Why do authors, show-runners, and a great deal of other people with creative power, enjoy eliminating their main and/or beloved characters? On television, the end of an actor’s contract or their decision to move on is a fair enough reason to eliminate the character but is it really necessary to kill off our favorite characters in books? After all, the author does have the power to continue the story and further develop the plot line.
If you haven’t finished the Divergent or Hunger Games Trilogy, or watched the past few episodes of “Bones”, here is my obligatory warning: [BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD]
After recently finishing and re-reading (several times) both the Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies, by Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth, respectively, and watching the breathtaking 10th season premiere of Bones on FOX. I realized how (increasingly?) common it is for authors and TV writers to gain, essentially, emotional power by injuring, eliminating, or killing off their main characters or virtually any other character that the audience has grown to love.
Let’s begin with two of the most popular young adult, dystopian fiction trilogies/conclusions over the past few years; The Hunger Games’s Mockingjay and Divergent’s Allegiant. In the final book of The Hunger Games Trilogy, Mockingjay, the struggle to rebel against the all-powerful Capitol is in full-swing and in the process, two beloved characters are killed. These characters being Finnick Odair, a fellow tribute and rebel to main protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, and Prim, Katniss’ little sister who is loved by all. Of course, both characters die in heroic ways with the former dying in order to save the lives of his companions from mutant-lizards and the latter in the process of assisting victims wounded by the violence and rebellion subsequently destroying the Capitol. A similar fate is also found in the final book of the Divergent Trilogy, Allegiant, where one of the main characters and protagonists, Beatrice “Tris” Prior is killed during the climax of the plot as she desperately and valiantly releases the serum that could potentially save and change the future of the city and her world.
On the tenth season premiere of “Bones” entitled The Conspiracy in the Corpse, that aired last Thursday, September 25, devoted fans of the show said goodbye to Lance Sweets, a major character with a close relationship to the other characters on the show. Like the deaths of the other characters in the aforementioned novels, Sweets died bravely fighting for what he believed in and for the sake of his friends and loved ones.
But now the question is, “Why?” Why kill off the people that the audience has grown so fond of over the course of three novels, more than 1,000 pages, or hundreds of 43-minute episodes? Why was it necessary to emotionally destroy the audience for an entire chapter or even the rest of the book/episode/season? Why not continue the character’s plot or story line? Why not let them have a “happily ever after” or simply exit the story line in a non-permanent way? Why do these characters almost always die in a heroic way? Why?
For some stories there isn’t an answer; it was the author’s decision. After all, it is their characters and their story to tell. But for many, the reason is that the character’s death and, often times, self-sacrifice was to show how their personality evolved and grew throughout the story. To teach a lesson and drive home a recurring theme or even because they believed the character’s evolution had ended and that their future role in the plot, if any, was uncertain and improbable. We may never be able to answer all of those questions or at least not to our satisfaction but what we do know is that the deaths of our favorite characters usually provoke thought and make us reflect on their impact on the world and maybe even their impact on us.