We all have our favorite characters who we hate to see go, but sometimes killing a character is actually bad for the story. That’s what we’re talking about today, and we promise it’s not just an excuse to complain about deaths that made us sad. Okay, it is a little bit of that. But we also discuss why losing a character can be bad for the story, how storytellers can understand when a character should live, and what happens when such a character dies anyway. Plus, Oren discovers a series he read as a kid still isn’t finished yet!
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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.
Generously transcribed by Axolotl. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.[Intro Music]
Oren: Welcome everyone to another episode of Mythcreants podcast, I’m Oren and with me today is…
Oren: Today we’re talking about characters who should have lived — that is characters who died but they should not have died because it was a bad choice and it made me sad personally. I don’t like it when characters I like die.I’ve just gotta say it. I don’t care how [exaggerated tone] “grim and real” it makes the universe. I just I don’t like it.
Chris: I have a couple questions about this — first, do characters who died because actors left count?
Oren: I wasn’t going to talk about those — but we can — because it’s a sticky issue that’s dealing with production issues and there are better or worse ways to handle that. But to me, that’s separate from when a storyteller simply makes a choice to kill a character. But again, I’m not saying we can’t bring that up
Chris: Second question, can we just say Tara over and over again for the whole podcast?
Oren: Just repeat Tara. That’ll be really easy for the transcriber… just Tara Tara Tara forever.[Wes laughs]
Oren: Because Tara, as far I know, wasn’t ever in season 7 even though they had a character who could specifically impersonate dead people and impersonated every other dead person on the show. I don’t think she ever impersonates Tara which maybe means the actress wasn’t available, but I’m pretty sure that’s not why Tara died. As far as I can tell from reading all the behind-the-scenes stuff, I haven’t seen any indication that the actress wasn’t available
West: Chris you bring up a point that I think about lots. I don’t know why, but I think of all the Batman movies — It’s just: Okay new Batman movie, new Batman. It happened for a while there, including with George Clooney… and others [laughs] which is great.
It is rare if the actor doesn’t continue in the show and they don’t write that character out, you know, and only two examples come to mind it where they just kept the character and put a new actor in and nobody blinked. I mean — the audience noticed Game of Thrones when Dario, you know, went from being this chiseled clean-shaven handsome guy and then the new actor was another just bearded Westeros guy.
Oren: Well, we need Dario and we can’t just kill him even though super handsome guy’s gone. We’re just going to bring in a guy with a beard and it’ll be fine
Wes: Part of me appreciated that — Okay, it’s a character, the actor doesn’t own that character. But then again, it’s Dario, he’s a secondary character or tertiary, right? So it’s not like they swapped Kit Harington out for somebody else to play Jon Snow.
Chris: I think Dumbledore was pretty big.
Wes: Oh Dumbledore, right…
Chris: I think they only swapped Dumbledore out because his appearance was so determined by his clothing and his long beard, and because he was an important character based on a super popular book. They only do that if it’s minor, they think they can get away with it, and that they really have to.
Oren: As a rule I would say that replacing actors is not usually a good idea. There are exceptions — Dumbledore particularly is notable because he’s basically a pair of eyes behind a beard. If you’re not paying close attention, you might not notice that a new actor’s playing Dumbledore. Like I didn’t
Wes: Obviously I forgot about it. You talked about this on the show that if anyone other than Alan Rickman was Snape he probably would have been far less sympathetic
Oren: Another example is in the movie that they made as a climax to the canceled TV show ‘Dead Like Me’. Two actors left, and one of them they recast. They sort of got away with it because that character wasn’t particularly noteworthy and she was newer on the show, but then they chose not to recast Maddie… Potemkin I think is his name? He was the leader and him not being there really hurt the movie. He was a big part of the reason to watch the show and his character not being in the movie was really… it’s weird. Why is he not in the movie? They did have an in movie explanation for it, but it wasn’t satisfying — but at the same time I think if they had recast him that would probably have been a mistake. That character was tied up with the actor and I think it would have been weird and unpleasant to try to make another actor do that role with a very well established character.
Now, granted, this is just an outsider’s perspective. I don’t have a lot of insight on how television shows are made so I can’t advise the technical requirements of that choice.
