May 8 2012 10:00am

Death in Fantasy Fiction: Why It Makes Us Rage

Science fiction and fantasy tell some big stories. We’ve got monsters, super/magic powers, hero/villain battles, and every kind of weapon you can shake a Mjolnir at. In the midst of all this chaos, blood’s going to be spilled and death is going to happen. Sometimes, that means that characters we love and connect to are going to get pretty well murdered. 

Two creators are notorious for their character kill-offs. I’m talking about two creative power-houses right now, Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin. Of the writers out their today, both of these men are known for sparking controversy by once in a while just axing a beloved character or three along the way. But before the next chest-stabbing happens or someone else loses their head, I want to delve into why it is that character deaths make fans rage.

(Warning: There shall be spoilers for a certain Marvel super hero movie! And Game of Thrones! And Firefly and Buffy, you know. Be warned!)

George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and the subsequent Game of Thrones series on HBO is full of death — gory, creative, horrifying death. In a world populated by so many characters, it was obvious that a few were going to get the ax in thousands of pages of text. But how many people really saw the coming death of Ned Stark on the chopping block? Ned Stark’s death was a signal that in the game of thrones, nothing and no one is safe from the consequences of their actions. To me, that provided a realistic action/reaction basis for the world. There would not be magical last minute saves for our favorites and fate (or the writer) could be cruel to characters who made stupid or wreckless choices. Yet I’ve heard people criticize Martin’s murder of characters as detrimental to their enjoyment of the series. The reasoning behind this reaction is that it is painful to a reader to connect with a character in a story, begin to root for them, and then watch them die in ways that they consider random, arbitrary, or unnecessary. 

The same is often said about the second creator I mentioned, Joss Whedon. Joss right now, as far as many fans are concerned, can do no wrong. He’s been the creator of a handful of shows that are touchstones in the scifi/fantasy genre like Buffy, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible. He’s created great films in the past, such as Serenity and the recent horror meta-homage, Cabin in the Woods. Oh yes, and then there’s a little movie that came out lately. You may have heard about it. It’s called The Avengers. He tackled the biggest team-up movie one could imagine, juggled a franchise with several already established major movie commodities, pacified the fears of comic book fans and created a comic book movie that will help set the bar for all those to come. In other words, the man has a licence to just be awesome pretty much anywhere he wants in Hollywood right now. 

Still, when you watch a Joss Whedon production, you should expect death. Not just the body count that goes into any kind of comic book or horror film. Oh no, Joss Whedon has perfected a talent for getting you to care about a character, building them up as someone real, complex and relatable and then slaughtering them mercilessly before your eyes. Where Whedon goes in a different direction from Martin, however, is that the deaths in Whedon’s work often are sudden and jarring, intent on inciting an immediate visceral response. And at this point they are nigh legion. Buffy the Vampire Slayer saw Willow’s girlfriend Tara take a bullet through the chest. The film Serenity gave us the spike through the chest death of Wash that sent audience members shouting at the screen. And then there’s the most recent addition to the list with the stabbing of the hardest working SHIELD agent there was, Agent Phil Coulson, in The Avengers. Each of these events, while obviously not the only deaths in Whedon’s work, sparked gut-checking visceral reactions from fans to be argued and debated over for ages thereafter.

Fans seem to have mixed reactions about the utilization of character death in Whedon and Martin’s works. Criticism has been leveled at both creators that they are too free with the ax, killing characters just to get that visceral reaction without much consideration. But consideration for what, I wonder? After witnessing some heated debates about the death of Agent Coulson, I began to question why there is such a backlash at the creators for bringing death into people’s fantasy. We’re okay with violence, with battle and war, with the possibility of ending the world in our fiction. We watch movies where whole cities full of nameless, faceless people get flattened or exploded or baked without batting an eyelash or shedding a tear. But introduce a little sudden death of main characters and fans get super-emotional and even angry at the writer.

Often times, fantasy stories will include far too many ’easy rescues’ for our heroes to keep the plot moving forward. This removes the threat level which provides a story with its tension. By killing characters that readers have considered vital, creators like Martin and Whedon remind us that the threat is real in their stories, that even heroes can die and that goodness doesn’t always triumph over all. It makes readers think about issues like death and about how unpredictable life can be. That can make people nervous. It also makes for better, more realistic fantasy storytelling. 

What often surprises me instead is the accusatory fashion with which fans will point a finger at a creator and blame them for the character’s death, as if it were Whedon that stabbed Coulson or Wash, or Martin’s hand that held the decapitation sword himself. It is a testament to their power as creators that they’ve done their job to make fans feel so deeply. But is it a case of a creator doing their job too well? There are scifi and fantasy fans I know who will avoid both Martin and Whedon’s work because they expect and hate the often-sudden character massacres. 

I believe the discomfort comes down to the base fear of death and uncertainty that people face every day. Death is a subject that makes people uncomfortable. It doesn’t surprise me then that people would have such emotional reactions to fictional character death. They come to fiction to be taken away from the concerns of their everyday life. When confronted with the sudden death of a beloved character, viewers and readers are jarred into dealing with the uncertainty of life in their fiction and that can be unnerving. Look at reactions to the first murder in Psycho, or the death of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter as examples outside of Martin and Whedon if you will, as they’re not the only writers who use the tactic to drive the emotional point home. 

For those still watching Game of Thrones after NedGate 2011, I wonder how many will be shocked and shaken by what’s to come if they haven’t read the books. I wonder at the reaction people will have to Agent Coulson’s death in The Avengers — will they see it as a vital part of the story or as a throw-away meant to cause an emotional reaction? Either way, I find the unpredictable nature of these creators ups the ante in the story in a way that is very fictionally satisfying. Is that going to be everyone’s response? No, certainly not.

Still, I think that we can find it in our hearts not to point a finger at the writer quite so hard over the death of our beloved characters. After all, the old addage goes ’kill your darlings’. We just might not have expected quite so many sucking chest wounds in the process.

Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com

1. SolarSoul25
Well written, and true words. All I have to say is "Red Wedding".
Ian Gazzotti
2. Atrus
I mostly dislike when it's a sudden death in a largely death-free world. I can handle it better when everyone's at stake, but it just feels cheap and not really emotional when you know there's a core cast of characters that will never buy the farm.
Hero Canton
3. HeroineOfCanton
As SolarSoul pointed out, you can't really get away from the Red Wedding if you're going to discuss this topic. Death is fine. Sudden death so that you're reminded that everyone doesn't get a heroic moment is great. Killing a character when it would make little sense that he could survive a situation is necessary. But I'll just never get on board with the Red Wedding. For over two and a half books, I was reading about the game of thrones, I was invested in the game of thrones, and then all of sudden, I didn't have a horse in the race. I frankly don't care anymore. Quite literally, the Others can take them all, because I no longer give a frak.
Shelly wb
4. shellywb
I have always appreciated the deaths in Whedon's stories. I thought they were appropriate and done well. And too, Ned Stark's death was shocking, but I was thrilled that GRRM had done it.

