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Traverys

The Power of Character Death

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This is a topic more geared toward reading a book like a writer.

When is character death a powerful moment in a book? When is it a compelling element of a character arc? Is it most effective as a conclusion to a character arc or a disruption of one?

It's an underused element of writing in fantasy. Authors of fantasy series tend to craft their pet characters and see them through to the end.

The most obvious example is Ned Stark. We grow to like this honorable guy that has spent his life being thrust into positions he wasn't prepared for (or even desired). Then, through all his good intentions and best efforts he, arguably the main character, is outmatched and killed. Through his death we learn that honor is a liability when faced against people with a will to survive and hold onto power.

But that's the easy example.

What about all the other major character deaths? Is it an important part of their character arc? Does it send a message or theme that would otherwise be lost? What about characters that are living but could very well die in the future?

Discuss.

Edited by Traverys

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Not a POV character but Renly seemed to have the world by the short and curlies and his arc looked promising. Not only with the Reach and Stormlands backing him but by potentially reaching a deal with Robb Stark and his armies. It looked like he'd overpower Stannis then go on and take King's Landing. However using hindsight we can see that Renly didn't have any major POV characters by his side to tell a large part of that story. Stannis had Davos, Robb Stark had Catelyn, Joeffrey had Tyrion and Cersei. 

Not sure this is the kind of reply you were looking for or if it's even on topic, but it's a thought that came to my mind when I read your post.

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I was re-reading ADwD recently and it brought it back to me how much Jon’s attack (possible murder, though we don’t know if he actually died at this point) was for me. By which, I mean, I had to put the book aside for a few days to keep going, it was that upsetting. More so than any death up until that point, even Eddard's. I know some people find Jon easy to hate (almost fashionably so) but he has always been a favourite of mine.

His chapters in ADwD fascinated me and I loved how naturally leadership came to him and how well he was trying to effect change for the better. Even when I thought, “Jon, you can’t save Hardhome!” I still understood why he wanted to take risks and try to save as many people beyond the Wall as possible. His ability to handle people, his plot, his negotiations— I loved reading them. They are hands down some of my favourite ADwD scenes aside from Barristan's plot and Theon's.

Seeing him ultimately get killed because, essentially, his weak spot - his family - was exposed was so hard. Not least because there was a logic to his plan, just as much as there was a risk. That moment when he doesn’t let Ghost come with him... gah!

Re-reading it, I remembered all over again why I couldn’t carry on reading the last push of the book. It genuinely upset. It hurt because I loved Jon — but I could tell Bowen Marsh and the other conspirators took no pleasure in it because they were crying and, heck, we all know they will immediately be killed for what they've done. If the rest of the Night's Watch don't immediately imprison and hang them, Wun Wun will just break their necks. It just became one of those chapters that broke my heart and one I always have to skip on the audiobook, even though I still enjoy it and how well done it is.

As for deaths I anticipate and think will be hard to handle — Barristan Selmy is one. I imagine him going out in a similar way to Ned, or being murdered in an act of treachery like Jon. Yet, while I think Jon will likely survive, he will die as another martyr for those who choose to “do the right thing” rather than what is smart.

I also foresee the deaths of ANY of Bran’s companions to be potentially heartbreaking. The only one I could see being a little easier to take is Jojen because knowing when he will die is a part of his arc so his death will be more of a symbol of... inevitability. I get the feeling half the reason he convinced his sister to go on this crazy trip to find the 3EC is because it would take them as far away as possible from Greywater Watch, the place where his death will supposedly happen (Go away, Jojen Paste!) for a long time. Still, it’ll feel like the end of an era in Bran’s story when it happens.

Then with Meera, losing her would just break Bran's little heart since she's sort of his first love. As for Hodor... that would hit Bran hard, especially if he is some way responsible for it because of his skin changing him.

Edited by Faera
Cleaned up post, added a little.

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Oh boy.   I didn't realize The Hound was actually dead, so when I became aware of the gravedigger theory I felt foolish for not picking up on this guy as The Hound.   I expected he would just show up again later down the road.   (Yes, that's double dumb because I didn't even realize he was dead).  It was open-ended, how was I supposed to know?!?! 

The build up for Joffrey to potentially hurt Margaery was well done.  I was glad Sansa got away from him because I knew she was in for it if they married.   Marg seemed to be a different deal.   He couldn't push her around so much, but I was never sure how smart she was without Gramma around.  I honestly expected Marg, who I became fond of, to be killed on wedding night.  Joffrey's death was so well timed.   He's so nasty and mean to everyone, particularly Tyrion.  You see Marg and Sansa trying to reign their husbands in.   You have Cersei menacing Brienne then BAM!  Frothing, bleeding, choking, dead Joffrey.   That was a satisfying death--even now. 

I think GRRM was masterful in making me feel for the characters at that time in the story.  I remember saying "Oh RIGHT ON!" out loud at Joffrey's demise.   There are, as @Faera states above, deaths that were moving.  There were others that were not so moving.  I'm a Sesame Street kind of person, love your neighbor, help when you can.   GRRM shocked me at my own vindictive nature with Joffrey's death.  

