TV Deaths: The Killing Joke

TV deaths at this point are a dime a dozen. Are producers enjoying toying with viewers?

This article is going to spoil some major TV deaths that have occurred recently. Consider yourself warned…

So Norma Bates is officially dead. It finally happened.

The thing I’ve been dreading ever single season one of Bates Motel has finally happened. No amount of Twitter campaigning to flip the script over the original material would alter the original intent of the producers. And I have to salute that, honestly. After some high profile returns, it’s almost a breath of fresh air to find someone who dies actually staying dead.

TV deaths are clearly not unusual. They’re handy for revitalizing a stale property or explaining away the absence of a TV star who elevates to bigger and more financially rewarding things or for getting rid of troublesome actors the production couldn’t really afford anyway. And then there are the “TV deaths.” Those deaths that happen as a season cliffhanger that weren’t ever really deaths to begin with.

Personally, I tend to go back to the 80s soaps to classify all sorts of TV deaths. First, there’s the cliffhanger fake or the “Who shot J.R.?” Larry Hagman never intended to leave Dallas, but his shooting jumpstarted a well-performing series into the pop culture stratosphere. That leads us to the second type of TV death: the “Bobby Ewing in the shower” death. This rarity is an admittance on the part of the actor that he/she made a HUGE mistake in leaving a hot role on a medium-hot series for a film career that never materialized. This can also be referred to as the “Pamela Sue Martin gets abducted by a UFO” exit, except Dynasty never brought her back. They recast. Checkmate, bitch. Then, third, there’s the death is death is death, and you ain’t coming back. This is used to thin out an overwhelming cast. See the “Moldavia Massacre” from Dynasty.

There are undoubtedly other examples, but that’s fine. You get yours where you will. I’ll stick with my 80s soaps.

So that leads us to where we are today, and four major character TV deaths that have bubbled up in pop culture over the past year.

The most frustrating and frustratingly awful example of a TV death is that of Glenn (Steven Yeun) on The Walking Dead. Naturally, The Walking Dead isn’t a show afraid to kill off its cast members. Once you start a show with a cop, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), shooting a little girl zombie in the face and then later feature his wife effectively butchered by her own son after she dies during childbirth… Well, all beats are totally off. That said, the tease of “Is he or isn’t he?” dead became incredibly exhausting over the span of a few months. The producers painted Glenn into a corner upon which he could not reasonably escape, but then he did. By shuttling himself under a dumpster. There was no reason to bring that character back. Maybe one, but that’s even more perverse for fans of the comic. This TV death was pointless and insulting. Dead is dead.

Similarly, as much as I love Game of Thrones, “killing” Jon Snow was nothing but a publicity play. It’s not particularly the death in this case that bothers me because I deep-down never really believed he would die. I mean, what else is Melissandre the Red Priestess for anyway? But it’s the ridiculous behind the scenes insisting of the cast and crew that Jon Snow was dead. Well, yeah, technically he died and was later revived, but any casual viewer of the series knew he wouldn’t die. His story wasn’t finished. We still need to find out who his real parents were. Game of Thrones isn’t afraid to thin out the cast (particularly if your last name is Stark or if you’re a direwolf), but this middling commitment to character death is weak and laughable. That said, welcome back Jon Snow. When you reconnected with Sansa Stark, I got goosebumps. Carry on.

Now, onto the deaths with real meat. First, Sleepy Hollow apparently killed off one of its stars Nicole Beharie (Abbie) a few weeks ago. She’s not scheduled to return for a fourth season, so she may indeed be dead. Why did she have to die? I don’t really know, and I don’t really care. I don’t watch the show. But while I do applaud their commitment to shocking the viewers with an unexpected death, it’s still a bit of a mixed bag. Did they really have to kill off an empowered minority female character? Why not the white guy? You can’t tell me they can’t dig up some other historic corpse to return from the dead? Why does it have to be the black girl? This is a mixed bag, in my opinion, but if they somehow magically bring her back in season four, then… Well, I don’t watch it, so no skin off my back. They’ll lose my respect, how about that? OK, they never had it. Dammit.

Finally, the deepest cut of all, Bates Motel killed off its star Vera Farmiga by following the prescription of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Norman Bates didn’t stab or strangle his mother. Instead, he peacefully gassed her, giving her the most graceful death possible. That is, until he dug up her corpse, kissed it repeatedly, and glued her eyes open. It’s a macabre turn even for that show. And it was brilliant. Sure, I’m personally devastated that Vera Farmiga’s Norma is dead. Her arc was straight up classic tragedy, and I may never recover from her death (never recover being until The Conjuring 2 when I can again gaze at her perfect face and not-glued eyes). But I applaud producers Kerry Ehrin, Carlton Cuse, and Vera Farmiga for committing to Norma’s death.

I mean, I TRIED to get them to flip the script, but whatever. I “love” it still even if it breaks my heart. I have to praise the ladies (and gents) with the balls to truly commit to such an impactful character’s death.

Now, did you really have to glue Norma’s eyes like that???

That’s the stuff of nightmares.

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