However, Martin does seem to be applying this device in too heavy-handed a manner. The first few times it adds realism. Then it starts to get as unrealistic as those miraculous saves.

Everyone always lauds death-filled and unrelentingly grimm tales as realistic, but to me they're no more realistic than stories at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Yes, people die and have tough times. But they also live and managed to have moments of light and humor even during the worst of times. It's a balance that Whedon gets, and Martin does not seem to.

Which brings me to my reactions to what they do. My reactions to Whedon's characters' deaths are often visceral, because they're so human and he made me care about them.

But when it happens in SoIaF, I just don't care anymore. Martin's made me stand back from most of the characters because not only am I not interested, I wouldn't want to be invested in them. The only ones I care about at this point are the ones I became invested in in the first book, before I knew what he was likely to do. But even those deaths would only cause me to sadly set the series aside -- he's ruined the chance of their deaths and misery having any more of an impact with me because he's overused it so.
5. Hammerlock
Well, to be completely fair, most others in the SoIaF world can't get on board with the Red Wedding either, even some who benefited from it (think the orchestrating house is ever going to be really trusted or honored? The moment they cease to be an expedient ally/solution even the Lannisters will marginalize them).

It was very hard to write (per GRRM), and was every bit the visceral atrocity it had to be.

Now, the death(?) in the closing pages of DwD was a real sucker punch too...
6. SolarSoul25
I agree with Heroine. While I still read Martin's work, and enjoy them for what they are, I have really lost interest in it beyond seeing the conclusion, especially due to the developments in Dance. I believe the Red Wedding was the point where I gave up any hope of there being a morally satisfying conclusion to the series. Granted morales was never the driving force behind it, but I still held onto the belief that characters like Ned that met their demise despite being the most relatable characters in the book (I don't believe any reader is as inherently evil/vicious as the majority of characters in the books) would get their Karmic due in the end. Now, I am just curious to see who is left alive once the bloody cycle has come to a conclusion.

As for the show, I think the Red Wedding will be the breaking point for the series and you will see alot of the viewership fall off at that point. Robb and Jon are really the only "good guys" to root for in Westeros at that point from the casual fans perspective, and when it happens I wouldn't be suprised if a few TV's are destroyed immediately after.
7. wingracer
I still remember getting cable for the first time when I was a kid and discovering the greatness that was "Robotech." Man I loved that show and what made it even more real for a kid that previously only had shows like GI Joe to compare to, were the deaths. Roy Fokker's death still haunts me from time to time.

As for Whedon, I'm a bit surprised no mention was made of perhaps the most gut wrenching episode of TV history. "The Body" is an hour long grief fest over the death of Buffy's mother. IMO, the most realistic depiction of loss, despair and hopelessness ever seen on the small screen. I have watched it twice and I do not think I can watch it again, it's just too painful.

Then of course is the gravestone of Buffy herself. "She saved the world... A lot." still brings tears.
James Whitehead
8. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Death comes to us all as the saying goes. How we deal with that fact & face it is what helps to shape how we live. That said, death in books/movies/tv shows/comics/etc... can be done well and can also be overused.

I didn't like the death of Ned as I 'liked' that character and didn't like the implication that had he been more like Littlefinger all would've been good. But that's just my take.

By the Red Wedding, I wasn't as invested in any of the characters as I had been in the beginning. I also knew the Red Wedding was going down, maybe not to the totality of it, but too much had been hinted at to think otherwise.

I haven't seen the Avengers yet so am irritated with myself for not 'blipping' over that section. :-( Still, his death will probably be moving for me because he was 'real' enough to me from the other books. I do think Whedon will do a better job at making the death seem necessary as opposed to simply capricious.

I didn't buy into the Willow-Tara arc as it seemed 'tacked on' to me somehow. That said, when Tara died, I was sad as I liked her character but her death drove the whole 'dark Willow' story arc and made it believable & tragic for the viewer.

Similarly, Rowling's decision to kill Diggory to show the readers that Harry & friends weren't dealing with Snidely Whiplash was also done well. Rowling wasn't dumbing it down for the kids and that was a good thing.

Finally, 'realistic fantasy' is always an interesting discussion to have. How realistic can a story really be when there are spellcasters, unbreakable swords in stones, & fire breathing dragons in them? If all it takes, in a reader's mind, to make a fantasy novel 'real' is blood shed by the hero(in)es then I'm not sure what that says about us as readers.


PS - Whedon gets a pass from me simply for Buffy & Dr. Horrible. ;-)
9. Chris Boers
Wheel of Time is an excellent example of a bookseries where no-one really dies. Even heroes or villians that find death seem to find a way to re-appear in later books (until of course the discovery of balefire). Sadly, no heroes die in WoT, which surely takes away part of the feeling of tragedy and impeding doom. Sure, random characters or even entire villages find death by the hands of evil, but somehow those deaths never seem to have any impact. And, when -spoiler alert- they wove Moiriane back into the story, I was severely disappointed. Let's hope the final book (out early 2013) will give us some true hero-deaths! The series deserves it!
Hero Canton
10. HeroineOfCanton
And besides not caring about the outcome of ASoIaF, who is going to die has become almost predictable. If you like the character, but it's not one of GRRM's Mary Sue/Gary Stu's, the character will die. This is why I'm sure Jon Snow isn't really dead.
Jonah Feldman
11. relogical
I hate it when people say, "Oh, I've figured out who can't die in ASOIAF. GRRM pretends to be tough, but he really won't kill these characters. He's not so edgy and brilliant after all."

Congratulations, you've figured out that GRRM is not a spiteful hack who will deliberately mess with his own plot just to outwit 'clever' readers. If he were, the series would not be worth reading. It's still a story, not a list of people dying.
Corkryn Williams
12. MadCow21
Refusing to get invested in characters on the basis that they may die is the literary equivalent of refusing to enter into personal relationships on the basis that they may end badly. IMHO, it's an extremely cowardly position.

I want my art to imitate life. I don't want some safe, predictable, cliche fantasy. I want to be surprised, shocked, and yes, even occasionally dismayed or outraged. Catharsis is a powerful tool in fiction and both of these guys have learned to use it masterfully.
Chad Smith
13. LokiDragon
I think what happens when a main or secondary character dies is purely human nature. When stock characters or the masses die is is not hard for us to overlook because we did not know or connect with them as we do with the main characters, be they heroes or villians.

