Design by Reid Graham

Listen, character death is essential. I know you didn’t want Sirius Black to die in “Order of the Phoenix.” Neither did I, but he had to, okay? If he hadn’t fallen through the veil, Harry wouldn’t have sacrificed himself in “The Deathly Hallows” and defeated Voldemort, now would he? As a creative writing major, I’ve killed my fair share of darlings. Killing off characters in narratives can be part of creating pathos, advancing the story or, sometimes, getting rid of unnecessary weight. However, with the rise of fantasy and sci-fi media, fiction writers are increasingly able to do whatever the hell they want, which includes raising characters from the dead. Is this a good idea? On occasion but, in my opinion, mostly not. Since I’ve been studying creative writing for four years now, I am no longer able to simply consume a story. I have to tear apart every narrative choice — including resurrection. Here are my top five characters that died and should have stayed that way, but didn’t.

David Nolan (Prince Charming), “Once Upon a Time”

Not gonna lie, this guy’s just annoying as hell. I started watching “Once Upon a Time” when I was approximately 13 years old, and I will admit that I loved David (Josh Dallas, “Thor”) back then. Teenage me totally swooned for the dashing, virtuous Prince Charming, but now that I’m older and more into morally grey kinda guys, I’m realizing that he was too dashing and virtuous. This made his character pretty bland and predictable, but he was always depicted as absolutely essential to the show. So imagine my surprise when Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin, “Big Love”), his own wife, had to crush his heart to reverse a curse — now that’s a way to shirk off dead weight in a TV show! Gone were the days of watching David swing his little sword around while preaching about morality and generally suffering no consequences for his actions. We were taking a turn! Mary Margaret was going to have to live with the survivor’s guilt of killing her husband for the greater good, the main women in the show (who were all related to David as a daughter, wife and stepmother-in-law) could take center stage without Prince Charming dragging them down, and finally, finally, “Once Upon a Time” could lose one of its moral compasses and get unhinged. But no, Regina (Lana Parilla, “Boomtown”) just had to go and split Mary Margaret’s heart in half so she and David could share it (gag), and he could stay alive. David’s death made a lot of room for some pretty intense and dramatic narrative progression, but I guess it’s hard to live in a world without men keeping their women in line.

Ethan Winters, “Resident Evil Village”

Yes, yes, Ethan Winters also died in “Resident Evil Village”’s predecessor, “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard,” but I’m not talking about that game. I’m concerned with 2021’s “Village” because Ethan died twice in it, and he should have stayed dead the first time. To clarify, I’m not necessarily angry with the plot that occurs after Ethan is revived. Is Ethan a pretty bland character with bland motivations that could have been replaced by essentially any other middle-aged male character? Absolutely. However, I think the vision he receives post–first death which reveals the twist of “Resident Evil Village,” the ensuing final boss battle and his ultimate sacrifice at the end are all compelling and could not logically have been experienced by or through any other character. What I am angry about is that between Ethan’s first death and his revival, we get about 20 minutes of awesome gameplay as Chris Redfield, Ethan’s friend and leader of an elite task force sent to aid Ethan in defeating Miranda, the main threat of “Resident Evil Village.” Playing as Chris is so much fun, in fact, that returning to play as Ethan is a let down. I like what we get out of Ethan after he comes back to life, but it drags after having randomly played as another, more exciting character for 20 minutes. And while fun, Chris’ segment also adds a lot of narrative fat right at the end of the game that makes the finale lag. My deal is this: Either Ethan should have stayed dead and we finished the game as Chris, or cut the Chris gameplay and I will let resurrection slide just this one time.

