Entertainment July/August 2013

Your Favorite Character Is Doomed

Ideas of the Year 2013
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Downton Abbey: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece/PBS/Everett Collection; Game of Thrones: HBO, Nick Briggs/AP; The Americans: Frank Ockenfels/FX

It’s a scary time for TV fans. Not because great shows are getting axed, but because great shows are increasingly willing to ax great characters.

Sudden good-guy death has been an occasional prime-time occurrence since at least 1975, when M*A*S*H crashed Colonel Blake’s plane. But ever since Game of Thrones beheaded its protagonist and moral anchor, Ned Stark, a mere nine episodes into its first season, the risk of bad deaths happening to good characters has never been higher.

In 2011, Boardwalk Empire’s second-­season finale pulled what Rolling Stone called a “Ned Stark–style” maneuver, killing off one of its two protagonists. This year, newcomers House of Cards and The Americans each amped up tensions toward season’s end by offing a prominent ensemble member. Not even the bucolic grounds of Downton Abbey were off-limits, as fans emerged from the most recent season shell-shocked by the out-of-nowhere deaths of two well-loved leads.

The upside, of course, is what HBO figured out long ago with The Sopranos: morally conflicted strivers who tend to find themselves in life-or-death situations make for fascinating protagonists. Plus, there’s nothing more dramatic than what Arya Stark realized after her dad’s demise: “Anyone can be killed.”

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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