Tag: death

Bring Out Your Dead

Courtesy HBO & GRRM

Writers are murderers. This is an established fact. But I would contend that only bad writers kill characters on a whim, “just because”. If you look at good writing, a character death is never accidental, never flippant. It’s a calculated move. And, if you’re attached to said character or characters, after the initial shock, if you think about it, you can nod and say “Yes, that was a good death.”

Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Spoiler
Quite a few character deaths are, unfortunately, are a means of raising the stakes. Joss Whedon has a habit of doing this. From Shepard Book and Wash in Serenity to Coulson in The Avengers, the death of characters is a sudden gut-punch that knocks the wind out of the audience for a moment and demonstrates that things are serious, and deadly. Our pathos shoots up for those left behind. We feel raw loss at the same time as the surviving characters, and while this can sometimes feel like manipulation on the writer’s part, the effect is undeniable.

Character deaths are even better when they are the result of character decisions and actions, cause and effect, leading to that terminal point. I think of The Wire as a good example of this. Some of the character deaths may seem senseless, in one case even random, but a moment’s thought puts the violence in context, and the realization comes that every bullet is the final result of a series of choices made by the characters. Especially since good writers go out of their way to realize their characters as people, we can understand why those decisions were made, even if we don’t agree with them.

A Song Of Ice And Fire is notorious for character deaths, but here is another example of characters dying more as a result of deicions made by themselves or others, rather than seemingly at the whim of the author. The deaths are just as calculated, but the arithmetic is obscured by deep characterization and excellent dialog. Consider the death of Tywin Lannister. Here is a man who had power and ambition, but also cunning and charisma. He definitely made enemies, and burned a lot of bridges, but for a while, he seemed almost untouchable. But many of the decisions he made were disadvantageous for his second son, Tyrion. He underestimated the fury and calculation of his malformed child, and even when the terminal point was reached, Tywin’s pride does not allow for him to do anything other than confront Tyrion directly and boldly. Neither man backs down and, in the end, it’s the one with the crossbow that walks away.

So. Character deaths. Let’s talk about them. What has stood out in your mind as a good death for characters? Which have seemed pointless, or badly executed? How powerful is death when applied from a writer’s toolbox?

From the Vault: What We Leave Behind

Still recovering from my recent travels – in a way, it feels like I’m shaking off the vestiges of sleep and wondering if it was a dream. Anyway, here’s a dip into the past while I work on catching up.


Courtesy Neil Gaiman

Nothing lasts forever.

It’s a narrative thread woven through many, many stories we tell. Ozymandias talks of great constructs of man all but obliterated by time. A lot of tales are set in times long after the collapse of expansive civilizations. We preserve what we can, but it is impossible to escape what comes for each and every one of us in time.

Death has been personified in many ways. We want to put a face to the inevitability of our end. We struggle to comprehend the finality of it. That there is nothing more in this world for us. No matter what may come after, if there’s more to existence than these mere dimensions we perceive or if there is nothing but silence and oblivion, our hands do no more work, our mouths never make audible sounds again, our eyes fail to see another wonder or another tragedy.

And yet, our stories do not end when we do.

Time will have her way with what we build and the lines we draw between one another. Our imaginations, however, are much more difficult to destroy. In those imaginations, we remember those who’ve left us behind, we tell their stories, we wonder and question and laugh and cry. And when we latch onto something, like the arguments made by the likes of Plato or Aristotle, the teachings of pilgrims from Nazareth or visionaries from Mecca, a tale about fairies or the faux history of the epic struggle of noble houses, the creator of the work lasts even longer in our imaginations. In rare cases, we’re given more than just entertainment and escapism. We are given hope.

I don’t necessarily mean hope for an afterlife or immortality or anything like that. In a general sense, we find hope for a better tomorrow. We know the world will keep turning even if someone we admire or love dies. And if the sun does indeed rise on a new day, maybe we can find, in ourselves and in what we and our loved ones leave behind, whatever it takes to make this day better than the one before.

What We Leave Behind

Courtesy Neil Gaiman

Nothing lasts forever.

It’s a narrative thread woven through many, many stories we tell. Ozymandias talks of great constructs of man all but obliterated by time. A lot of tales are set in times long after the collapse of expansive civilizations. We preserve what we can, but it is impossible to escape what comes for each and every one of us in time.

Death has been personified in many ways. We want to put a face to the inevitability of our end. We struggle to comprehend the finality of it. That there is nothing more in this world for us. No matter what may come after, if there’s more to existence than these mere dimensions we perceive or if there is nothing but silence and oblivion, our hands do no more work, our mouths never make audible sounds again, our eyes fail to see another wonder or another tragedy.

And yet, our stories do not end when we do.

Time will have her way with what we build and the lines we draw between one another. Our imaginations, however, are much more difficult to destroy. In those imaginations, we remember those who’ve left us behind, we tell their stories, we wonder and question and laugh and cry. And when we latch onto something, like the arguments made by the likes of Plato or Aristotle, the teachings of pilgrims from Nazareth or visionaries from Mecca, a tale about fairies or the faux history of the epic struggle of noble houses, the creator of the work lasts even longer in our imaginations. In rare cases, we’re given more than just entertainment and escapism. We are given hope.

I don’t necessarily mean hope for an afterlife or immortality or anything like that. In a general sense, we find hope for a better tomorrow. We know the world will keep turning even if someone we admire or love dies. And if the sun does indeed rise on a new day, maybe we can find, in ourselves and in what we and our loved ones leave behind, whatever it takes to make this day better than the one before.

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