Clara Oswald, “Doctor Who”

Okay, this one hurts. I’ve been a Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman, “Victoria”) devotee ever since she debuted alongside Matt Smith’s (“The Crown”) Doctor in 2012, and I continue to be one, which is why I’m gatekeeping her death. Here’s the rundown: Clara was killed by the Raven in an alien refugee camp after she sacrifices herself to save the life of Rigsy, a young man falsely accused of murder. In his grief, though, the Doctor (portrayed at the time by Peter Capaldi, “The Thick of It”) removed Clara from the moment of her death in order to resurrect her, but she was stuck in a state of living without breathing, aging or her heart beating. She was eventually revived, but without a heartbeat Clara would always have to return to the moment of her death to let it play out. Realizing their relationship was too turbulent, Clara erased the Doctor’s memories of her, stole her own TARDIS and left to go on her own adventures before returning to her death. Because I love Clara so much, you’re probably wondering why I’m so averse to her resurrection — what I can’t stand about this scenario is the disturbance of her heroic death. The Doctor acted selfishly in reviving Clara after she chose to sacrifice herself, and pulling her from that moment to leave her in a comatose state for 4.5 billion years before her resurrection is akin to a violation of both her body and grave. Clara lost a lot leading up to her death, and despite my own despair, all I wanted was for her to rest peacefully knowing that her final act had been a sacrificial one.

Rey Skywalker, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Sitting in a movie theater in Tennessee in 2019, I turned to my friend as soon as the lights came up and told her that Rey (Daisy Ridley, “Murder on the Orient Express”) should have died, not Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”). At the end of “The Rise of Skywalker,” Rey, the main character of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, dies from exertion after destroying Darth Sidious (Richard E. Grant, “Gosford Part”). But when Kylo, her slow-burn lover, I guess, finds her, he gives her his life force. She wakes up, they kiss, he dies, and it was about the stupidest movie moment I’ve ever paid witness to. As soon as Kylo died instead of Rey, I was overwhelmed with how strongly I felt that Kylo was the one worth saving — he was the character with the arguably more interesting background, the arguably better arc and arguably more story to tell. I loved finally having a female protagonist in Star Wars, but Rey was flat next to Kylo, and by the end of the trilogy, her story had been told according to the typical Skywalker formula. Letting her stay dead and leaving Kylo in her place would have been the ultimate twist and even a breath of fresh air for the Star Wars franchise.

Max Mayfield, “Stranger Things”

Did I expect Max to die in season four? Kind of. Did I expect Caleb McLaughlin to eat up that entire scene? No, but wow. Did Max coming back to life cheapen the whole thing? Absolutely. In my opinion, “Stranger Things” plays it too safe when it comes to main character deaths. Sure, we have watched Barb, Bob and Billy die, but none of them were around long enough for us to get attached. They were cheap shots, so when season four promised major character deaths I was thrilled to hear that the creators of “Stranger Things” (the Duffer brothers) would stop pulling their punches. So yeah, Max’s death was gut-wrenching, but it raised the stakes going into season five. That is, until Eleven revived her. Now Max is stuck in some sort of comatose state, which still sucks for her, but ultimately I’m really upset that we couldn’t have just let her death be. Killing off Max, a beloved character and one of the main kids in “Stranger Things,” would show the audience that season four meant business. That season five wasn’t going to play around — the stakes for all characters involved would be higher than they’ve ever been, and it would become increasingly apparent that the Upside Down and all its monsters aren’t to be trifled with. Instead, we just got a cheapened death scene and a maybe-alive character whose maybe-aliveness significantly reduces the impact of her death. Also, Eleven is entirely too overpowered now that she has the power to resurrect people. If she can raise the dead, what creature could she not easily defeat in season five? 

Death, as we know, is a pretty major thing. In fiction, though, it’s become reversible. Sometimes it fits the narrative genre — zombie stories, time travel, religion — and poses interesting questions about mortality. On the other hand, bringing people back from the brink usually proves to be confusing and adds more weight to a story than necessary. We have to let the dead lie to give a narrative its gravitas, and bringing a character back from the grave often undermines that. All that’s happening in the examples above is dragging around dead (wink) weight for what? Viewer count? Gameplay time? It is my humble opinion that if these characters had stayed as they were, things in their respective universes would have gotten a lot more interesting. If your favorite characters are on this list, don’t kill me. I’ll come back.

Daily Arts Writer Maddie Agne can be reached at maagne@umich.edu.