets exhausting to see characters die every week. It is difficult to see the line in the case of shows like Game of Thrones, which became the sensation it is now because of such deaths as Ned Stark’s in the first season. However, sensation needs to be mixed with more peaceful times of believing everything is fine and your favorites will live happily ever after. Unfortunately, as certain television critics note, so many characters die that death loses its punch.
The problem is not just that there is “too much death” on television. It is often the case that there are just too many deaths that are not shocking at all, are badly executed, or are just incredibly unnecessary. These things cannot happen too often, or a show will lose many viewers as there is no suspense, or their beloved characters are gone for no reason. Vox notes that in the 2015-2016 television alone there have been over 230 deaths, many of which have gone unnoticed or without much commentary. Deaths need to be built up and characters and storylines need to be fully developed before they can be satisfactorily killed off in a way fit to their character, otherwise it just will not work. A good death can raise the stakes for a television series dramatically and give it the push into the public eye that many series need to keep going. But making a death matter takes a lot of time, care, and emotional investment that is often lacking as people become desensitized to violence and death.
Especially today, in a society more focused on issues of racism and sexuality and people’s demand for representation in the media is stronger than ever, cheap television deaths have become a diversity problem. The 100’s Lexa was one of the many lesbian characters to die on TV and according to most fans, her death did not do her character justice. Of course, straight white male characters still die on television, but the characters who seem most expendable are non-white, female, and queer characters, which hurts diversity on television. As television is often produced and created by straight white men, many storylines seem to work in their favor and see other races and genders as disposable.
Several things here are important for television producers to keep in mind. People watching too much violence, gore, torture, and death become insensitive to it and bored with it. Death is not just a plot device, it is something we see in everyday life and therefore should be treated with more care. It is understandable when television makers want to show us that anyone can die at any moment, but that does not mean that everyone has to die every moment. Secondly, a lot of the time most characters seem to have forgotten a dead character in the next episode. This is often the case with characters who are written off: they also seem to have been wiped out as if they never existed. This is just not understandable for television fans, as people mourn death for more than a week, and characters on television can do it too. Lastly, because of the importance of diversity, there should also be more diversity in deaths or more diverse roles and emotional depth in those roles. Characters we care about also deserve deaths we care about.