It is the archetype of the character we, as readers, make a bond with. When the bond is broken there is change, and the future will not be the same without the character. Our comfort zone has been invaded by a change we were not expecting. Sadness and anger are very much normal reactions to death. It shouldn't be hard to understand that we, as readers, might feel those same emotions over a character (or archetype) that we have become attached to.

I am actually glad to hear or see fans get upset over death of a character...it implies passion and humanity...it's when people don't get upset over a character death that I will start to worry!
14. a1ay
Iain Banks said that he came across a message board exchange along the lines of
"Hi, I've just finished reading Consider Phlebas: do all Iain Banks novels finish with all the characters getting killed except one?"
"No. Sometimes they all get killed."
...which he noted "sounds about right".

And there's that Shakespeare guy. You have to be pretty lucky to survive one of his plays, even if - especially if! - you're the title character. Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo, Juliet, Othello, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry VI, Richard II, King John, Julius Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, Coriolanus... SPOILER ALERT but best not to get too attached to any of them.

The trouble with "Avengers" is that, of course, Whedon wouldn't be allowed to kill any of the title characters for marketing reasons (no more Iron Man sequels if you kill off Tony Stark!)
Hero Canton
15. HeroineOfCanton
It has nothing to do with whether or not GRRM is edgy. It has to do with the fact that I started out loving GoT and then watched that love turn to indifference as he killed the characters that made me care about the 'verse, while propping up characters like Dany who I never cared about in the first place.
16. Tesh
Tangentially, the NJO arc of the Star Wars EU pretty much killed my interest in Star Wars novels. It started with a "shocking" death to show that the universe was "Darker, Edgier, Dangerouser", and hit bottom (for me) in Denning's Star by Star. I didn't finish that book and never read anything published after that. When I find myself interested in a character's story arc and how it might fit into bigger wheels, then that arc is truncated because Somebody Has To Die or else the story isn't Serious Enough, I simply tune out. If I wanted LOST in space, I'd go pick up BSG or something. When established lighter IP turns to the Dark, Edgy Side, like SGU or the SW EU, I leave.

A big part of why I read fiction or watch fun shows is that they aren't like real life. I get enough "life sucks" stories out here in meatspace. I prefer my fiction to be something else.
17. Tehanu
I feel the same as Tesh. I read fantasy (specifically) to be in not only a different world, but a better world than the real one. This is one of the reasons I stopped watching GoT even before Ned Stark got his, though not the only reason. If I want to read about medieval kings getting murdered, the true history of the Wars of the Roses is actually a lot more interesting.
Constance Sublette
18. Zorra
@ #7 wingracer:
The Body" is an hour long grief fest over the death of Buffy's mother. IMO, the most realistic depiction of loss, despair and hopelessness ever seen on the small screen. I have watched it twice and I do not think I can watch it again, it's just too painful.
This is so true. And -- then the writers topped all that, with Buffy having another night with Angel, though of course not a night of that kind of love, but real love. It happens in the only place their relationship is allowed to exist -- a cemetery.

That cemetery in Buffy 'verse is even more important than the Bronze, the library, the Magic Shop and the Summers's house, at least in the first 5 seasons.
Then of course is the gravestone of Buffy herself. "She saved the world... A lot." still brings tears.
Yes, it does.

Love, C.
19. xbodiceax
(Warning: Their shall be spoilers for a certain Marvel super hero movie! And Game of Thrones! And Firefly and Buffy, you know. Be warned!)

What bothers me most, is the wrong use of the word their.
Constance Sublette
20. Zorra
@ 14:
And there's that Shakespeare guy. You have to be pretty lucky to survive one of his plays, even if - especially if! - you're the title character. Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo, Juliet, Othello, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry VI, Richard II, King John, Julius Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, Coriolanus... SPOILER ALERT but best not to get too attached to any of them.
Not to mention those fellows Beowulf and Roland, and even King Arthur. It's part of the Hero job description. Heroes tend to die, even if they manage to take a lot of other bodies with them, or, even a dragon.

Love, C.
21. AI1
Have to agree with Tesh, I live real life--I prefer my fiction to be at least a little less irresponsible. Killing characters just to be "modern" seems to indicate a self-conscious writer rather than a writer led by story. Let's face it the human brain is wired to find pattern for a reason, trust me writers out there, we all get enough reality is our daily lives, "challenging" us in this way isn't clever or teaching us anything, it's an abandonment of your gift to us all--respite and hope and the expansion on alternative perspectives.

BTW--message to the board. I am finding it irritating that so many are using initials instead of writing out the names of books and series--it is really getting out of hand. It's one thing to use initials for the subject at hand, but to use initials for things less read than say LOTR is weirdly competitive and "inside". I haven't read everything you have, you haven't read everything I have, to use of this sort of shorthand is verging on the rude. I would like to know what your talking about, I have a lot of respect for the Tor lines. And finally let's face it, the Tor line comments are not known for the brevity of the comments (which I love), so why the investment in making references as obscure as possible. Please rethink this, I for one am actually more interested in the point your making than trying to figure out what your talking about.
Shelly wb
22. shellywb
@12, It's not a case of fear, for me at least. I invest in Whedon's characters because he makes me care. I know one or more is likely to die, but I don't shirk from his stories because they're real and worth it.

Martin's though, I feel like he's writing and killing them just to break fantasy cliches and be shocking. I don't want to invest because I don't like fakey obvious manipulations. I feel like he has a checklist of fantasy tropes that's he's checking off as he goes, and that his whole plot is in service to that, as opposed to growing organically from where he started in book one. So yeah, I'll invest in something that feels real, but for me that's not ASoIaF.
Constance Sublette
23. Zorra
To argue that death of characters doesn't have a rightful place in entertainment -- well, as already considered, there's Shakespeare, the recited and / or sung epics and ballads. It's always been part of some entertainment.

It must be done right, of course, for the audience to feel the tragedy, the grief, to feel that this really matters. In fact, it mattered to me over and over as often as re-read Lad: A Dog, when a kid, and Lad dies. But he dies at the end. It's his life that fills all the rest of the book, which is why I cry. Lad was a good dog who lived a good life. Not all entertainments can pull that off.

For some entertainments too, killing off a significant character wouldn't be right, as in a series featuring a central protagonist or protagonists. Yet even Elizabeth George did that by killing Helen after she and Detective Lynley are married. In contrast we have the pleasures of an Agatha Christie sort of entertainment. Our central figure is never in danger herself, she's not going to get whacked. One of our pleasures in these mysteries is figuring out if and / or which the the characters we've gotten invested in will be dead before the story's finished. But one never bleeds for any of the deaths in a Christie.