Chris: Yeah. I think in most cases, if you need the character, it’s better to do the Babylon 5 route, which is ironic because Babylon 5 did not need the character [laughs] But the lead actor on Babylon 5 was replaced with a different character that was very much like him that just took his place instead. It’s like let’s give our main character a new name![group chuckles briefly]
Oren: Oh, speaking of Babylon 5, there’s a person on my list of characters who should have lived — and I’m kind of cheating here. The character is Talia Winters. What happens is that she dies, because she suffers a death of personality or whatever, and the show planned to bring her back a season later. They have a whole thing about recording her personality — which is clearly foreshadowing for her coming back. But she never does because the actress wasn’t available.
But in this case, it would have been fine if they had recast the actress because it would have literally been her in another body right as opposed to: [pretends to be another person, voice rises in pitch] “Like, ya know, what you talking about? I’ve always looked like this.”
That setup made perfect sense for that — I’m not sure why they didn’t — maybe there was something in the contract… I don’t know but that to me seemed a really good choice. Especially since one of the things that Babylon 5 prides itself on is the sort of queer relationship between Talia and Ivanova. If they brought Talia back, they could have actually had that on screen instead of having to tell us about it after. To be fair, they did mention it on screen but long after Talia died, so we never see them doing anything overly romantic
Chris: Honestly if they hadn’t introduced a new male lead to replace the old male lead, Ivanova could have just been the lead and it would have worked fine. Anyway, Babylon’s made not great choices sometimes…
I have an example… I thought of a mistaken character death that should not have happened, that as far as I know is not due to any production issues — also on the 100, which is of course famous for Lexa leaving. But the actress did in fact leave in that case. Now, the death was not well implemented because it was too much like Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Wells was Clark the main character’s best friend in season one of The 100, and there’s some characters of color on the show, but not tons… So he was probably one of the most prominent characters of color on the show.
And he was the first major death midway through season one. It’s frustrating when a character is killed off immediately after they complete an arc — he had this whole arc where he was trying to get back in Clarks good graces. She blamed him for something he didn’t do and had then just forgiven him.
And we don’t get to see them be friends — don’t see them experience their friendship again. Still haven’t gotten over that issue because almost immediately after that happens he gets killed and I find that frustrating when storytellers do it because they want you to care when a character dies and they might be like, okay, “Well his arc is done now.”
Oren: Yes, and now he’s disposable.
Chris: It does make him feel that he was buried as a fridging for Clark potentially. And they eliminated a major character of color so I stopped watching the show for a while after that because it was very frustrating to me.
Oren: Wes, what about you? You got one for us?
Wes: I want to start off with a controversial one.
Oren: Oh, yeah?
Wes: Well, I don’t know. I was chatting with some people about it at work. This is about the Serenity movie. And for those of you who have seen – here come spoilers, I guess — two characters from the TV show die in the movie: Shepherd Books and Wash. And Wash should have lived — my rationale here being that I see how Shepherd Book’s death had narrative purpose and got the crew further into action. It happens just over halfway through the story.
On the other hand Wash, he dies right after his ‘Leaf on the Wind’ moment. And I get what they’re going for because there was that moment where I legit thought: oh they’re all going to die because Wash died. That’s there.
I’m kind of regurgitating arguments from a few of my co-workers here, but not all of them felt the “oh no! they’re all going to die moment” because it was so close to the end of the movie that we couldn’t really sit with Wash’s death. And I thought that was a fair point, he could have been crippled by that thing but not killed, I don’t know. I just thought that was an interesting one to talk about because it happens so late in the movie and: Was death really the choice? I mean Alan Tudyk is a treasure and you know, we get a sad funeral at the end with their little hologram pictures and I’m like: [In exaggerated mournful tone] “Wash, no! There can never be another movie without you.” Do you guys have thoughts on that?
Chris: Yeah. I think Whedon really wanted that effect of hinting that characters would die. But when the story goes dark enough and characters do risky things it feels contrived if there are no consequences. And usually to highlight the impact of war or the impact of dangerous decisions the storyteller feels they have to pick somebody to go.
I think Oren was the one who suggested that maybe this was also intended to bring the cast number down if more movies were made.
Wes: Oh, interesting. [in genuine, appreciative tone]
Oren: I actually thought it was the opposite. I thought this was this was an attempt to end the calls for more of the show.
Oren: Because now not only Book but Wash is dead and — to be honest — do any of us want to watch Firefly without Wash? I kind of don’t. Interestingly enough, I have an odd perspective on this because I saw the movie first.
