Hux standing in front of a stormtrooper.

Character deaths can be poignant moments of drama and pathos, or they can be frustrating disappointments. It’s the second category that we’re concerned with today. Whether it’s a beloved favorite who died before their time or a minor character who perished from lack of interest, there are so many unsatisfying ways for characters to die! Let’s look at five dismal examples.

Spoiler Notice: Wednesday and season three of Picard

1. Erica and Boyd, Teen Wolf

Erica and Boyd from Teen Wolf.

Erica and Boyd didn’t get the best start as Teen Wolf characters. They’re turned into werewolves by quasi-antagonist Derek* at the start of season two so that he has a few extra bodies to stand beside him when he confronts protagonist Scott and the rest of Team Good. Erica’s only schtick is a brief attempt at being a seductress, while Boyd has no characterization to speak of beyond being “stoic.” 

Other than that, the two of them have little to do other than perform poorly as werewolves, with all the development in Derek’s pack going to white boy Isaac. That’s not a great look, especially since Teen Wolf never has enough female characters, and I don’t know if it ever manages more than two Black characters in a single season. 

Given the writers’ obvious disinterest, it’s no surprise that Boyd and Erica are written out at the end of season two, with both of them deciding to leave town. But wait – they’re actually captured by Deucalion, another werewolf and a big villain for season three. He holds them hostage as part of a convoluted plan to make Derek join his pack. Sure. 

The plan doesn’t make any sense, but it’s at least a step up for Erica and Boyd, as the other characters now try to rescue them. Surprise: Erica has already been killed offscreen by the time our heroes arrive, as her actress decided not to return in season three.* That’s pretty jarring, but maybe Boyd finally gets something to do? 

NOPE. Instead, we’re told he had a largely offscreen romance with Erica, and then he’s brutally killed for another facet of Deucalion’s weird recruiting drive. It’s supposed to be sad, but more for Derek than for Boyd. Instead of a tragic loss, it felt more like a tax write-off for a character the show never knew what to do with. 

In fairness, the writers seem to have been in something of a bind with Erica. She’s shown getting captured at the end of season two when it wasn’t yet known that her actress wouldn’t return. The show couldn’t just say she’d left without some kind of awkward offscreen escape. I can’t help speculating that the actress might have been more interested in returning if there were more to her role, but that’s neither here nor there. 

But as far as we know, there wasn’t any such constraint with Boyd. It would have been easy for Boyd to live, either staying on as a main character or leaving town as originally planned. As filmed, his death makes no sense anyway, as Deucalion seems to think that killing Boyd will make Derek more likely to join Deucalion’s pack. As anyone could predict, it does the opposite. If Boyd absolutely had to die, it should have been for something a bit more heroic. Why not at least let him get revenge on Erica’s killer first since the show was determined on establishing a Boyd-Erica romance anyway?

2. Weems, Wednesday

Weems from Wednesday.

Played by Gwendoline Christie, Principal Weems has a major presence in Wednesday’s first season even though she doesn’t do very much. Her most notable actions include scolding Wednesday for not being a model student and then acting pretty darned suspicious. That way, she can briefly be a suspect in the murder investigation. 

Despite that, Weems is memorable both for Christie’s striking presence and the character’s contrasting aesthetic. With bright-colored makeup, lots of white in her wardrobe, and a ready smile, Weems is a natural counterpoint to Wednesday’s dark persona. Plus, at over six feet tall, she’s quite imposing. Even if she doesn’t do much, she seems like a badass. 

Too bad she randomly dies like an extra on a Starfleet away mission. In the season finale, Wednesday and Weems trick the villain into confessing everything via a cunning plan. Weems then confidently demands that the villain surrender. This gives the impression that she’s ready for trouble, since Weems knows that the villain has had several people killed. We don’t know the full extent of what Weems can do, but as the head of a magic school for monsters, we assume she can handle herself.

Or not. The villain pulls out a comically oversized syringe and stabs Weems in the neck with it. Weems just stands there, presumably shocked that the known murderer would try to murder someone. It’s not exactly a lightning-fast attack either. Weems is so tall that the villain really has to reach for it. Weems then dies because the syringe is full of poisonous nightshade. There are apparently fan theories that she’s not dead, but we see the last breath leave her body. She’s dead until they pull a retcon in season two

What’s startling about this moment is how unnecessary it is from a storytelling point of view. The villain has already killed several people; we don’t need another death to establish that the situation is serious. And Weems dies so easily that it hardly increases the villain’s threat level. If the writers wanted Weems out of the way for the climax, they could have just injured her. Nor was the antagonism between Weems and Wednesday exhausted by any stretch, so it’s not like the principal would have nothing to do in season two. 