Then are those entertainments in which nobody's invested in any of the characters because they are all so rotten -- like in a Tarantino flick. That's my opinion, of course; others see it differently. I'm don't watch Dexter either because the protagonist is a serial killer made a hero. Also I shy away from violence that is for the sake of sensation, which seems even unethical, rather than meaning and significance for character and story. O damn, that comes through as pretentious, but I do consider moral aspects of what is on offer as 'merely entertainment.'

Love, C.
24. Tumas-Muscat
I know what happened on screen in The Avengers, but - as improbable as it seems - I still have my doubts that Coulson actually died. Firstly, he apparently dies off-screen and we never he his dead body. Secondly, Maria Hill pointed out the blood-stained cards were in his locker; Nick Fury seemed too determined to get the team's act together not to miss the opportunity to fake Coulson's demise if necessary. I doubt how anyone could survive the injuries he sustained, but until there's more concrete proof or someone explicitly stating it is not so, there is a very slim chance that Coulson survived.
25. Halcyal
Rob a cup of all its hope and decency and, for many, it will become a largely unpleasant draught, realistic or not.
Corkryn Williams
26. MadCow21
@22 - With regard specifically to the Red Wedding, I don't see how anyone can reasonably claim that Martin's plot is not organically grown from book 1. "The late Lord Frey" is estblished as untrustworthy, self-serving, and devious right from the start, so much so that Robb agrees to send his mother to treat with him rather than risk giving the Freys an opportunity to take him captive. There is absolutely nothing inorganic about such a character turning his cloak when a better opportunity presents itself.
27. BP
"Martin's though, I feel like he's writing and killing them just to break fantasy cliches and be shocking. I don't want to invest because I don't like fakey obvious manipulations. I feel like he has a checklist of fantasy tropes that's he's checking off as he goes, and that his whole plot is in service to that, as opposed to growing organically from where he started in book one. So yeah, I'll invest in something that feels real, but for me that's not ASoIaF."

Perfectly stated. Martin's book is no longer worth my time and effort. Characters I don't care for, in a world I (no longer) care about. And randomly, things happen. Not becasue it was setup earlier, or there was a logic to it, not in a suprising or satisfying way, but to break a preconception I don't actually have. I read history: it is suprising and interesting but also has a shape and logic to it. Martin's books fail at this.

An author can kill characters: it is easy. Fooling a reader is simple--the author owns the world. But a good writer understands that plot flows from something. Marting breaks the Checkov gun corollary: if there was never a mention of something, then making it happen isn't suprising or edgy, it is just poor plotting and writing.

Buffy did a very good job, because there was a logic and flow to each occurrence.
Rowan Shepard
28. Rowanmdm3
@ 24
I totally agree. Until we get to the next Marvel movie and Agent Coulson DOESN'T show up I refuse to believe that he's dead. Fury is manipulative enough to lie about Coulson's death, and this is a superhero movie, and characters come back from apparent death all the time. PHIL MUST STILL BE ALIVE!
29. Tesh
Hrm, yes, I was in too big of a hurry. For reference, these are the translations of the acronyms I was using:
NJO = New Jedi Order
BSG = BattleStar Galactica
IP = Intellectual Property
SGU = StarGate Universe
SW EU = Star Wars Extended Universe (the novels and games considered "canon")

I do still like the early Star Wars novels; they seem to carry the same "merry band of heroes triumphing in the end" feel that the movies did. The New Jedi Order stuff was just dark and bleak because that's How It Was Done in the 90s or something. Bleh.
30. Seamus1602
I, for one, loved the addition of the Red Wedding to ASoIaF. Martin took a character that was nigh-unbeatable on the battlefield and showed quite clearly, with significant forshadowing, that there ways to lose a war without setting foot on the field of battle. When all that is the Red Wedding is taken into account, it feels like one of the truest depictions of the perils of war that exists in fantasy. Being a successful warlord doesn't matter, love doesn't matter, being a woman doesn't matter, being mentally challenged doesn't matter. All that matters, when it boils down to it, it who has power and is willing to employ it. We humans get so wrapped up in the metaphysical underpinnings of out actions that we forget the truths of the physical world - namely that humans can and will do whatever they have the power and will to do, regardless of the trappings of civilization and morality with which we cloak ourselves.

I do have a problem, however, with the way that some characters are able to escape death in contrived situations in ASoIaF, as starts to happen after the Red Wedding (Tyrion, Brienne, and, to a certain extent, Catelyn all come to mind). And I believe that the reincarnation? of Jon Snow may very well be the pinacle of that new direction, if that is what happens. It feels like GRRM has turned back to some more fantasy tropes as he moves the series towards completion, and that detracts from the viciously visceral world he created in the first 3 books.
31. Birdlady
Fear of death? I live with tragedy, pain and even death in the real world. If you don't, you're either too young or you need to get out more.

When I read or watch fiction, I do so for fun. Killing off characters I love is not fun, particularly when it's done solely for shock value - that's cheap and fake. I don't want pollyanna perfect, but I don't want the other extreme, either.

Besides, I follow a series because I love the characters. Remove the characters I love and I have no reason to continue participating.
Soon Lee
32. SoonLee
Tumas-Muscat @24 & Rowanmdm3 @28:

Agreed. It is a hoary old comic book cliche that dead characters come back to life. Repeatedly.

I too am not convinced that Coulson is really dead.
Amanda Hayes
33. Kisanthe
I agree with those who say part of the problem is when interesting
and/or sympathetic characters get axed but boring or frustrating ones
remain; it can get to the point where I find the remaining cast actively
distasteful. At that point the author has lost me. The problem's as
much with having a bunch of dull or irritating characters to begin with
as with killing off the bright lights, but the deaths may be more
vexing because they appear so avoidable. (One reader's interesting may be another's boring, admittedly--there are some character deaths I practically cheer for because I'm sick of reading about those guys, and maybe somebody else is cheering for the ones I mourn!)

I prefer the death-is-the-end approach of SoIaF to the
death-is-a-revolving-door approach of WoT, but both seem overused to me, or perhaps used too often on the wrong people.
Ben Frey
34. BenPatient
@33: At some point in the 3rd book, GRRM installed a revolving door. I think it was there the whole time, he just didn't want to use it at first. Then he wrote himself into some corners and had to use the door.