Oren: Yeah, and for me the risk that everyone was going to die suddenly became very real. I didn’t even know there was a TV show. I was a little confused by certain parts of it. I felt like I’m supposed to know who this Book guy is and this Inara lady. I don’t know who they are, that’s weird.
But when Wash died and I saw the rest of them in this desperate fight I thought some of them were going to die now because Wash died. It would be weird if nobody else died. And then none of them died. Even River — who threw herself into a suicidal situation didn’t and I was annoyed that only Wash died — that to me that felt weird.
I didn’t even register Shepherd Book dying as a main character because in the movie, he’s not, he’s just some guy. That was weird for me
Chris: The narrative I heard about the production of this movie was that Weadon hoped it would make enough money to make more movies or restart the show and it wasn’t successful enough for that to happen.
It’s hard to judge whether Wash was killed to continue the story or to end the story. For me, if there was more time the cast could have recovered, but if that’s the last thing you’re left with as part of that story… just, why? Why make the fan base sadder for no reason if you’re not going to continue the story? Whereas if the story had continued it would have been easier to put the hard death in a greater context of a show and characters that moved on and maybe a new comic relief character.
Oren: Yeah, and if no one dies from the scene where they fly through the supposedly incredibly dangerous Reaver Fleet, after a while it does start to feel like oh well, I guess everything’s fine, no big deal. I don’t know. I’m pretty neutral on Wash’s death personally. I can see both ways about it.
Wes: Just, I’m wracking my mind for other ways to raise tension and the loss of Wash… You know, he could have landed the ship but then have destroyed it beyond repair.
And for fans of the TV show the loss of that iconic ship would have been massive– so that’s an option: Still get through but with the ship is completely destroyed and they’re stranded on the planet when the Reavers are landing.
Oren: I would have liked if Wash had a character arc that felt like it was concluded with his death
West: Another good point. The thing that bothers me about that death is that it feels random. Whereas there are other characters who feel like they could have died as part of a satisfying Arc and Book is almost one of them for me. Wash was an odd choice.
Oren: If Wash had to die, I would have preferred if it was part of some arc. I don’t know exactly what that would be. Maybe he makes a mistake at the beginning with his piloting because he’s overconfident and that causes the group problems.
And he feels bad about that for the rest of the movie and then he has this moment where he just does a really great job and this is sort of a sacrifice death. That’s just the thought. We’ve been talking a lot about TV shows and admittedly most of my entries are from TV — though I tried to avoid ones that were from actors not being available.
Chris: It’s actually a lot harder because storytellers don’t like killing off characters. On TV it’s almost harder to control the plot because you have to keep things going. It’s harder to find instances from books.
Oren: Right, but I do have one from a from a book. It’s Nazca from The Lies of Locke Lamora. She’s introduced in a way that makes it seem like she’s going to be a main character. She’s the super crime boss’s daughter and she’s clearly the one who’s most like him. He’s got two useless sons and he has this weird moment where he says, “She can’t be Crime Boss after me — it’s not because she’s a girl, it’s because her brothers would never accept orders from her because she’s a girl.”
Wes: [struggling to speak through laughter] Okay, hang on, what?
Oren: So that happens. And she seems like a main character, and she and the main character Locke are put into a sham engagement that her father arranges and they’re like, “We’re friends, but we don’t want to be married and we don’t love each other so let’s work together and figure a way out.” That was a cool concept. Nazca was neat, she had more character than some of the characters in Lockes gang and then she dies almost immediately after being introduced. Off-screen in a brutal way.
Just why? She was cool, and I liked the story more when she was in it. It also reflects the fact that without her there are almost no women in the story. All of Locke’s gang members are guys for some reason, and all of the people he interacts with in the criminal World are guys.
As far as named characters with screen time we have Nazca, a nobleman’s wife who is cool but has very little screen time and then an also cool spymaster lady showing up near the end, but very little screen time. Nazca living would have rectified a lot, and though it would have still been unbalanced in favor of male characters, there would have been at least some pushback.
Chris: Yeah. It sounds like she had plenty of reason to be involved in the plot.
Oren: She absolutely did. She was actually more involved than Locke because the bad guy is doing what he’s doing specifically because he has a grudge against her dad and the Duke of the city. The only reason Locke gets involved is because the bad guy needs money and robs Locke whereas Nazca was involved through family ties. She’s closer to it than he is.
