Death in science-fiction and fantasy shows rarely sticks. In nearly every case, the character eventually gets resurrected, cloned, replaced by an alternate dimension replica, returned by the powers that be, or continue to haunt and entertain as ghostly versions of themselves.
On occasion, though, a character dies and stays dead, or at least mostly dead. Since were in the dead of winter, I thought it would warm the hearts to remember 10 of the most moving deaths that stuck in the past 10 years as we continue to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Airlock Alpha.
Allen Doyle from “Angel.” — Joss Whedon loves to kill off beloved characters, and I have to struggle hard not to make this entire list consist of Whedonverse characters. Still, Doyle deserves mention because just as we grew completely smitten with him, and as it seemed he finally won Cordelias heart, he gets all heroic and sacrifices himself to save his fellow benign demons and half-demons.
What made his death even more poignant was the eventual real life drug-overdose death of troubled actor Glenn Quinn. No magic was ever going to bring him back.
Winifred “Fred” Berkle from “Angel” — While actress Amy Acker remained on the show till the end, her character, Fred, the sweet brainy waif and love interest of many, died a sudden death just as she finally showed romantic interest in the ill-fated Wesley Wyndham-Price. We felt the intense grief of the shows most tragic character as the life of the woman he loved slipped through his fingers and disappeared, with no hope of ever bringing her back. Of course, her body still remained as the long-winded, leather-clad, blue god Illyria.
Hoban “Wash” Washburn from “Firefly” and “Serenity” — Granted Wash died in the theatrical movie, “Serenity,” but we all know theyre the same thing. I had the privilege of seeing screenings of “Serenity” before its general release date. As was the case of nearly everyone else in the theater the first time around, I was mesmerized by the movie, totally immersed in the story, and then it happened. Suddenly, and without warning, Wash was dead, impaled through the chest by a giant spear! I believe in the next 10 to 15 minutes of the film, I was in shock, and yet still while reeling from Washs death, within moments I found myself laughing — at Jayne, and then Kaylee — and feeling really guilty about it. Upon subsequent viewings of the movie, we learned we actually had warning that Wash would die, but I had forgotten than Joss loves to impale us in our collective chests, and then proceed to ripping our hearts out.
Joyce Summers from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — “The Body,” the episode about the death of Buffys mother, is possibly one of the finest episodes of television ever. From the moment Buffy discovers her mothers dead body to the wishful thoughts and mundane-yet-special memories that pass through Buffys mind as shes dealing with the reality of her mothers death, we become Buffy. Everything she did, the sounds of life as normal going on in the background as her entire world has changed, the futile attempts to revive her mother, the starkness of the sunlight – all make us feel it is happening to us as well. I didnt originally see this series in order or from the beginning, and while I liked it enough, I never took it seriously until I saw this episode. It was responsible for my becoming a fan of the entire body of Joss Whedons work.
Joyce did show up again in Season 7 as The First, but that doesnt count as a revived character – as she was evil, out of character, and not a continued presence.
Tara Maclay from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — For almost three seasons, she was a favorite Scooby, Willows girlfriend, the kindest, sweetest character in the stable of Buffy characters, and then suddenly, without warning, she was dead.
Johnston Green from “Jericho” — Johnston Green was the voice of reason, the anchor, and a well-grounded central character in Jericho. Gerald McRaney owned this character, made us love him, and made us rely on him to keep the other citizens of Jericho sane. Then he died at the end of the first season! We all know that as bad as things had been in Jericho and the rest of the United States, all hell is going to break loose in Season 2 without him.
Jonathan Kent from “Smallville” — Granted, when word got out that a main character was going to die on “Smallville,” I had two reactions. One was “Yeah, yeah. They say that almost every week, and dead Chloe or Lana always come back!” My other reaction was that if anyone really did die on the show, it would be Pa Kent, because thats the way it always happens in Superman lore.
I couldnt stand Jonathan Kent. He was always so preachy and on the moral high-ground, often to the point where I wanted to slap his tilted head. Still, when he died, not only was it heart-breaking and dramatic, but it resulted in some of the best-acted and crafted episodes in the entire series. It also resulted in Clark moving away from the dumb farm boy Gee, Dad, Im sorry scenarios and onto doing more Supermanly things.
Ellen Tigh from “Battlestar Galactica” — While Ellen Tigh wasnt the most lovable or sympathetic character in BSG – or any series for that matter – her death was perhaps more tragic than most. She betrayed the human insurgents on New Caprica by giving information about the insurgents’ plans to the Cylons, but she did this to protect the life of her husband, Col. Saul Tigh. In an ironic turn, her betrayal of the humans was discovered, and it was her own husband who killed her, knowing she did everything to protect him.
Charles “Trip” Tucker from “Star Trek: Enterprise” — The most tragic thing about the death of Trip Tucker was that it was executed very poorly and it was a stupid death. It was embarrassing to watch one of my favorite characters for the series walking the jerky monkey walk of death. It was completely a product of bad writing in one of the worst series finales Ive ever seen for any series. A better death was the death of Sim, the replica of Trip created in “Similitude,” that had a life span of five days, and existed solely to harvest brain cells to save the life of the original Trip. The most memorable quote from that episode echoes what nearly everyone thinks at some point: “I can’t imagine not bein’ here tomorrow.”
Josh Lindsey from “Moonlight” — I knew Assistant District Attorney Joshs (Jordan Belfi) days were numbered as Beths semi-jilted boyfriend from the beginning of this fledgling series, but his death in last weeks episode was heart-wrenchingly tragic. I found myself almost as distressed as Mick and Beth when they were desperately trying to save Josh from all those gaping bullet wounds. This was one of the best-played death scenes Ive seen in years – and this is in an age where killing key characters in TV series is en vogue. Because Mick refused to turn Josh into a vampire to save him, we can be relatively sure hes not coming back, except possibly in memories or flashbacks.
I left out a lot of series where there have been deaths of major characters, because those series are still in progress. There have been many deaths on “Lost,” some of them very moving, but since we dont know the ultimate game plan of the writers, we dont know if any of the characters are really dead, or who is likely to show up alive in the future. The same can be said for “Heroes,” though Im pretty sure Isaac Mendez isnt going to show up alive in anything except flashbacks, Hiro-trips, or dream sequences. Once the brain is removed from the body, Im pretty sure those folks are dead. Still, with cheerleader Claires blood floating around all over the place, death doesnt seem to be death anymore.
I also refrained from mentioning any other Whedonverse characters. There are still many who died deaths they arent likely to come back from (i.e. Shepherd Book, Jenny Calendar, Tracey from “The Message”), but other series have occasionally made the leap on occasion.
The shows that present viewers with permanent deaths usually have a greater emotional impact than those that use the impending death of a series regular, something “Smallville,” among others, does regularly to manipulate viewers into watching them. Granted, the beauty of science-fiction and fantasy genre shows is that anything is possible. Still, the finality of death does make a story worth telling seem so much more important.
Robin Brownfield is a staff writer with Airlock Alpha, writing out of New Jersey. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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