I also expect a LOT of WOT's "nobody dies" comes from the initial expectations of a trilogy or sextet of books, and the fact that the last scene was essentially finished before the first book was printed. I guess what I'm saying is...I expect several big characters to miss out on the glories of the 4th Age.
35. Hestia
Although I love most of Joss Whedon's work, I wonder if he unleashed the unexpected death monster onto television. Joyce's death was so powerful that even he tried and mostly failed to recapture it with Tara's, Anya's and (on Angel) Fred's deaths. When I watch television, I find it isn't unexpected death that gets me, it's a powerfully placed death. Sheridan's death on B5 was powerful even though it was completely expected.

Random, frequent deaths only detract from that effect. Although I watched Lost with skepticism for the final couple of seasons, the deaths of Sun and Jin, on top of all of the other pointless deaths, really killed the show for me. If they hadn't killed all of the other people, their deaths might have been powerfully sad. As it was, it was just stupid and mean.

Movies usually have a different problem: they have to build a character enough for me to care. Coulson filled the bill. If they really have killed him, it was an effective death. All the more effective, really, since most of the characters are so powerful, and he was merely human.

On the other hand, Wash's death was only meant to be shocking, and the worst thing about it was not killing Wash, but killing the Firefly/Serenity story. This is a big problem with series writers who like to kill characters; they end up killing the elements that make their stories so good. See also: Fred. It sounds like Martin does a lot of that.

I can't comment on all of Martin's books, since I only read the first one (I may finish them, but not until he does!), but I did have a strong feeling when Stark died that Martin had killed him for shock value. The problem was, Stark was one of the few characters that stood out amongst the throng. Sure, that makes him a powerful figure to kill, but after that, you don't have that character anymore. I could really see tuning out after a while, if that kept going on.

And as far as why I read or watch fiction, I am firmly in the "fun" camp. Right now I have two fellow employees and a six-year-old student who are battling particularly deadly forms of cancer; I have tragedy and suffering in my life. (And hope, I might add; they are all still with us.)

I respect people who read realistic stories about pain and grief, and believe that there are valid reasons for doing so. But while I don't mind some death and mayhem in my stories, I don't read to confront the realism of these issues, and I don't believe my reasons or choices in entertainment are any less valid than those who like other kinds. I certainly don't think I am cowardly.

I love this discussion; this is something I think about. (Obviously!) I think it speaks to more than just stories and entertainment; it speaks to how humans deal with these issues. Not how life is, but our inherent feeling of how it should be.
36. XO Tigh
I think that there should be an added dimension to this:
the fact that although characters die, their presence in the story is not necessarily gone.

I would have a problem with death as a vehicle not only of transition, but the removal of the character. A death itself is jarring, but I'm fine with it as long as the effect of the person in the story still play out, and not just as some cheezy jedi ghost. Showing the ramifications of a character's death is a beautiful opportunity to bring depth to the character despite them no longer being there.

I haven't read GOT, but the echoes of Ned Stark's life play out as political ramificaitons. I wish I could see the damage wraught in his daughters and sons. It would make for a more emotional engagement.

In Six Feet Under, the dad returns as an apparition once or twice, yes, but only to give weight to the moments when his absence is truly felt by his family, which are some of the most touching moments in TV, IMHO.
Ian Johnson
37. IanPJohnson
My thoughts:

Characters are people. People die. All of them– it doesn't matter whether it's a happy death or a meaningful one. Death comes to us all in the end.

It's the same with characters.

In any case, I find both arguments– that "authors kill characters just to be modern and edgy" and "if nobody dies, the story is unrealistic"– to only look at one side of the problem. Sometimes the story calls for characters to die. Sometimes it doesn't. But telling the story in the wrong way is dishonest, either by killing off all your characters in a narrativocidal rampage, or by letting all your characters escape dangerous situations by the seat of their pants. The story needs to be told in the way that the story requires. Doing otherwise is dishonest.
Rob Munnelly
38. RobMRobM
I like the unexpected death component of GRRM and the Whedon that I know. People die in battles and political disputes, and it cheapens things for redshirts being the only ones to die. That being said, I like other series where the body count of meaningful characters is suprisingly low, including WoT and Vorkosigan. But, even there, the deaths that do occur have special power.
Ben Lws
39. BulloftheMoor
For me, reading Game of Thrones for the first time back in 2002 (I think), the death of Ned Stark was a refreshing change. Fantasy fiction had become entirely too predictable and Martin's work is anything but predictable.
Tragedy is not neccessary to make a good story but if there is no expectation that tragedy may occur, especially in heroic narratives, then how can you expereince any tension when a favourite character is in danger? If you, the reader, know that they're going to survive, no matter how great the odds, then their heroic achievements just don't seem as heroic.
I do think GRRM has gone a little too far, though. I still enjoy reading his novels but now I find myself thinking, "Who's next?" the whole time I'm reading them.
john mullen
40. johntheirishmongol
I will be highly disappointed if the body count in WOT gets high. It isn't the expectation that the series set. I don't need death to make a story complete.

In the first book of ASoFaI, I was shocked at the deaths but excited about the series, by the 4th one, the series was a ghost of its vision. Gratuitous death gets old in a hurry, and there is no one to really connect with, with maybe the minor exception of Tyrion's humor. There seem to be all bad guys, and no good guys. I don't find that interesting at all. Contrary to what some think, power, greed and ambition are not the only reasons men and women acquire power

Whedon's deaths, on the other hand, weren't exactly one on top of the other, never included a primary character , and usually served a story purpose. Perhaps its because of the different canvas, that it seems different. A book I can finish in a day, a series lasts years. I do see where it is more of shock in a movie than a series.
41. Bruce-Arthurs
Anyone who remembers the death of Kid Dinosaur in the Wild Card series shouldn't be surprised that sympathetic characters can get killed in GRRM's worlds. It was sudden, brutal and completely unexpected.
42. Andrewmck
Part of the reason for having popular and/or fully realised characters die may be to increase the emotional impact for readers/watchers who have identified with those characters but there is an additional, important reason to have it happen: If I'm reading a story that involves death and destruction, it's just war porn if "my" characters are immune to consequences and risks of their or others actions while everyone else is being dispatched in gorily fascinating but faceless ways. If you are going to kill people in fiction, the least you can do is make those deaths matter.
43. tdraicer
>I do think GRRM has gone a little too far, though. I still enjoy reading his novels but now I find myself thinking, "Who's next?" the whole time I'm reading them

Game of Thrones is a story of war and in war not only can anyone die, a very great many people do. "Who's next?" is exactly the question that hovers over everyone in wartime, and Martin has, rightly imo, made that the central question of this series: not "who will win?" but "who will survive?" (And what will be the psychic and ethical cost of their survival?)
44. Potato Queen
Hi, I just came here from a link on Whedonesque; hope it's okay to join the converstation.

