The Co’s Katherine Gougeon explores social and cultural details that have an outsized ripple effect. Follow her on Twitter @kgougeon

The other night, we watched And Then There Were None, the 1945 Agatha Christie classic about 10 sketchy strangers who get invited to a remote island by an unknown host. Turns out there is a killer among them, picking off the guests one by one, but who?  In the final scene, only the dashing soldier and the sweet secretary remain.  We thought they were falling in love but, hey, which will kill the other? In keeping with the benevolence of the black-and-white film universe, a twist kicks in, the actual killer is apprehended, and the happy couple prevails.

You don’t really see that anymore.

Today’s most dramatic and suspenseful shows – Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead – are like murder mysteries in reverse. The identity of the killer is not nearly as significant as the identity of the victim.   Whodunnit has been replaced by whogetsit, and no child, pet, baby, senior citizen or fan favourite is exempt from the possibility of grisly demise.

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The horror and fascination is baked-in and can be summarized in three words: anyone can die.

From the writer’s perspective, there are many reasons for killing off a character. Logistic (shrinking a bloated cast to give the best characters more airtime), artistic (legitimate plot advancement), and mundane (the actor’s contract is up) top the list.

From an actor’s perspective, death is not always a bad thing.  Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, told the Wall Street Journal she hopes her character gets killed off. “If you’re on GOT and you don’t have a cool death scene then what’s the point?” she said.

And she’s right.  In shows like GOT, death is more than just a plot point, it is the whole point, the dramatic engine that keeps the series operating on high gear.

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In an interview with The Actor’s Studio, Robert Kirkman, TWD’s exec producer, emphasizes how allowing characters to survive and be safe for too long is a bad mistake because it lessens the element of Oh my god, these characters could go at any moment.

“People gotsta die,” he insists. “You never want to lose that.”

 

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