Valar morghulis – All men must die. If you haven’t lived under a rock for the past couple of years, you should be at least vaguely familiar with this quote from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and its TV adaptation Game of Thrones. For the purpose of this post, let’s just ignore Dany’s objections and understand ‘men’ as ‘all living beings, human or otherwise.’ The resulting message: everyone must die.
I know this sounds kind of weird, but I like book characters dying. After all, it’s just the way it is and only death gives life value and meaning. No one’s truly immortal, everyone has some kind of Achilles’ heel. If there were never any severe consequences, it would be all terribly boring. The reader wouldn’t get as emotionally invested, wouldn’t be as thrilled, wouldn’t root for the characters as much. In the end, it all comes down to emotions. The reader does not only want to be whisked away on some kind of adventure, she also wants to be emotionally attached and this is what the characters are for. We want to identify, to love, to hate, to care. Without emotions, there’d be really no point in reading fiction at all.
Naturally, I don’t want every character to die. That’s the whole point, but one just never knows. Death happens. And don’t we all love a good cry? However, things have changed. I lost my faith in death. I don’t cry as much as I once did anymore. Why? Well, strangely enough, the dead just won’t stay dead anymore. It’s almost a trend. The worst trendsetter’s probably the TV series The Vampire Diaries. I haven’t watched the last couple of seasons, but seriously: everyone comes back somehow eventually. But it’s not just that, there are so many other examples. Not even George R.R. Martin, who’s notorious for killing off everyone sooner rather than later, manages to keep them all dead. Don’t get me wrong. I also love these twists and turns that bring someone back, especially when it concerns a beloved character. However, this trope’s just being overused. There are so many characters apparently but in the end not really dying that I just don’t trust the authors anymore. I don’t trust them with my heartfelt feelings, with my bitter tears. I just keep them bottled up. Too precious for something that’ll probably turn out a false alarm.
For me, all off-page deaths never truly happened until I’m shown the body and get numerous confirmations – and even then I take the deaths with a grain of salt. After all, there are so many ways to bring them back: magic, transformation, another medium, or they didn’t even die in the first place and pulled some kind of Romeo and Juliet. When so many characters just come back, why am I supposed to care? It’s really a little frustrating and takes away from my reading experience. I want most of the dead stay dead – even if it means I’ll never see some of my favourite characters ever again.