Oren: It was a very strange choice. I reread that book recently and I though: there’s a lot of weird choices made in this story. But you’ll notice this is a repeating pattern, especially when it’s a character who is part of a marginalized group and there aren’t many of them in the story. That’s a sign the character shouldn’t die.
You know, we have the trope of burying your gays, but that applies to any marginalized group. There are already not enough of them and when you start killing them, well, there are even fewer.
Chris: So, should we talk about Harry Potter?
Wes: [Enthusiastically] Oooohh… yes, let us.
Chris: Though, Rowling is surprisingly timid about killing off characters. Getting back to when you have a war, it feels contrived if no one dies — so Rowling must have picked a minimum number of characters to kill off in book seven. There’s a couple characters whose deaths really bother me and it’s not because I’m against them dying, it’s because she made it feel really contrived. That’s Lupin and Tonks.
Wes: [exasperated] Ugh, yeah.
Chris: These side characters have this whole romance arc in book seven, but they’ve never been important before so it comes out of nowhere that they have a kid. Okay… they’re having kid. That’s fine. [Incredulous tone] And then they make Harry the godfather? [Laughter] And oh gosh, they’re gonna die now because why else would this happen in this story?
Oren: I thought that was an odd choice because neither of them are particularly close to Harry. Lupin, in theory, has this connection with Harry’s dad, but after book 3 they don’t talk or hang out at all. That felt odd to me. Why is this happening?
Chris: Maybe they thought they would die later — but you’d think they’d consider that they might die during the war, and that Harry is just a little young.
Wes: Yeah, he can’t take that responsibility.
Chris: Why not the Weasleys? When they died it felt really contrived and planned out, I’m guessing by JK because she had a plan for a really cool character with shape-shifting abilities.
Oren: Oh right, because at the end baby Lupin is there and he’s a cool bad boy.
Chris: [Laughing] Yeah
Oren: Right in that epilogue scene that everyone loves.
Chris: Apparently she wrote the epilogue before she wrote the series — I think she probably planned on making another series about Lupin and Tonk’s kid and never did. I’m guessing it was a legacy thing that she didn’t get rid of that she should have.
Oren: This whole thing is throwing me for a serious Lupin.
Chris and Wes: [In exaggerated offended tone] Nooooo… no….
Chris: Can we put you in the timeout box? We’re not hearing from Oren for a while.
Oren: Or we could go to the Penalty Box, which is a good excuse to talk about one of Wes’s picks.
Wes: [Mournfully] Oh gosh, Tasha. Oh man.
Oren: That’s a Tasha Yar reference.
Wes: Oh boy. I’ve been rewatching Next Generation — just binging it. I grew up with the original series and I watched TNG sporadically, but at the start I was like, season 1, let’s go. And this Tasha character is pretty great. Chief of security really gets it done. I don’t know why I liked her character so much, and in that Skin of Evil episode she’s just dead. What? That was senseless. The show later on refers to it as a senseless death and, is that lamp shading?
Oren: Yeah, that is lampshading.
Wes: [Triumphantly] Yes.
Oren: The story behind this is weird. Tasha died because the actress Denise Crosby decided to leave because the first season of The Next Generation was terrible and Tasha Yar had almost nothing to do — and Crosby wasn’t interested. I don’t blame her but the manner of her death, depending on who you ask, was either an attempt to try to make the world seem more real because they were aware of the redshirt trope.
They thought if a main character could die like a red shirt that would be clever. Or it might be some weird revenge thing that Berman did because he didn’t like Crosby and was upset that she was leaving. There’s a lot of drama behind the scenes in season 1 of TNG. And I will see your Tasha Yar and raise you Tasha Yar again.
Wes: Oh my God, I got past that just last week. The last time we talked about this I had watched the episode with the time thing and Tasha from the other universe. What a great way to bring back to Denice Crosby! You’re like, wait, just wait.
Oren: Okay, so Yesterday’s Enterprise — beautiful episode — dare I say great or perfect episode you decide. It brings back Tasha Yar and gives her the badass death she deserved. Seems like that character should be over. No — we then find out that off-screen she was captured by the Romulans and forced to have a child. You know, for those of you at home paying attention is called rape. She was then killed trying to escape with her child off-screen. I was like, what? Why?
Wes: So unnecessary.
Chris: Yeah, and her child is an evil Romulan.
