Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Top 5 Fictional Character Deaths That Destroyed My Soul

I'm an emotional person, regardless of what my enemies might scream in the face my cold, merciless fury. This extends to fiction. It has to, if I'm going to do my job as a writer. Being able to put myself in the shoes of a character helps me craft more believable conflicts and heartaches before my characters can get their HEA. But what really pisses me off is that some people, some horrible, awful, terrible, mean, butt hole people, don't let the characters get their HEA. Sometimes, they just straight up kill them.

Because this post is going to be all about characters I love who have died and left me with a gaping hole in my still beating heart, pumping gallons of blood and gore all over the place, there are going to be spoilers. Since I'm nice, be aware that there will be spoilers for the following movies/tv shows/books after the jump. If you click anyway, it's your funeral. So, last warning, if you click the jump, the following tv shows/books/movies WILL be spoilered for you:

The Green Mile (book and movie)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (comic books)
The Walking Dead (tv show)
A Song of Ice and Fire
Atonement (book and movie)
This post was inspired by watching the last episode of season 3 of the British series Misfits. If you've never seen Misfits, I highly recommend it. Five kids in their late teens/early twenties find that, after being struck by lightning, they have incredible super powers. Only, they're not the only people who have these powers. They just happen to be the only five with ASBOs (anti-social behavior orders) and are currently doing community service as a part of their probation. They're rude, disgusting, terrible people with filthy mouths, but as the story unfolds, as a viewer, you really find yourself really rooting for them, and growing to like them, even as they keep killing their probation workers (usually accidentally).

In the last episode of season 3, Alisha, who started out as a sexually aggressive, insecure girl and ends up maturing and falling in love with "Super Hoodie," who traveled back in time to save her life. I won't spoil who Super Hoodie is, in case you want to go watch it, but I will tell you that Alisha, a character I went from actively disliking to absolutely loving because the writers played on my emotions like animals, ended season 3 like this:

And never, not once, did I see it coming. It wasn't dramatic, it wasn't during some heart-stopping action sequence. It was such a sucker punch to my gut, it got me thinking about other characters who shocked me to the absolute core with their deaths. Here, I present my top five. You'll notice that Alisha isn't in the top five. Not yet, anyway. I need time to process my emotions before I can assign her any sort of rank, and let me tell you, I am going to be disturbed by this plot twist for a very, very long time.

So, as promised, here are my top five fictional character deaths that destroyed my soul:

5. Sophia, The Walking Dead

How messed up is this? For the entire first half of the second season, the plot of AMC's The Walking Dead centered on a missing child, who got separated from the group during a zombie attack. For weeks, my cousin D-Rock and I watched this show, getting frustrated with the pacing and wishing they would just find Sophia already. In the mid-season finale, they found Sophia, all right. Totally zombified, living in a barn with other zombies that they'd just used for subhuman target practice. When Sophia staggers out, intent on eating the brains of the very people who were looking for her- including her devastated mother- someone has to pull the trigger. Oh, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth. I still get a little teary at the sight of those shoes staggering out of the barn.

4. Ned Stark, Game of Thrones by George "I laugh at your pain" Martin
I'm pretty sure that by now, most people have seen HBO's adaptation of the first book in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. In 2003, I got the first three books in the series from a friend who was finished with them. I hadn't read any good fantasy in a while, owing to being ruined for all other fantasy by Jacqueline Carrey's Kushiel's Chosen series. I decided to give them a try. Right off the bat, I was on Team Stark. After all, Ned Stark was the hero of the series, right? He had to be. He had all the makings of a fantasy hero: a sound moral compass, the will to do what is necessary, no matter how unpleasant the task might be, love for his wife and children, and loyalty to his king. Surely, Ned Stark, the lawful good force in a world rife with chaotic neutrals, would win the day.
Ha ha, just kidding. George R.R. Martin will enjoy your tears gently warmed, as a cat enjoys a saucer of milk. After being tricked into giving a false confession for treason, he ends up on the wrong end of an executioner's sword. In the clip below, from HBO's adaptation, you can see a very book-faithful interpretation of the scene that shocked me, as a reader. It shocked viewers, too. After all, Ned Stark was played by Sean Bean, the biggest star in the show! But come on, viewers. Sean Bean dies in every role he plays. You had to see this one coming:

3. John Coffey, The Green Mile, by Stephen King
When I read The Green Mile, it was being published in short installments. Because why pay $7.99 for a single book when you could pay $3.99 a pop for six shorter books, right? I'm on to you, King. The slow release forced readers to stay with the characters longer, which was probably just what Mr. King intended. After all, how are you going to make an audience feel for people on death row?

As the protagonist of the story, Paul Edgecombe, realizes that not only does inmate John Coffey, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two children, have Christ-like healing powers, but he's also not guilty of the crime he's going to be executed for, I began to doubt that JC2 was going to sit in the electric chair at all. I thought maybe it would be a Shawshank Redemption style breakout story. But as it turns out, John Coffey does die in the electric chair, because it's the one time Stephen King decided not to repeat himself.
The utter unfairness of John Coffey's death, and its supernatural aftermath, left me sitting up at two in the morning, sobbing like my poor, sixteen-year-old heart would break. I'm pretty sure The Green Mile was the first book to make me cry.

2. Robbie and Cecilia, Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Under the subheading "books that made me cry," Atonement is by far the book that has made me cry the hardest. The story, of young love torn apart by war and a child's false accusation, is devastating enough. But when the reader reaches the denouement, the devastation is ten-fold: although young Briony has personally repented for the false accusation that separated her sister, Cecilia, from her one true love, the events the reader has experienced were, for the most part, a lie. Briony has been writing the story all along, and she is the epitome of an unreliable narrator. Not only did Cecilia and Robbie never see each other again after the night of his arrest (after Briony's false accusation), but they also died alone, cut off from their families. Both deaths are a direct result of Briony's testimony: Robbie is a prisoner at the start of World War II, and ends up in the Army, where he's wounded and dies at Dunkirk, and Cecilia dies in a London bombing.
What. The. Frack. Having just read an entire book in which, okay, true love doesn't have a smooth path, but everything turns out okayish in the end, the rug gets yanked out from under the reader. Remember when we said they met up during the war and now they're living together and Briony is going to get Robbie exonerated for the crime he didn't commit? Psych! They're both DEAD. I still get choked up and angry over the end of that book, which pretty much proves that Ian McEwan is one of the greatest storytellers of our time.

1. Giles, Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 (comic)
After the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and its spin-off, Angel, ended leaving fans with more than a few unanswered questions, Joss Whedon ,chubby, ginger fuck and some very talented writers and artists got together to continue the series in comic book form. Unfettered by the constraints of network television, they were able to bring us such mind-numbingly stupid plots as giant Dawn, Buffy and Angel having sex to save the world by flying, and Giles getting killed in exactly the same way Jenny Calendar died.
Wait, what?

Yup. That's it. Giles, beloved mentor of the Scooby gang, dies at the hands of the vampire he never wanted to trust in the first place. And when he does, he goes out looking like Tintin. I, like many fans, were torn between, "It doesn't count, it's in the comics!" and "Why is Angel still alive, but Giles had to die?" But this came straight from the hand of the creator. Even if I were to ignore the comics entirely (which I now do), I already saw it happen. Every time I watch an episode of Buffy, I know that, sometime in the future, not only do things become unbelievably ridiculous, but Giles, the character I liked most because I have daddy issues is going to die exactly the same death as his girlfriend did, at the hands of the same monster who killed her, and probably only because Joss Whedon equates character death with story depth. The fact that Giles's death was so senseless, so artless, and probably had the writers of the comic patting themselves on the back, enrages me to this day.

So, there are my top five. What about y'all? Who out there in Wickedlandia bear emotional scars from the deaths of characters they've loved?

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