What does Game of Thrones (2011), Walking Dead (2010) and Falling Skies (2011) have in common? In it everyone can die. Characters are killed off constantly and its starting to annoy me.
Its a gimmick and it has stopped working and I feel its just an excuse for lazy writing.
“But its so realistic!”, some may say. No it isnt. Yes, everyone can die, but they dont die that easily and that often. Especially if the people getting killed off are kings or presidents. Besides, even if it was “realistic” this gimmick is not about reality. Its about shock. But as with most shock, it´s shocking nature lessens for each time it is done.
Its not that characters hasnt been killed off before. DeepThroat got killed in X-files (1993), Prue Halliwell got killed off in Charmed (1998). Lots of characters has been killed off in lots of shows, but the “anyone can die” trope is different in one very important way: It has seldom real narrative meaning. It just happens.
Before this fad where characters got killed off left and right, when a character died it was not just for shock, but also as a narrative tool. It meant something. It told the remaining characters that they were in great danger and it usually motivated the character for revenge or had some other interesting impact. Now they are just killed off for shock and nonsense.
I don´t watch Family Guy (1999). Its a stupid show that should have gone off the air a long time ago, but I remember that they killed of the dog Brian in that show and that people seemed to care about that. I never understood why. In fact I tweeted that that show has NO continuity, and Brian would return later. And he did.
McCoward said in Rolling Stone “It reminded people this is still a show where anything can happen despite the fact it’s been on for awhile.”
Anything can happen? But it doesnt MATTER! In narration we need the events to have a meaning. Not just a bunch of stuff happening for no reason other than to show that anything can happen. We know anything can happen. Its fiction. But it needs to be plausible, and it needs to be eventful, and it needs to have an impact on the narrative world or its just gonna leave us numb.
Its lazy writing. When the writers don´t know where to go with a character conflict they just kill off one or both of them. End of story. Its anti-climatic and stupid.
Lets take Game of Thrones. I watched Game of Thrones until mid-season 3 I think. I remember three events from that show. The killing of Ned Stark in season 1, “the red wedding” and the killing of the psychopathic child king in season 3. After the last scene where the child king dies I just didnt care anymore. That was the last sigh of indifference.
The first death of Ned Stark was important. That established that “anyone can die” and was a surprise. The Red Wedding killed of another bunch of “important” (or should I say “main”?) characters. I think I reacted surprised to that too. And then the Child King died and again I was surprised. But! I also noticed I didnt really care. I was just shocked and annoyed.
What was the point? Why should I care?
When one kills of a character that usually is the END of drama, not the beginning. Dramatic events need the character to live so that the conflict may be resolved or escalated. Death is lazy writing. It adds no conflict, and the events that follow usually arent that interesting anyway. In Game of Thrones I dont think the characters even hear about it at times.
I am currently watching Falling Skies on Netflix. Its not really a great show, but I am gonna watch it until the last available episode or until the show becomes so bad it becomes unwatchable.
In that show, characters are killed of, although often side-characters more than the core cast. It tries to be deep, emotional and interesting, but usually it fails.
Let me tell you about a dramatic conflict in that show, fresh in mind,and how it is resolved. A boy talks to his stepmother about being naughty. She tells him he is wrong, and he yells “You´re not my mother” and runs off. The conflict is resolved by… Boy just doing a 180 and deciding it was wrong cuz he is a good kid. And then they kill off a character.