"I respect people who read realistic stories about pain and grief, and believe that there are valid reasons for doing so. But while I don't mind some death and mayhem in my stories, I don't read to confront the realism of these issues, and I don't believe my reasons or choices in entertainment are any less valid than those who like other kinds. I certainly don't think I am cowardly."

Totally agree! I'd apply this same logic to TV and to music, too. For example, I used to be a soap opera fanatic, but i watched purely for that escapism--they were fun, but certainly not challenging. I may love Beethoven, but that doesn't mean I don't also not-so-secretly love Abba. But I listen to them for different reasons and with different expectations.

Regarding deaths in Whedon's and Martin's work, I think Whedon does a terrific job using death to tell a story. I think it comes down to that: a death may be terrible, I may wish it didn't happen (oh, Buffy's mom!), but as long as it serves the story, I'm fine with it. The story of Buffy's mom's death was wrenching, but so brilliantly done, and obviously continues to move people. Martin: I've only just finished Game of Thrones, but I'm not feeling it the same way. Don't get me wrong, the book's a page-turner, but when Ned was executed, the scene felt contrived to me. Having Ned confessing to treason seemed a betrayal of everything we'd been led to know about the man. To me, it seemed like it was the author's only way to set up what he really wanted to show, which was Joffrey not only demonstrating what a murderous psycho he is, but that he's so bad that he even surprises his allies (Mom, the Council members, etc.) by going against the plan to use Ned's confession to help subdue opposition.
45. Shagbark
Device Heretic makes a different analysis of the same deaths on his blog: What's gratuitous is killing off a character and then not having it impact the story or the other characters.
46. Tyke
I honestly think Whedon didn't get the reputation of killing beloved characters all the time till he made Serenity. Yes he had used death before, but sparingly, and ALWAYS it had ramifications for the actual plot. Joyce Summers, Buffy had to grow up and getting rid of the mother figure was a way to do that. Tara, that set off the big bad for the next season. Anya, someone from the core scoobies needed to go in the final ep and she was actually the most expendable. If you look at Coulsons death in Avengers. It follows the Whedon pattern of actually meaning something. It's what helps the team come together.

Martin on the other hand. I honestly don't know what he is thinking. On one hand you could say he is doing the same thing, that it is driving the plot forward. The problem is that it is so jarring to the narrative.

Killing Ned is shocking, but its part of a series of events that starts the war. it has narrative merit and the tipping point that shows there is no way back. I'm fine with that, but when you start massacring supposed main and supporting characters en masse like at the Red Wedding. It can take people out of it in such a way that they feel slighted against.

People mentioned the Wheel of Time books as an obvious counter argument where noone important seems to die as a detriment. Well Important people do die in WoT, just none of the "core" characters yet, but it relies on different and valid tactics for shocking people. Most notably who is working for whom and on which side of the many wars. In short it's more mystery based, with "whodunnit" style shocks rather than using a kill. Both are valid styles, but my personal preference is the WoT style because you have narrative cohesion and then in the final book if there are and everyone expects there to BE main character deaths. They will feel... earned, rather than being an arbitrary kill.

Honestly the author I have trouble with when it comes to character deaths is Stephen King. It never fails that if I have a favourite character in one of his books... They will die by the end.
47. tdraicer
>I'm fine with that, but when you start massacring supposed main and supporting characters en masse like at the Red Wedding. It can take people out of it in such a way that they feel slighted against.

Because we know that in war things like that never happen?

Or because we know in fantasy fiction things like that never happen?

I think Martin is simply giving his readers more realism in his fantasy than some of them want, but otoh, that's exactly why some of us love these books.
Andrea Flory
48. acflory
How do you write about BIG themes such as 'war is hell' while keeping all your main characters safe and snug?

I've read all of Song of Fire and Ice and yes, I too hoped that GRRM would pull a rabbit out of the hat to save Rob and Caitlyn from the Red Wedding but there was a sense of inevitability about it that cushioned the blow a little. By then I knew who the bad guys were and I had a fair idea what they were capable of so it was a tragedy but not a surprise. And now I'm even more convinced that 'war is hell' and that's a good thing, imho.

Realism in fantasy may strike some people as odd but I've always hated the happy endings 'just for the sake of it' that Hollywood churns out ad nauseum.

Good on GRRM for treating us like adults instead of children who need a soothing bedtime story to keep away the night terrors.

War is hell. Lest we forget.
Charles Gaston
49. parrothead
I love Joss Whedon, even if he can be a bastard at times, particularly with love interests (was it really necessary to follow "Smile Time", best episode of the series and Fred and Wes finally getting together, with "Hole In the World"?).

I absolutely despise Martin, though. Not because he killed characters I liked; I never really connected to or even liked many of them to begin with aside from Tyrion. They were prone to doing stupid things at key moments just to advance the plot. That's why I regard Storm of Swords as the worst book I've ever read. Not for character reasons, but narrative ones. It felt like, "hey, you know that major plot thread you've been reading for two and a half books? Snip. Thanks for buying my books, now piss off." And don't even get me started on that deus ex apothesis at the end, although it is the perfect example to throw back at his fans. The ones who like to taunt and belittle other series as "fairy tales". Sure, he'll kill characters, but they don't always stay dead.
Andrea Flory
50. acflory
@ Potato Queen,

"...but when Ned was executed, the scene felt contrived to me. Having Ned confessing to treason seemed a betrayal of everything we'd been led to know about the man."

Forgive me but were we reading the same same book? Ned Stark was honourable to a fault but his 'weakness' if you like was his capacity to /love/. And so he, the most honourable man imaginable, chose personal dishonour to save those he loved.

For me that was the most poignant part of Book 1.
51. Tyke

I get what you are saying. But there comes a point when you know that you are not reading a biography of people. What you are doing is reading a fictional story that has a sense of narrative.

War is hell, of course it is, and in a novel or a film, you can always just pull down your copy of the book or rewatch a film and suddenly everyone is alive again... for a while.

What I am suggesting is that stories flow, and when you basically stop a character dead. You essentially put a brick wall in your narrative unless like Joss Whedon does for most of his character deaths... provide momentum to further that story. Ned is a great example of getting this right. We are KINDA invested in him. Enough that his death is a shock, dramatic and actually is the final straw in beginning of the war. It has narrative relevance because Ned has served his purpose, we are not overly invested in him, but when you first read it or indeed now watch it, we get the shock value and an "OMG what next!" feeling. You move down the line, you get more and more invested with the PoV characters. So when a sudden death hits, rather than providing you with a boost into the next bit of narrative story telling. It can make some people want to throw the book away, and stop you dead from wanting to continue. That is the danger of being TOO realistic.
Now we know the books still continue to sell and the TV show has no doubt boosted sales. So people either get over it or come back but force themselves to have less investment in the story. In essence you start to read the books differently. It's dangerous though, cause I wonder how many Martin readers are just now reading them for some story closure rather than actual overt enjoyment. Still pulls in the money but the joy is gone.

