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.
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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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. Damon Lindelof, executive producer of Lost, has been quoted as saying that despite the widespread hate for Nikki and Paulo, "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". 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. Characters may be killed off when the actors die. 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 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.
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.
Brian Griffin, the talking dog on Family Guy, was killed off in the Season 12 episode, "Life of Brian" and was replaced with a new dog, Vinny, voiced by Tony Sirico. Fans of the show were devastated and started a petition in order to bring back Brian. However, Brian was brought back to life two episodes later, in the Christmas episode, "Christmas Guy", where Stewie Griffin travels back in time to prevent Brian from being struck by the car that killed him. Creator Seth MacFarlane tweeted on Twitter shortly after the episode aired, saying: And thus endeth our warm, fuzzy, holiday lesson: Never take those you love for granted, or they can be gone in a flash. I mean, you didn't think we'd kill off Brian did you? Jesus we'd have to be fucking high.
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. Teasers may hint at characters' deaths for an extended period. 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 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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