The Fake Death Trope and Why I Hate It

The Fake Death Trope and Why I Hate It

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?

What are your thoughts on the fake death trope?


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40 thoughts on “The Fake Death Trope and Why I Hate It

  1. Have to agree, I loathe that trope, unless it’s managed to be done really well. Considering I can’t actually think of an example, though, says a lot about how many books I’ve read where I can say it was done right.

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    • It’s soooo predictable 99% of the time. I literally never expect a character to actually be dead anymore. It’s more shocking when they actually die to me now than when they “come back from the dead.” It sucks because if it weren’t so overdone, I think it could be used as a good plot twist. But because it’s so common, it’s just way too predictable.

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  2. I totally agree! When character’s are always coming back to life it takes away any and all emotional impact. I used to sob when watching tv and character’s die. But after watching the Vampire Diaries where half the character’s come back to life I’m just so mehh. And I hate how every book I read seems to have this trope. Like be more creative writers!

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    • Exactly!! I miss when I used to actually be affected by characters’ deaths. Now I just sit there kind of like, eh, they’ll come back. It’s just way too overdone. If it were only used once in awhile it could be a good plot twist, but now it’s just predictable.

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  3. I hate this trope, too! I agree with everything you said about it, but I also hate it because it makes the story/universe/characters less realistic. Like, so-and-so will be caught in a horrific explosion only to appear later with only a few bumps and bruises, and I’m left thinking, “That’s not physically possible!” And for me, once I start questioning the realism of the world, I stop caring about it.

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    • That’s so true! I guess the examples I was thinking of were mostly from sci-fi and fantasy books/shows so I wasn’t really thinking too much about whether it was realistic or not because usually they end up getting saved by magic or something, haha. But yeah, it definitely does make the story less realistic as well.

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  4. I completely agree, I hate it!!! It’s one thing if it makes logical sense in the story, but so many authors have characters come back from the dead when there is NO POSSIBLE WAY for that to happen. It’s like nobody can really make the hard choice and just die already 😉

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    • You’re so right! Sometimes it can be done well, but so often, it’s just completely unrealistic. I was recently watching a show where someone got impaled with a sword in their stomach AND fell off a cliff and STILL SURVIVED. I just sat there like, are you serious?! Writers definitely need to learn to just let some characters go, haha.

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  5. I definitely agree!! Especially in fantasy I see this happening a lot, and it’s really affected the tension I feel when reading fantasy books. I recently read a series that had so many fake or almost deaths that I stopped fearing for any of the main characters, and by the end when the “final battle” came, it had taken away a lot tension the author was trying to build, and I felt that to actually kill them would be far less climactic, because I’ve already “seen” them die once. The only “fake death” I can think of that I love is Harry Potter, and then again that was perhaps my introduction to the trope as a kid- but still one of the most satisfying and well done to me.

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  6. I hadn’t really thought about how prevalent the fake death trope was until reading your post. I definitely hadn’t thought about the consequences of over-using it. I don’t want to name the show (because it’s embarrassing that I even watch this show) but there are multiple characters who have died multiple times throughout the many seasons, and it’s impossible to keep track. So now any time a character on the show dies, I feel like I’m being emotionally manipulated, and then I just don’t care. Now it’s just annoying.

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    • I hadn’t realized how common it was until relatively recently. I noticed that literally every time a character died, I was expecting them to come back and that’s when I finally realized how common it is for that to actually happen. What really sucks is that it doesn’t even have to be that specific author’s fault. Like they could have never used it before, but because I’m still so used to the trope being used by other authors, I still end up expecting it.

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  7. Once upon a time, I actually used to love this trope as much as you once did. But after it has been constantly overused by authors and television series, the emotional impact of these deaths are simply lost. I think we have gotten to the point where we just expect that this trope will be used, and I actually am more surprised when it isn’t. Deaths in books mean a lot more when the author doesn’t simply bring the character back, but actually explores the consequences of the death with the remaining characters.
    Wonderful post, by the way! 🙂

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    • I couldn’t agree more with you. I wish it weren’t so common because it completely ruins the emotional experience of reading and losing certain characters. You’re just not going to mourn their loss if you expect the trope to happen and for the character to come back. I’m always more surprised if the character actually ends up being dead because it just feels like 99% of the time when a character dies, they end up coming back. There really is a lot of room for fascinating scenes and character development if the author chooses to have the characters explore the death rather than to just bring the dead character back. If only more authors decided to go down that path!
      Thanks Madeline 🙂

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  8. I really dislike this trope! It’s gotten so bad now that anytime someone mentions someone being dead, or a main character dies, I always ask “did you see the body”? Because it seems like whenever the body isn’t there, that person always ends up being alive. Also, whenever the “death” is “offscreen” (or I guess it would be offpage), then it seems like they are usually still alive. Especially if it’s a main character.

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    • I completely agree! Even if they did see the body, I still sometimes don’t believe it, haha. Unless I see an on-page funeral or something like that, I always just assume that there’s the possibility they’re still alive. It really seems like a cop-out in my opinion. It’s like the author wants to have emotional scenes without actually committing to the loss of characters that they or their readers like.

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  9. I have to agree it’s sad that character deaths are loosing its emotional punch I like books or shows that make me cry but lately especially in tv shows I don’t think their really dead. Or in one instance they died for the second time, this time for read I think and I couldn’t care less. It’s a way overdone trope, it was never my favorite to begin with but now it’s just ridiculous.

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  10. I suppose I haven’t read enough books that utilize this trope to have become jaded about it yet–I’ve only encountered the trope in a very few reads these last few years, so it still kills my heart every single time. I can understand becoming desensitized to it, though!

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  11. Is this in season 4 of The 100? Cause I’ve watched the first 3 seasons and I can’t remember this trope. I personally really love when it happens, but I think that’s cause I’ve only seen it used once, in Orphan Black. If I had come across it as many times as you have, I might dislike it more.

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  12. Luckily I’ve not come across this trope too often. Only in Red Queen and then this other series where it was so obvious the character wasn’t dead that it might not even count as a fake death. Although, even after only having come across it twice I’m always suspicious over character deaths now. It’s like unless there’s a body I expect them to pop back up. But I can see where seeing this trope too often could ruin the emotional punch of a character death and making it not as important as it should be. Great discussion, Kourtni!! 😊

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    • I’m seriously sooo suspicious of any character deaths now, even if it doesn’t happen during the actual story. Like if a character’s parents are dead I just kind of sit there like “are they really though…?” haha The suspicion can honestly be kind of fun at times, but mostly I just get annoyed because I never believe deaths anymore 😛

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      • Same! That’s actually me with one of my favorite series except it’s a cousin who died before the first book and no one believes he’s actually dead. I enjoy it for that series but it makes more suspicious of deaths in other books. I can definitely see where it can get annoying. I think if I saw it more it would end up being a trope I really didn’t like either.

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  13. When I watched Dr strange and the ancient one died I couldn’t believe that she can die I m totally sure I will see her again in second part.
    So the thrill of dying characters is really not happening.

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