Chain Reaction: Three SF Character Deaths That Really Killed Me

Star Trek: The Next Generation was the first TV series of which I devoured every episode. So I was stunned when ensign Tasha Yar was killed by a telekinetic entity. I didn’t know characters could die in TV series. I refused to watch any TNG episodes after that — so much for the Enterprise’s continuing mission! — but my friends talked me back around in time to catch up on the reruns.

Character death in a series can happen at any time. It’s a side effect of being an SF/F fan. Character deaths are almost always controversial; somebody somewhere in fandom loved that character (unless that character is Jar Jar Binks. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be sad to see him go).

Sometimes character deaths are completely unjust, and not done well (I’m looking at you, Stargate: Atlantis: Elizabeth Weir — and Torri Higginson — deserved better!). Other times, they are true to character. There may be good, real-life reasons for a character’s departure: actors have health issues; actors want to move on or want to spend more time with family, and so forth. Other times, there just aren’t (I’m thinking of pay dispute issues). Sometimes a series never regains its footing after a major character departs, and sometimes the viewers don’t recover, either. 

Outside of works by G.R.R. Martin, Joss Whedon, Bryan Fuller, or William Shakespeare (why are these all guys, hmm?) and franchises such as Alien, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Star Wars, here are the three character deaths that most affected me. But reader, beware! Here be spoilers.

I’ll try to keep them as light as possible, though.


Ryan with his beloved comics.

Ryan Dallion, Friday the 13th: the Series (1987-1990). Ryan’s disappearance from this horror show after two seasons completely confused and devastated me. (He was kind of my first crush, okay?) But first, a little background: Despite its name and producer (Frank Mancuso Jr. produced both the show and some of the entries in the movie franchise), the series plot had nothing to do with serial killers in hockey masks. Instead Ryan (John D. LeMay) and his cousin Micki Foster (Robey) inherited an antique shop run by their uncle, Louis Vendredi. In an effort to get back to their normal lives, Ryan and Micki held a closeout sale. What they didn’t know was that old uncle Lewis had made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques — items that brought their owners their deepest desires — but often at a steep cost. For two seasons Ryan and Micki, aided by occult expert Jack Marshak (played by Chris Wiggins, who passed away earlier this year), hunted down all of the antiques they’d sold. Ryan started out as a really flip character; he matured throughout his tenure on the series, but was always quick with the quips. He was haunted by his role in an accident that claimed his younger brother’s life. At the beginning of the third season, Ryan sacrifices himself to prevent a young girl’s murder, thereby blocking fulfillment of prophecies that would allow Satan’s rule on Earth. In an ingenious twist, though, Ryan doesn’t die. Instead he is regressed to the age he was when his younger brother died, with no memory of the antique shop, etc — in effect giving Ryan a second chance at life. At the time, actor John D. LeMay wanted to move on from the series.

Fred Weasley, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I know, I know. Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore and Dobby were (more notable?) victims of the events in Harry Potter. But Fred’s death is the one that truly blindsided me. Twins are forever! They go everywhere together and do everything together, whether that’s pranking people, fomenting rebellion, or opening a joke shop! No set of twins in pop culture exemplified that better than Fred and George Weasley (played by James and Oliver Phelps in the films), who were so close they finished each other’s sentences. If it weren’t for them, Harry wouldn’t have The Marauder’s Map or be able to find his way through the secret passages underneath Hogwarts School. Fred and George had the guts to leave Hogwarts and open a shop selling magic jokester wares (okay, Dolores Umbridge forced their hand, but still), and collectively they brought a lot of charm and levity to a progressively dark series, both in the books and onscreen. When Weasley brother Percy disowned his family to stay with the Ministry, but had a change of heart and came back to Hogwarts to fight Voldemort, Fred was the first Weasley to accept his brother back into the fold. That was the kind of person Fred was. So his death during the Battle of Hogwarts came as a shock. It was completely unexpected, and a perfect example of the horrible costs of war (however just). But Fred’s legacy of pranks and jokes lives on. I salute you, Fred Weasley, you trickster you. I solemnly swear I am up to no good.

Zhaan, Farscape (1999-2003). Played by Virginia Hey of Mad Max fame, the Delvian priestess, plant-based lifeform (!) Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan served as the spiritual advisor and well of common sense (and a spot of levity) for the crew of Moya, even as she dealt with her own serious faults. Farscape was a great “Wizard of Oz, fish out of water” show about John Crichton (Ben Browder) who was accidentally flung into another part of the galaxy, and who ends up helping a group of prisoners — warrior D’Argo, priest Zhaan, deposed ruler Rygel, and ex-soldier Aeryn Sun — escape their captors by stealing Moya, the prison ship where they lived as captives. It turns out that the prisoners and the ship were mercilessly misused and unjustly imprisoned by the Peacekeepers — a mighty military force and Aeryn’s former career calling, who operated under a self-imposed imperative to keep order to the universe. Except for Zhaan. Zhaan was honing empathic and telepathic abilities as part of her spiritual training when she killed her lover, the leader of the Delvian government. To be fair, he was dabbling in genocide, but Zhaan was recruited for the task by fellow dissidents specifically because she had a darker side that they lacked — something she struggled with during her life on Moya. In the third season, Zhaan sacrificed her life essence to revive Aeryn Sun. It was a fitting way to go out; Zhaan’s desire to help Aeryn at this cost was completely in line with her character. In real life, Virginia Hey had endured serious health issues caused by the blue makeup she wore as Zhaan, and the showrunners devised a storyline that was as organic as possible to allow Hey to leave the show. Farscape carried on quite successfully, but no other character ever filled that spiritual gap the way Zhaan did.


What favorite characters of yours didn’t survive the shows you loved? Or, which characters did you love, and when they died, so did your love for the work, the author, or the showrunner(s)? Share them in the comments below and keep the chain going!

4 Comments

  • steelvictory June 28, 2017 at 8:07 am

    I was sad when Tori Higgins as Elizabeth Weir left Stargate Atlantis, but that had absolutely nothing on how traumatic it was when Dr. Carson Beckett died!

    Reply
    • Carey Ballard June 28, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Here comes the long reply! Beckett’s death was senseless, but Weir’s is the one that confused us. She had so much potential but no storylines. Higginson was caught between two producers. One pushed for Weir to be more of a major character. The other wanted to keep her as a supporting character, then reduce her to a recurring role in the 4th season. Rumor has it she found that out on the last day of filming the 3rd season. 🙁 So she chose to leave altogether. I could have done without Carter in charge; although Tapping did a great job, Weir gave a lot of heart to the show.

      Reply
      • J.L. Gribble June 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm

        So here’s even more gossip: The issues with the producers was because Higginson kept demanding more of a creative role in the the show, akin to the power RDA had in SG1. But HIgginson is not RDA, so she lost out in the battle of the producers.

        Reply
        • Carey Ballard July 1, 2017 at 8:46 pm

          Possibly? I feel there was a vast difference in the way she was treated v. how RDA, was, though. RDA had previous star capital in his corner (MacGyver, etc). Higginson did not (sadly, despite a great supporting role in The English Patient). But she had signed a 6-year contract, so I’m pretty sure they effectively fired her, whereas RDA, like Jack, really just wanted to leave (there are some SG:1 episodes where he literally doesn’t care how he projects his character).

          Reply

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