The only justification I can think of is a production constraint. In interviews, Christie seems eager to play Weems again, but maybe there’s something else going on behind the scenes, like uncertainty over whether they can pay her salary. Or maybe I’m giving the writers too much credit, and they actually thought this was cool from a storytelling perspective. 

If that’s the case, they could at least have let Weems play a bigger role in the climax. Maybe she gives her life to weaken the big bad or save Wednesday from that seemingly fatal stab wound. As filmed, the stab wound is undone by a deus ex ghost, and a sacrifice by Weems would have been a lot less contrived

3. Hux, The Rise of Skywalker 

Hux from the Star Wars sequel films.

In The Force Awakens, Hux is little more than an Imperial/First Order lackey of Kylo Ren. Hux’s only notable moment in that movie is giving a very angry speech about how they’re going to destroy the Republic and its “precious fleet.” In The Last Jedi, along with being supremely incompetent, Hux builds more of a rivalry with Kylo, even challenging the broody Sith boy for leadership at one point. This ends rather abruptly via a Force choke, but it plants the seeds of further drama. 

Surprisingly, Rise of Skywalker actually follows up on that hook, with Hux becoming a spy for the rebels/Resistance/Republic/whatever the good guys are calling themselves. As Hux puts it, “I don’t care if you win – I need Kylo Ren to lose.” This might be the only dramatic thread organically developed across all three sequel movies. Amazing. After revealing that he’s a spy and freeing a few of the heroes, Hux even has a clever plan to get himself back into Team Evil’s ranks without suspicion. 

Instead, a new military guy immediately notices Hux’s treachery and shoots him dead. So that storyline is over. I’ve seen speculation that J. J. Abrams killed Hux off because he didn’t like the character’s direction in the previous movie, and maybe that’s true. But if it is, why also give him this cool spy storyline? Why not just have the heroes blow up his ship at the beginning? 

Unlike some other entries on this list, I don’t think Hux surviving would be a good change. There’s frankly nothing about Hux that would make it interesting or desirable to redeem him. His story could always end by getting taken prisoner, but we’ve seen what it looks like when Star Wars good guys try to set up a government, so it’s unlikely he’d see any justice. 

Instead, Rise of Skywalker could have done better by playing up Hux’s revenge plot against Kylo. Okay, Rise of Skywalker could have done better in a lot of ways, but we’re talking about Hux right now! Keep him as a spy helping the good guys for most of the movie, perhaps with the heroes even starting to wonder if maybe he’s not such a bad guy. The First Order has such a crushing advantage in this movie that a bit of help from within would only take the odds of success from impossible to very low. 

Then, in the climax, Hux switches sides back to Team Evil. Why? Because Kylo Ren turns good, and Hux only cares about taking Kylo down. This would be a good time for Hux to die, ideally in a doomed attempt to kill Kylo. Such a revision could even have a message about revenge ultimately being self-destructive. Or I guess we could have some more dialogue about “Force dyads.” I’m sure that’s just as good. 

4. Kro, The Eternals 

Kro from The Eternals.

Overall, this attempt to introduce a whole team of heroes at once is a major disappointment, but it does have one very interesting idea. Way back in the day, the Celestials created monstrous creatures called Deviants* to encourage the evolution of sapient life and then protect that life so the Celestials could eventually feed on it. Something went wrong, and the Deviants started preying on sapient creatures instead of protecting them. 

The Celestials couldn’t have that; only they get to eat sapient creatures! So the Celestials made a team of superheroes called the Eternals and tasked them with protecting sapient life from the Deviants. Sometimes you have to swallow a spider to catch the fly you swallowed earlier. The catch is that the Eternals don’t know that once they’re done protecting a planet, the Celestials eat everyone on it.*

This setup has a lot of potential. The Deviants never got a choice in what they are or what they do, because they’re animals operating with limited intelligence. The Eternals are fully sapient, but they’re being lied to and manipulated. The Celestials are treating everyone like pawns, having them fight each other in a contest that only ever benefits the Celestials. 

