The killing off of a character is a device in fiction, whereby a character dies, but the story continues. The term, frequently applied to television, film and chronological series, often denotes an untimely or unexpected death motivated by factors beyond the storyline. It also implies a critical or cynical attitude towards a work, and is rarely used by authors when discussing their own works.
In productions featuring actors, the unwillingness or inability of an actor to continue with the production, for financial or other reasons (including illness, death, or producers' unwillingness to retain an actor), may lead to that character being "killed off" or removed from the storyline.
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Until the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood film plots featuring death and danger, such as action or horror, were criticised for killing off secondary black characters prematurely to advance the plot, leading to accusations of tokenism; examples include The Shining and the Alien series. However, with more black actors in starring roles since the 1990s, this trend is thought to have decreased – numerous American films and television series have also made knowing references to the idea as a cliché. One of the first films to notably avoid this cliche at least partially was 1968's Night of the Living Dead, which cast Duane Jones in the lead role and the last of the characters to be killed. However, the fact that he is killed at all is still considered problematic. Director George Romero has been quoted as saying that he cast Jones not because he was African-American, but because he "simply gave the best audition", implying that his character would have been killed regardless of his race.
Because of the episodic format of television shows, audience feedback and approval is often a factor in whether or not a character is killed off. Executive Producer of LOST Damon Lindelof has been quoted as saying that despite the widespread hate for two abruptly introduced and widely disliked characters, "We had a plan when we introduced them, and we didn't get to fully execute that plan. But when the plan is executed, [they] will be iconic characters on the show". He was referring, of course, to their deaths, which received an extremely positive reaction from fans. Although their lack of popularity was acknowledged even in-universe, Lindelof's insistence that they would serve a purpose within the show seems characteristic of the earlier assertion that creators dislike acknowledging a cynical attitude towards the killing of their own characters. In an example of a character being killed off as a result of an actor leaving the show, Raymond Cruz's character Tuco Salamanca on Breaking Bad was killed off because he found the part too difficult to play.
The Palestinian children's character Farfur (a Mickey Mouse lookalike) is an example of a character "killed off" for political reasons in 2007. After the program received criticism from some government ministers in both Palestine and Israel for espousing anti-Israeli sentiments, the Farfur character was killed off. Even his death, at the hands of an "Israeli agent," making Farfur a "martyr," was similarly politicised.
Because of the ongoing nature of most television series, and the resulting cast changes that result, television characters are typically more prone to being killed off than those in other media. For example, John Ritter's character in 8 Simple Rules was written to have died off screen after Ritter himself died during taping of the show. The British sitcom In Sickness and in Health similarly killed off Else Garnett, one of the leads of the programme, due to the death of the actress who played her, Dandy Nichols.
In Being Human all of the original starting characters were killed off by the end of the fourth season.
Two and a Half Men's ninth season opened with Charlie Harper's funeral. The character had been killed off due to disagreements between Charlie Sheen and the producers of the show. Similarly, Norman Lear reluctantly killed off Edith Bunker, one of the stars of All in the Family and Archie Bunker's Place, after actress Jean Stapleton decided to quit the series. Also, the titular character Prue Halliwell was killed off at the end of the third season of Charmed due to the departure of actress Shannen Doherty, which is commonly attributed to rumors of her having off-screen conflicts between producers and co-stars.
Priceline.com apparently killed off its lead character, the "Priceline Negotiator" (portrayed by longtime company spokesman William Shatner), in an advertisement during Super Bowl XLVI. The killing off, however, turned out to be a hoax, as Shatner returned with his protégé (portrayed by Kaley Cuoco) in later commercials.
Death is a frequently used dramatic device in comic book fiction, and in particular superhero fiction. Unlike stories in television or film, character deaths are rarely by unforeseen behind-the-scenes events, as there is no analogous situation to having actors portraying characters. Instead, characters are typically killed off as part of the story, or occasionally by editorial mandate to generate publicity for a title. A number of factors often mean that these changes are not permanent. Due to extremely long print runs, the popularity of these characters (with writers and fans) and occasionally rights issues for using the character in licensed adaptations, characters are often brought back to life by later writers. This can happen either as a depiction of their literal resurrection or by retcon, a revision which changes earlier continuity and establishes the character not to have died in the first place. This phenomenon is known as the comic book death. Killing off a main character such as Superman, Batman or Captain America can often lead to an uptick in publicity for a comic book, as well as high sales for the story in which they are inevitably brought back to life.
Some writers have also criticized the trend for killing off of supporting characters, particularly when female characters are killed off brutally to elicit a strong reaction in the male protagonist. This is known as the Women in Refrigerators trope.
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