Oren: If they wanted to do that storyline why isn’t actual Tasha still alive? Just put a bit of age makeup on Denise Crosby and then she can come and break them out. There’s even a scene in that movie where they break out because the Romulans forgot to set a password on the computer they left them. That seems really contrived. It would have been less contrived if older Tasha Yar — who’s been living undercover on Romulus for the last 15 years — breaks them out. That would have been way cooler.
Wes: Way cooler.
Oren: And there would have actually been something for Sela to do. Because one of the reasons Sela gets dropped is that she’s just a generically evil Romulan, but if she had a connection to her still living older mom who’s also played by Denise Crosby, then they would be connected and we could do something with that. But if you’ve got Denise Crosby to play Sela you have her to play old Tasha Yar. Maybe you have to pay her more, pay Denise Crosby more, that’s all I’m saying. [Group laughs]
Wes: Yes to all of that.
Chris: I have another one from a book called the Exiles Trilogy.
Oren: There’s an X-Files Trilogy?
Chris: Exiles. Exiles.
Oren: Okay, yes, okay.
Chris: [Laughing] Yeah. It’s a book about people fighting each other in a matriarchal setting. Pretty dark. Colin is the protagonist and the first book opens with him, which leads you to think he’s going to be the most important character. I liked him a lot partly because the book opening with him caused me to bond with him. And he was also a nice person and more sympathetic than most of the other characters. He didn’t have magic, a lot of these characters were Mages, but he was not a Mage. When you have one character that doesn’t have powers and all of the other characters do often they become more sympathetic because it’s spinach for them.
Oren: We call that the Sokka effect.
Chris: Yeah the Sokka effect. [Mildly outraged] Not only that but there’s hints that there’s some sort of secret about him. I don’t remember exactly what it is. — maybe some kind of destiny — maybe some secret of his birth. We don’t know. But then he dies and we don’t know.
Oren: Nope. We never find out.
Chris: The trilogy is not even finished yet. It’s not all published.
Oren: Wait, really? Huh.
Chris: Yeah, as far as I know. There’s just two out of three.
Oren: Isn’t that trilogy old now? Has it been Song of Ice and Fired? It’s just never going to finish.
Chris: [Laughing] Maybe. Anyway, it felt like he was supposed to be the protagonist but he really just existed to further the actual main characters. Maybe the secret about his bloodline is so that his daughters can have a cool reveal about what they are. But he was really sympathetic and he just died — you don’t find out what his deal was and that was disappointing.
Oren: You never get to know. We’re almost out of time but there is one more I want to bring up before we end here — and that is Barty Crouch Junior.
Chris: Yep, Barty Crouch Junior. Absolutely.
Oren: Also from Harry Potter. Barty Crouch Junior sounds like a silly cereal mascot or whatever but he’s actually a very effective villain. In book 4, he’s the one who impersonated Mad-Eye Moody. He’s that character for most of the book and then he reveals his identity and has a whole storyline. He is effective despite how silly the plan in book 4.
Chris: He’s really good at carrying it out.
Oren: Right. He’s one of the only Harry Potter villains who actually manages to do the thing he set out to do — which is a major boon. There wasn’t any reason for him to die at the end, and if he hadn’t died, there would have been a villain who the characters had a personal connection with whereas at the moment the closest is Voldemort, but that’s more of a magical connection because Voldemort and Harry have never interacted much.
Whereas all three of our main characters interacted with Crouch a bunch. And he knows them — I think that would have been cool and he would have been a good Lieutenant for Voldemort to have in book seven.
Chris: And the fact that he trained Harry to be better at defense against the dark arts would certainly be interesting when they met up again.
Oren: Yeah, I would have loved to read that. There was a missed opportunity with that character and especially the way he dies is contrived.
Wes: Does he get a dementor kiss?
Oren: Yeah, off-screen a dementor kills him. It’s unclear if that was on Voldemort’s orders or what, but it happened. Just why? Him dying wasn’t necessary. He could have just escaped. If he can pull off this incredibly complicated Triwizard Tournament plan I think he can plan an escape route
Wes: Plus, we could have gotten more David Tennant.
Oren: [Laughs] All right, with that, I think we’re gonna call this episode to a close since I took us a little overtime with that Barty Crouch Junior Thing.
Wes: Worth it.
Oren: Yeah… so those of you at home, if anything we said piques your interest you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. We have Kathy Ferguson who’s a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, who writes urban fantasy and knows all there is to know about Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We will talk to you next week.
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Chris: This has been the Mythcreants podcast. Opening and Closing theme is The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton.
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