A few weeks ago, I sat in a dorm common room with a few of my friends. Together, we were a bundle of nerves, as we were waiting patiently for the newest episode of The Walking Dead to start. At 9PM, the season 7 premiere would be on, and AMC had promised the premiere would be bloody. At least one main cast member was going to get the ax (or rather, the bat) by the end of the episode. And, as a longtime fan, I was beyond nervous to watch that happen.
In the end, two main characters were killed off by the show’s creators. First, there was Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). He hadn’t been an original cast member, but I was still sad to see him go. After Abraham, though, was Glenn (Steven Yeun). Glenn had been a fixture in the series, technically since the show’s pilot episode. One of the few ‘original’ characters, he was undoubtedly a fan-favorite.
It’s sad to lose a favorite character, and Glenn was certainly a favorite character for many people. The reaction to his death was heard around the world. But, what’s the best way to grieve the death of a major fictional character like Glenn? Should you get angry? Should you give up on the work they originate from entirely? Or, is there a better way to mourn?
Listen, I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to having beloved characters die and being forced to mourn their fictional selves and bemoan their fictional deaths afterward. I get it. I grew up as a Harry Potter fan, and the deaths of characters like Fred Weasley, Tonks, and Lupin, among others, hit hard after Deathly Hallows was released. I just started watching Grey’s Anatomy this summer but for any non-fans out there, do you know how many characters that show kills off? Seriously, guess! The answer is a lot. Shonda Rhimes has killed off many, many characters. And I will always be sad about her constant destruction of attractive doctors, ie. Dr. Mark Sloan.
So, how can you buckle up against the grave injustice that is the death of a fictional character? Well, you can cry—I don’t know a single mortal that did not cry when Rue died in The Hunger Games. You can get mad—Star Wars killed an iconic character in The Force Awakens, so fan outrage was definitely justifiable then. What’s important is that you realize your feelings are valid and appropriate, which sometimes people forget when discussing a fictional death.
A study from American University has shown that there’s a psychological reason we oftentimes feel such a strong attachment to fictional characters. Fiction is a way of escapism, and so when we lose a character we felt some sort of bond with, it’s natural to be upset. The grief you feel is different than real loss, but it’s still there.
Though it’s always important to separate reality from fiction, your reaction to a character’s death is more likely than not a fairly reasonable one. My general advice is to keep pushing with a work, even if your favorite character was killed off in a gruesome manner (such as in the case of aforementioned Glenn. Poor Glenn). That is, as long as you can justify that character dying in terms of the story’s plot or extraneous reasons, like an actor leaving a show and needing to be written off.
In the meantime, you can find me still reminiscing the loss of Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) from Grey’s at least once a day—and he wasn’t even that cool of a guy.