How (Not) to Kill Off A Character: 4 Characters Who Deserved Better and 1 Who Had It Coming
By Chelsea A. Hensley
Soon approaching are May Sweeps, when every television show rolls out their biggest, baddest and most canon-altering storylines. Makeups, breakups, big moves, births and of course death.
TVLine’s May Sweeps roundup promises a whopping 14 fatalities, plus 11 characters whose fates are left undecided. These numbers don’t account for deaths that have already aired this year, and with recent weeks being especially bloody, I shudder at what to expect next month.
Character death is a natural piece of television. Stories end, and sometimes do so fatally, but with the rash of disappointing and controversial deaths recently, we must ask: how does a show effectively kill off a character?
While onscreen deaths are great for passing time at the water-cooler, they’re ultimately supposed to keep viewers watching so why have so many of them had fans washing their hands of once beloved shows? These lethal send-offs are too often the answer to providing shock and awe or clearing the deck for a departing actor.
While fans fear the untimely death of their favorite character, what’s even more terrifying is the prospect that they’ll be killed off badly, and all the significance they held will be just as dead. Television is fumbling on what goes into making an impactful death: (1) the story this season, (2) how they died and (3) final words/acts, and its viewers have begun to take notice.
Read on for four characters who deserved better and one who had it coming.
Lexa (The 100)
This Season: Lexa tries out a more benevolent way of ruling. While she and Clarke circle one another romantically, Lexa does everything she can to avoid war between the Grounders and Skaikru.
How Did She Die? Lexa’s Flamkeipa,Titus, tried to shoot and kill Clarke and hit Lexa instead.
Final Words/Acts: Lexa’s shot after she and Clarke have slept together for the first (and last) time. She has quite a few last words but the gist is that she’s definitely dying and everyone should go on without her.
What’s Wrong With This? Lexa was this television season’s first controversial death, but as this list proves, she wasn’t the last. As The 100’s only lesbian character and in a (heavily promoted) relationship with lead character Clarke, Lexa was a fan favorite. Her death was a slap in the face to viewers who thought The 100 planned on giving Clexa a genuine love story. Instead, The 100 walked right into the Bury Your Gays trope.
How Could It Have Been Better? Alycia Debnam-Carey stars in Fear the Walking Dead and was unable to remain with The 100, but killing her Lexa wasn’t the only option. Lexa was making a number of controversial decisions as Commander, ones that already her people turning against her. Lexa could have been ousted and forced to flee, giving The 100 the same storytelling opportunities that come with a new Commander without killing her.
If the show is really committed to proving that “no one is safe” it should stop mainly killing its marginalized characters (i.e Lincoln, Wells, Anya). If The 100 was better at representation, and its storytelling, Lexa’s death could have been just as powerful as they thought it was.
You can kill characters from marginalized communities. You can’t kill them when you have a small amount of them, haven’t done enough to adequately develop them, or when the constructed narrative is directly or indirectly punishing them for being other. And you can’t kill them when most of the people you’ve already killed have been marginalized in some way. Not without massive backlash, as The 100 has learned.