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Nice topic @Traverys.  The disruptive deaths hit me the hardest because of how unexpected they are.  As a religious person, I fear dying before being ready - before feeling like I have atoned for my sins.  I also know that the hour of death is uncertain and could come at any time in any manner.  For it to happen in a novel where it is unexpected to happen - after all, why invest time writing about a character if you plan too off them before they complete their journey - it just hits a personal note and has a theme of preparedness for death that resonates with me.  In the books, I felt like Eddard, Jon (who I don't believe to be actually dead), and Oberyn were good examples of this, while Joffrey, Robb, Tywin, and Renly seemed to have lived out the end of their arcs.  As for future character deaths, killing Stannis, Asha, Bran, Jaime, Sansa, or Arya in short time would be very disruptive and impactful, whereas I feel like Cersei, Theon, Littlefinger, Tommen, Margaery, and the High Sparrow are all ready to be done at any time.

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On 12/12/2017 at 9:19 AM, Traverys said:

What about all the other major character deaths? Is it an important part of their character arc?

I think a character death can also be important for another character's arc. Joffrey's death was important not just for Joffrey's arc, but mostly for Cersei's and maybe Sansa's arcs. I mean in terms of significative evolution and understanding both for the character and for the reader too. Probably also for the writer. I like when GRRM says he's a gardener, I think he's right.

Edited by Cridefea

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21 hours ago, Faera said:

I was re-reading ADwD recently and it brought it back to me how much Jon’s attack (possible murder, though we don’t know if he actually died at this point) was for me. By which, I mean, I had to put the book aside for a few days to keep going, it was that upsetting. More so than any death up until that point, even Eddard's. I know some people find Jon easy to hate (almost fashionably so) but he has always been a favourite of mine.

His chapters in ADwD fascinated me and I loved how naturally leadership came to him and how well he was trying to effect change for the better. Even when I thought, “Jon, you can’t save Hardhome!” I still understood why he wanted to take risks and try to save as many people beyond the Wall as possible. His ability to handle people, his plot, his negotiations— I loved reading them. They are hands down some of my favourite ADwD scenes aside from Barristan's plot and Theon's.

Seeing him ultimately get killed because, essentially, his weak spot - his family - was exposed was so hard. Not least because there was a logic to his plan, just as much as there was a risk. That moment when he doesn’t let Ghost come with him... gah!

Re-reading it, I remembered all over again why I couldn’t carry on reading the last push of the book. It genuinely upset. It hurt because I loved Jon — but I could tell Bowen Marsh and the other conspirators took no pleasure in it because they were crying and, heck, we all know they will immediately be killed for what they've done. If the rest of the Night's Watch don't immediately imprison and hang them, Wun Wun will just break their necks. It just became one of those chapters that broke my heart and one I always have to skip on the audiobook, even though I still enjoy it and how well done it is.

As for deaths I anticipate and think will be hard to handle — Barristan Selmy is one. I imagine him going out in a similar way to Ned, or being murdered in an act of treachery like Jon. Yet, while I think Jon will likely survive, he will die as another martyr for those who choose to “do the right thing” rather than what is smart.

I also foresee the deaths of ANY of Bran’s companions to be potentially heartbreaking. The only one I could see being a little easier to take is Jojen because knowing when he will die is a part of his arc so his death will be more of a symbol of... inevitability. I get the feeling half the reason he convinced his sister to go on this crazy trip to find the 3EC is because it would take them as far away as possible from Greywater Watch, the place where his death will supposedly happen (Go away, Jojen Paste!) for a long time. Still, it’ll feel like the end of an era in Bran’s story when it happens.

Then with Meera, losing her would just break Bran's little heart since she's sort of his first love. As for Hodor... that would hit Bran hard, especially if he is some way responsible for it because of his skin changing him.

I am one of the fans who dislike Jon so you and I may not see this from the same perspective.  Death has more power if it's permanent and there is no way to come back.  It will be cheating and rather cheap if people get resurrected.  Ex. Gandalf in "Rings", Beric, and Catelyn.  All of them should have stayed dead.  

Edited by Widowmaker 811

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1 hour ago, Widowmaker 811 said:

I am one of the fans who dislike Jon so you and I may not see this from the same perspective.  Death has more power if it's permanent and there is no way to come back.  It will be cheating and rather cheap if people get resurrected.  Ex. Gandalf in "Rings", Beric, and Catelyn.  All of them should have stayed dead.  

I am right there with you, when Jon died, I was very "meh" about it. I can't stand him or Dany in the books (and even less in the show).

But I also agree with the resurrections. I get why he (GRRM) has Beric and Cat come back because he needs to set the precedence for having Jon come back, and not just having it happen out of the blue. But it's annoying. It's a cheap tactic (I think) that other writers use and I was hoping GRRM wouldn't. But since Jon is basically Jesus, that has to happen.

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