Why Do Characters Not Stay Dead on TV Shows Anymore?
Why is it that everyone comes back?
Characters miraculously coming back to life has been a staple plotline of soap operas for years, yet in modern television it seems that this archetype is starting to be used more and more. Even shows as popular as Game of Thrones have had problems permanently writing out characters, and I just simply cannot understand why. I would like to examine what exactly causes television writers to bring back characters that they have already killed off, and I hope I can shed some light on what I feel is an issue that plagues our television screens everyday.
The most prominent factor that deters writers from permanently killing off a character is the actors portraying them. A perfect example of this is Tom Cavanaugh on The Flash. Cavanaugh has been playing Harrison Wells ever since the first episode of the first season, yet his character has never really been Harrison Wells at all.
The original Harrison Wells turned out to be Eobard Thawne in disguise, making Cavanaugh the true villain of season one. Of course The Reverse-Flash was eventually defeated, meaning that Tom Cavanaugh's time on the show was finished—or so we thought. Cavanaugh was simply brought back onto the show as several different versions of Harrison Wells, and has managed to make an appearance on every season of The Flash since his initial character's defeat. Why is that?
It seems that writers and producers get attached to actors just as much as their co-stars do, and offer up outlandish excuses to keep them coming back season after season. Whether it is a secret evil twin, or an identical counterpart from a different dimension, television writers will do anything to keep a certain actor on their show.
Main Character Anxiety
I don't have enough fingers to count how many TV shows have killed and brought back their main characters, or offered up some impossible solution to keep them on the show. Take The Walking Dead for instance. The stars of that show have been killed off since the beginning, and there are only a few of the original main characters left. However, Rick Grimes has always been the main man with a plan. This season we are finally going to see Grimes meet his end, but only because Andrew Lincoln decided that he didn't want to continue on the show.
Almost every other actor has been written off without a choice, but the main character has to decide his own time to die. The writers simply won't take out their main cash cow, and we have seen this in several other shows. How many times have Sam and Dean died and come back to life on Supernatural? Game of Thrones had the guts to kill off Eddard Stark in the first season, but since then, they have killed and brought back their new main character, Jon Snow.
Not knowing who will replace characters like Rick Grimes and Dean Winchester provides anxiety for not only the fans, but for the writers and producers as well. Because of this feeling of uncertainty, it seems like we will constantly see the main characters of certain shows die and be brought back to life over and over again.
A Shock Factor
Bringing a character back to life is seen as a sloppy plot device, but sometimes it can actually create a positive shock factor. Killing a character or seemingly killing a character makes the viewer think they will never see them again, and then bringing them back on the show preys on our sense of nostalgia. It creates a shock not just from seeing them again, but from seeing more of a character we used to love after we thought they had been ripped away from us.
Imagine if tomorrow morning, you wake up to the news that Hugh Jackman will reprise his role as Wolverine. We thought that Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine was ripped away from all of us, and now we all get the treat of seeing him one last time. It would make the general public feel a collective sense of surprise, and the only reason a studio would do it is to make money through people's nostalgia.
It's the same principle when we see Rose Tyler return to Doctor Who, Gustavo Fring return on Better Call Saul or even Darth Maul on Star Wars Rebels.
The truth is, we may never see the end of character's being brought back to life. Whether it is through prequels, secret twins, other dimensional counterparts or some other death-defying excuse, we are all stuck with this annoying plot device. However, it doesn't have to be annoying. Depending on the execution, bringing a character back doesn't have to make everyone grind their teeth.
Seeing Gus Fring in a Breaking Bad prequel is an excellent turn of events, and having Rose Tyler make a triumphant return to David Tennant's Doctor was an amazing plot device, but these two series have only brought a few characters back. Supernatural, The Flash, and several other shows do it every single season.
It becomes tiresome after a while, and if you watch as much TV as I do, you hate having to see the same shows bring back the same characters on a regular basis. The plot device isn't sloppy, it's just overused. Why do characters not stay dead on TV anymore? Because no one really wants them to.