So when one of the Deviants starts gaining sapience, along with a few new superpowers, it’s obvious what’s going to happen, right? Kro* and the Eternals will realize they’re not so different or at least that they have a common enemy in the Celestials. The old adversaries put the past behind them and work together. 

Or, and hear me out: Kro could just be a miniboss to keep one of the Eternals busy in the climax before unceremoniously dying. I don’t think we even find out why Kro was getting smarter. He does kill an Eternal early in the movie and absorb her powers, but it seems like that must have happened before in the countless centuries since the Celestials started all this. 

You might wonder why the filmmakers even added Kro to the movie if they weren’t interested in doing anything with his character. Maybe they intended to do more but couldn’t because the film is so crowded with characters. It’s also possible they just needed a warmup villain to keep the heroes busy until their true antagonist is revealed. 

That’s too bad, because the dynamic between Deviant, Eternal, and Celestial is by far the most interesting aspect of the movie. Without it, the Eternals are just another team of superheroes – and not a particularly memorable one. It would have really improved the movie to get some closure on Kro’s arc, and all the better if we had to cut Druig’s creepy cult to make room. In fact, maybe just cut Druig entirely? That way, we don’t have to ask why the Celestials created a guy to fight Deviants and then gave him a power that doesn’t work on Deviants. 

5. Shelby, Picard 

Shelby from Star Trek: Picard.

As a franchise, Star Trek is absolutely full of characters who died before their time or in really off-putting ways. Sometimes both! Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax, Icheb, Hugh: honestly, this whole list could have been Star Trek characters. But I restrained myself to just one, and here she is. 

Way back in The Next Generation’s third-season finale, we meet guest star Lt. Commander Shelby. She’s a hotshot officer who’s here to fight Borg and chew bubblegum, and the replicator is broken so she can’t get any more bubblegum. Even though the days of women being banned from the captain’s chair are long over by this point, we still haven’t seen many female characters in command positions, so Shelby is a breath of fresh air. 

Shelby is also instrumental in Riker’s character arc. She’s a risk taker like Riker used to be, contrasting with the cautious, methodical officer he’s turned into. This motivates Riker to step up and take command after Picard is assimilated. It’s a great arc which tragically goes nowhere, because everything reverts to the status quo by the episode’s end. But it’s still fun to watch.  

After that, we don’t see Shelby for quite some time. She’s mentioned a couple times in DS9 – something Ronald D. Moore apparently got in trouble over – but only in vague terms. Seemed like a one-off character we could always remember fondly. 

Then, it was time for season three of Picard and the train wreck that is its ending. In a plot that’s bizarrely similar to the finale of Prodigy, Starfleet has gathered all its ships in one place and networked them together, because that sounds like such a good idea! Surprise, surprise, this is a trap so the Borg can assimilate all of Starfleet at once. How do they do it? Military-grade technobabble and Picard’s misbegotten son.     

What does this have to do with Shelby? Just before the evil plan is sprung,* Shelby appears! She’s an admiral now, which is cool. Less cool is why she’s there: to talk about how great this plan to network all the ships together is. 

If there was one person in Starfleet who would recognize what a bad idea this is, it would be Shelby. I think the writers even realize this, because they have Picard and Riker share an exasperated aside about how ironic it is for her to be endorsing the plan, which only makes the situation worse. It sounds like they’re rolling their eyes at her, like this is someone we’re supposed to enjoy seeing humiliated. 

Then, to really drive home the point, Shelby is killed when the officers on her bridge get remotely assimilated.* Before that happened, I had a very dispassionate view of this show’s last season. It wasn’t very good, but it seemed ultimately harmless. But now we always get to remember how Shelby died: bewildered that her plan to make the entire fleet vulnerable to a single hacking attempt somehow didn’t go well. 

I don’t even have a fix for this one because it’s so pointless. Shelby’s presence contributes nothing to the story other than a mild nostalgia fix for viewers who remember her. Having her die accomplishes nothing other than giving the impression that while this show desperately wants to be a love letter to TNG, it doesn’t actually like TNG that much. 

No matter how many times it happens, I’m always surprised when storytellers give their characters bad deaths. Maybe that’s because I hate killing any of my characters and only do it when I can give them the best sendoff possible. Even then, it’s under protest! If a story does its job right, the audience will feel the same way. They don’t want to see a character go, because that character is cool and compelling. The least we as storytellers can do is make sure the death isn’t a letdown. 

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