My own opinion on realism is that I'm not a huge fan of it in my fictional novels. That's not to say I don't want a good level of verisimilitude in my choice of literature. I read novels to escape reality, And even when you are knee deep in troll guts or whatever i'm still looking for a well told story. I think Whedon is much more successful at providing narrative throughput of character deaths than Martin. Basically in my opinion I am saying that Whedon is a better storyteller when it comes to narrative, especially when it comes to using character death as a device. Other opinions are also available. :)
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
52. tnh
Parrothead @49:
I love Joss Whedon, even if he can be a bastard at times, particularly with love interests (was it really necessary to follow "Smile Time", best episode of the series and Fred and Wes finally getting together, with "Hole In the World"?).
Yes! It was! Because Joss Whedon always does that!

Here, watch: Angel and Buffy finally do that thing --> Angel loses his soul and reverts to being a monster. Jenny Calendar and Giles make up their quarrel and stop pussyfooting around --> artfully posed corpse, rose petals everywhere. Joyce finally meets nice guy, goes on date, he sends flowers next day --> boom! Death by aneurysm. Willow and Tara get back together --> dead Tara, apocalypse Willow. Jonathan makes peace with his high school experiences --> gets murdered by Andrew. Xander and Anya start getting back together --> Anya diagonally bisected by ubervamp. Buffy tells Spike she loves him --> Spike burns up like a giant lightbulb filament. Cordelia kisses Doyle --> Doyle dies. Cordelia and Angel arrange to meet at romantic spot --> Cordelia drafted as Higher Being; Angel dropped on ocean floor inside a sealed metal box. Cordelia emerges from coma, looks up Angel --> whoops, she's already dead! And that's not an exhaustive list.

By Season Six, when Spike and Buffy were knocking down the house, all I could say was "Oh my ghod, poor Spike. This will not end well." And of course, it didn't.
53. Casso King of Seals
It's so funny to read comments complaining that GRRM kills characters too often, when in fact, George's fans are rightfully annoyed that he's become far too soft! Kill off some POVs, man! And keep them dead this time!

To talk in broader terms regarding protagonist death, it all comes down to the fact that audiences don't know what they want. They may complain, but if done right, the truth is that it sucks them in deeper than ever. The Red Wedding lost a few readers, sure. I know one such weakling. Who needs 'em? This was never the series for them in the first place. The Red Wedding was such a powerful moment that it gained far, far more readers than it ever lost, and helped garner George his exulted status as storyteller. Storm of Swords is by far the highest-lauded book in the series, and for good reason - it's brutal, heartwrenching genius!

There seem to be a couple people personally hurt by the Red Wedding in the comments here, lashing out by saying that GRRM uses death cheaply, or that he doesn't set it up beforehand? Of all the accusations, that's the strangest by far. George never does it randomly. George is the master of Unintended Consequences - but all of it is poetic and absolutely logical. He uses more foreshadowing than almost any writer I can think of.

Subtle, though.

Bottom line, I get it why some readers would want to escape real life and read for fantasy and just be happy. Good news, then! You get to do that in the vast, vast majority of fiction. Don't complain about the TWO current big name writers who break that mold. God, I hope more creators have the guts to follow them.
54. Sparky
"Ups the ante". As in, raises the stakes.

It's a credit to your article that a grammar error hit the seamless flow of thought that expressed such deep reverence for both creators.
Rob Munnelly
55. RobMRobM
John @40. The body count in AMOL will be very high - note the Aiel prophecy that only a remnant will survive. The issue of who lives/who dies among the top 20-30 characters is a fascinating one. Who is in your death pool? Some are easy - such as Bashere and Tenobia. But I'm stressed about Tam and Min - hope not for either.

56. Steve L

"And so he, the most honourable man imaginable, chose personal dishonour to save those he loved."

Consider that statement in the context of Jon Snow. Ned Stark, the honorable warrior, fathering a bastard while his new wife was pregnant back at Winterfell? How scandalous! We'd expect that from other lords *cough* Robert Baratheon *cough* but not Ned Stark.

If one of the more popular theories about Jon Snow's parentage is correct, that statement's even stronger. Ned claiming Jon as his son may very well have saved Jon's life.

Tumas-Muscat @24 & Rowanmdm3 @28:

Whenever you see the words "death" and "Nick Fury" in the same sentence, unless an independent medical examiner has done an autopsy and pronounced the corpse 1) human and 2) Nick Fury, and you witnessed said autopsy, assume it's a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Model_Decoy
Peter Stone
57. Peter1742
You don't actually need to kill characters to upset readers. I'm only a third of the way through it, but if you look at some of the Amazon reviews of River of Smoke, the second book in Amitav Ghosh's (historical fiction) Ibis trilogy, there are a number of reviewers who are absolutely livid because their favorite characters in the first book are relegated to playing bit parts in the second book.
Bike Baykara
58. Amarie
I don't think killing characters on both Whedon's and GRRM cases is about being edgy or anything like that. It is about how you build a world, its about what prices will be paid for that particular world in some it is certain death like in Asoiaf, in some it is emotional turmoil like for example LOTR.

Although I think Ned Stark's death was the best done among the very numbered other instances in Asoiaf. It established the rules for us, because we knew that he didn't obviously played with the rules of Game of Thrones as Cersei explains them. There is actually no way he could survive in that world he made mistake after mistake with handling things because he was a good, honest, honorable man but the court did not work that way and therefore he died. his death establishes there is consequences for his mistakes.
It is similar for Robb. Yes we root for him but that world does not favor the honest. No matter how good he is with strategy there will be someone taking the much less honorable way to get him out of the game and he can not win against that because he does not play that particular game.

Although after Ned I admit the death of a loved character did go out hand and lost its purpose of moving the plot most of the time.

