Oh My God! George R. R. Martin killed Kenny!

Spoiler Alert for the following shows: Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Lost, Sons of Anarchy, Beauty and the Beast, Once Upon a Time, and Spartacus.

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I admit it. I felt special. I was one of the lucky ones from the thousands of people waiting in line, for seven hours, to get inside the 2011 San Diego Comic Con: Game of Thrones Panel. Inside the room, fan, after fan, worshiped upon George R. R. Martin’s ground and collectively bowed to the creative genius.  He has set himself apart by creating such a rich and deep world that his characters could be secondary to the reader’s experience and therefore expendable. In his world, he could break the golden rule that the good guys always win in the end. Now that the novels were being turned into a television series, the production team swore to stay truthful to Martin’s stories and they received thunderous applause from the audience. As I hadn’t finished the first book yet, nor the 1st season of the show, I sat there thinking, that’s all fine and dandy but you hired Lord of the Rings Sean Bean to play Ned Stark and genetic perfection Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo so I assured myself that at least they would be okay.

Seriously! At the conclusion of each episode, I found myself saying, “they did not just do that” as I watched my favorite characters, one-by-one, fall to their demise.

Traditionally, readers/viewers get emotionally attached to their characters and want to ride their storyline as their co-pilot. Creators realize that their audiences aren’t just watching their shows, they want to see what is happening with their favorite characters. In the past, unless it’s a Soap Opera, having a major character leave the show or be re-casted was show suicide.  Just ask Lost.

While trying to distract their audience with polar bears and black smoke until they could figure out the  island, the show Lost killed off my favorite character, Boone, in the episode Do No Harm (Season 1, Episode 20, Year: 2005) and the fans reacted with their absence and hopefully lower ratings.  However, like when I start a novel, even if the book is horrible, I have to read the last few pages so I did return 5 seasons later to see the final episode. Boone was back, proving that order had been restored.

Yet, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, apparently hadn’t learned their lesson. They created the show, Once Upon a Time, and tried it again, killing off my favorite character, Sheriff Graham, in the episode The Heart is a Lonely Hunter during the first season.  They seem to be repeating a broken pattern, just to prove to themselves that they can break the golden rule. However, nobody else seemed to be that crazy.

Then it started happening.

Shows started killing off the beloved character for “emotional impact”. Already a dark series, Sons of Anarchy, killed off the heart of their show, Oppie (Ryan Hurst). I was devastated. I read online that they considered Ryan Hurst part of the “family” and it wasn’t about contract negotiations, it was just about storytelling. Bastards.

ImageNot even novel based characters that live on the written pages are safe from the television ax. Have you been watching Walking Dead lately? Rest in Peace Andrea. I read that Laurie Holden didn’t know until a few days before filming that her character would be off the show, for storytelling purposes. No Way!

I realize that not every show has the premise that their characters are going to live happily ever after. You didn’t need to check Wikipedia to know that Spartacus and Crixus weren’t going to end up as farmers.  Survivor rates are low on shows like Dexter, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, or the Following but the audience knows this coming in as a viewer.

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What tipped me over the edge? Recently, I watched an episode of Beauty and the Beast because this CW show is good for a few things, campy melodrama and Jay Ryan’s dimples that even a scarred face can’t dimmer.  Halfway through the episode, Evan (Max Brown) took a bullet to the stomach as they tried to escape the compound. Get some duct tape because the man could walk it off.  After some sympathetic dialogue of regret and his feelings for the heroine, he walked into the light… as in lifted his arms and allowed his body to be showered with bullets. Now CW is trying this move?

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No, Bad TV…George R. R. Martin is the exception to the rule, not the rule. Stop thinking that it’s suddenly cool to kill off a character just because everyone else is trying it.

ImageThe act of killing off beloved characters, for dramatic effect, is spreading to the literacy world. I’m reading a lot of stories where the hero sacrifices himself for the heroine instead of ending up married with 2.5 kids, a four car garage and white picketed fences.  I fear that romance authors might forget our roots; our audience wants a happily-ever-after. Romance writers are collectively standing on a bridge. It might seem fun to do what others are doing but we don’t have to jump. Geesh, I sound like my mother. Time to step off my soapbox.  

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Posted on April 29, 2013, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Jessie,

    Great post from a woman who knows her fiction. I agree, I do NOT LIKE losing a favored character and will stop watching or reading.

    That said, I recently read Karen Robards The Last Victim, in which (spoiler alert) the ghost of the dead bad boy turned out to be the hero!!! And he’s one of my all time fave KR heroes. She just pubbed the sequel, so can’t wait to learn if he somehow gets to come back to life … or if the heroine will be ‘walking into the light’ with him.

    You know me, I love hot. They even had some hot lovin’. And no, not zombie love, lol.

    best,
    Cathryn Cade

    Like

  2. Thanks for sharing the link to that informative site.

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  3. Killing a character can be a great dramatic thing. Or it can turn into Women in Refrigerators (http://lby3.com/wir/)

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  4. It doesn’t stop me from reading (or just the last few pages) but I’m not emotionally involved anymore and find myself skimming pages to the end.

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  5. Interesting post, Jessie. I do believe in sacrificing (I won’t say killing off) characters for the good of the story. However, I also believe in finding a way to get them back somehow and still achieve an HEA. Lost did that with Boone. It is easier to get people back in a paranormal or fantasy than in a historical or contemporary–whether back in some reality or the hereafter.

    There are contemporary women’s fiction stories I’ve read recently where one of the two protagonists die. Though I wished there had been a way for that not to happen, I completely understood why the author did it. When done well it all has to do with story and the growth of the character–a growth that could not happen with the person alive. Notice I said “when done well.” I don’t accept it when a character is killed purely for effect or for randomness. However, I completely respect it when there is a good reason and when it happens the reader can say, “Okay. I hate that it happened but I see why.” Thank goodness, I haven’t read a lot of stories where the author randomly kills of good people for effect.

    Obviously, sacrificing a character doesn’t always make you stop watching the show. Does it make you stop reading the book when it happens? What are “good” reasons to you for sacrificing a character (I mean someone you like, not the villain)?

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  6. Greetings Liv,

    That’s brilliant! If “Happily in the Hereafter” isn’t coined, stamp it because that was awesome.

    I checked out your website and I love the w. board mouse arrow mover – so cool.

    Thanks,
    Jessie

    Like

  7. No.
    Just, no. If I wanted messy, complicated drama, where bad things happen for completely random reasons, I’ll live my life, thank you. I read romance BECAUSE I can count on the HEA.
    (And I don’t mean Happily in the Hereafter!)

    Like

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