I was recently watching The 100 and once again, the fake death trope made an appearance (don’t worry, I won’t say who it was and spoil it). You know the trope: a character dies some horrible death, you get really upset and mourn them, and then a little while later… SURPRISE. They aren’t really dead. They somehow survived that horrible death that we saw unfold.
I used to like this trope. But I truly hate it now.
When the fake death trope started making an appearance in books, shows, etc. I loved it. It made me so happy to see characters who I had loved and thought were dead all of a sudden reappear. It made me so glad that they were back and I didn’t have to actually miss them. This was especially true for characters who I had really loved and grown really emotionally attached to.
But it started happening too frequently. It suddenly felt like almost every book I read, every movie or TV show I watched, there was a character (sometimes more than one) who died only to reappear and reveal that they (clearly) had not actually died.
Why is this a bad thing? Shouldn’t I be happy that I don’t actually have to say goodbye to these characters? Maybe. But the problem is that it started happening so frequently that now my first reaction every time a character dies is to question whether or not they’re truly dead. It’s gotten to the point where I expect characters who “died” to reappear later on. That initial death scene ends up being meaningless to me because I expect it to be a trick.
The problem with the overuse of the fake death trope is that it takes away the emotional punch of the death. Once this trope started being used more and more often, it got to the point where it took away the emotional punch of any death, regardless of whether or not the character is really dead. I hardly ever actually believe the character is dead right away now, so I don’t care when they die. I don’t feel any sort of emotional reaction to it at all. Remember the days of crying because your favorite character died? Yeah, that doesn’t happen for me anymore. I just kind of think, “Oh, they’re probably not really dead. They’ll come back and everything will be fine.” Even if this doesn’t end up being true, the fact that I spend so long anticipating their return means that I slowly accept their death. When the time comes and I finally realize they’re gone, I’ve already had the time to process it and so I don’t get upset. The fake death trope has taken away the power of a character death to cause an emotional reaction in readers (or at least in me).
When it comes to tropes, I’m usually not one to complain. 99% of the time, I can get over the fact that a book relied on some tropes and wasn’t the most original book (the fact that I love Red Queen is proof enough of that). But this is one trope that has affected my reading experience too much for me to be able to overlook anymore. If books lose their ability to cause emotional reactions, what’s the point in reading them?