With Whedon I feel every death has a purpose although unexpected and vicious most of the time, it drives a point. Creates an emotional response not many other developments could provide. If we did not care about these characters it wouldn't matter at all so he makes us care and their death pulls us even closer so we care about every single thing that happens.
Constance Sublette
59. Zorra
@57 -- If you really want to upset readers / watchers, kill the dog-cat-horse. You can kill even children with impunity, show rape and death of endless female characters, gouts of blood every other frame, OK. But kill a dog, even if the dog dies to save his owners -- which has been one of the points of being a dog with an owner for most of dogs' existence -- we hates you and turns our backses forever and withdraw our monies too. :)

Love, C.
Constance Sublette
60. Zorra
There are quite a few very good reasons for killing off even primary characters in series and they all have to do with making room for new characters, to refresh the series. IOW, this can be excellent writing-plotting. Except, of course, when it's not, and there too, even the mileage varies.

For instance, I get it, I really get it. But I still hate Dawn.

Love, C.
Constance Sublette
61. Zorra
And, now, sf/f critic and reviewer, Abigail Nussbaum also speaks to what I brought up @59 -- why the outrage about animals killed, and not about young actresses simulating sex and torture scenes, here, in her blog entry, "Women and Horses."

I confess to expecting a whole other kind of entry, with that title of "Women and Horses" ....
62. Steve D
Agent Coulson was hardly a "major character." The only thing they could have done to make him any more obviously expendable would be dress him in a red shirt. Now killing off Nick Fury or Black Widow, that would be killing off a major figure.
63. James Davis Nicoll
But kill a dog, even if the dog dies to save his owners -- which has
been one of the points of being a dog with an owner for most of dogs'
existence -- we hates you and turns our backses forever and withdraw our monies too. :)

Or alternatively, give the author a Newbery.

From a different post:

Bottom line, I get it why some readers would want to escape real life
and read for fantasy and just be happy. Good news, then! You get to do that in the vast, vast majority of fiction. Don't complain about the TWO current big name writers who break that mold. God, I hope more creators have the guts to follow them.

I am going to play the "I am willing to bet I am if not the most widely read person here in contemporary F&SF then among the most widely read people here in contemporary F&SF and I see no lack of ultragrim kill-o-death fests in what I get sent" card at this point. In fact, the reason I was so enthusiastic over The Next Continent and the Rocket Girls was that they took a reasonably upbeat view and were a pleasant break from books like The Windup Girl, which broke up the graphically described rape scenes with hilariously stupid world building, or Blood Ocean, the book that gave me "at least it didn't have a plucky transsexual girl tortured, eaten and killed - in that order - by cannibalistic Koreans" as a litmus test for contemporary F&SF.

1: Interestingly, as I recall the scene where the sex slave strikes back isn't actually shown. I guess that would have taken vital page space from the graphic rape scenes.
Andrea Flory
64. acflory
@ Steve L. 56.

I have my suspicions about Jon Snow's parentage and all the references to a certain sister and a certain prince are titilating to say the least :D And if we're right then Ned Stark was an honourable man indeed... one who has never been afraid of blemishing his honour for love.
Charles Gaston
65. parrothead
@ Casso King of Seals

Thank you for further vindicating my opinion of Martin's fanbase. I understand that you are the vocal minority, but as always, such are the ones who stand out.

Now, for the reasonable people:
I never bought the whole "Ned is sooo honorable and that's what caused his downfall" thing. Because I don't think he is. We never see it, it's just an informed attribute. Not because he may or may not have fathered a child outside marriage, that I can believe given the setting; that was a minor plotpoint in Feist's Riftwar series and that didn't make Boric less than honorable. No, I mean that his reputation is belied by his actions. He is supposed to be a man of integrity and loyalty, both to his friends and his country. The one major action we see is a betrayal of his recently deceased best friend, the kingdom, and the law, not to mention common sense. Giving a multiple murderer a chance to escape while threatening to disinherit her children (you know, her motivation to start killing people in the first place) is not only skullcrackingly STUPID, but profoundly dishonorable. Particularly when you're essentially the Attorney General and this person has commited treason.
Margot Virzana
66. LuvURphleb
Maybe that is the point of high school lit class. Every story read is a tragedy and that is considered classic. Hawthorne's scarlet letter; diary of ann frank; any WW2 story. Shakespeare, the trancendentalist authors. I think every story deserves some realism with a major death. Star wars needs it ( though they have an issue with killing the younger generation) star trek; though they decided to just decimate the quadrant) however with WOT there are two important reasons why the characters cannot be allowed to die. A.) jordan has invested too much time for them. There is still so much for them to do. Could you use the same argument with stark? Yes but at least he still died in the first book. B.) i enjoy reading a series that is still underlined with optimism. GRRM makes me depressed when i read him. Nothing good ever happens.
It gives the ring of reality with a major death however most people have nothing left invested when characters die.
I have no interest in the political feuding of thr montagues and capulets. I dont care if pearl grew up into a woman doctor. I have no desire to read the same universe and be sudden forced to follow other characters that have no past encounters with the ones i loved. There is a reason i refuse to read Sara Douglass.
67. thepiratebrett
Martin killing people is fine. I just want him to get on with it. I mean, is D ever going to connect with the other stories? Is she going to Westeros? What are the White Walkers doing? Listen, I love the stories, I do. But less soap opera, and more story please! That said - I can not stop reading now.
68. AI1
@66--please forgive but I can not help myself and it was likely a typo on your part. Herman Melville's masterpiece was Moby Dick (certainly); The Scarlet Letter was Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece (arguably).

To get to your point--I get that the death of a major character can do much to launch a story, as many others have argued, but the opinion of the line tends to agree with you--killing a mjor character just to shock us and reset the chess board seems ultimately dull. As a reader I am not just some hapless bureaucrat or corporate drone scrabbling to retain my retirement with these books by endlessly realigning my alliances. This is the saddest thing about many of these postings--that people are caught reading endlessly about a world whose air thins and thins and though they are left gasping they just can't leave.
I have been considering reading these books, and started reading book one, which was promising for the kind of thing I like. But if GRRM will be endlessly asking me to watch people die just because_____(fill in the blank) I don't want to get involved. I don't have endless reading time, I don't want to feel sick about it.
While I appreciate the experience and realism of it all--I live it every day--good people getting killed for "politics", the grinding of others under the jackboot of whatever is the current philosophy in power, blah, blah, blah.
GRRM, may be a great writer. In some ways I hope so but honestly, I live under jackboots of an insane establishment I don't need to be informed of the feel of this. To those of you that have the heart for this, from what I understand I have to say this--first, keep on keeping on; second, for God's sake get a real job, the magical and fascinating aspects of the narrative will wear off real quick.
69. Niris
"All" the good characters die when Robb does? Really? What about Robb's younger siblings: Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon? What about Davos Seaworth, Brienne of Tarth, and Samwell Tarly? Or do they not count because they're not as cool and smexy as Robb is?

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