If you have a favorite character, chances are they were penned to be killed off at least once.
Whether it be a movie, a tv show, a novel, a comic book, or what have you, there is usually a process that the writers and creators go through to decide which of their characters should get the axe. It’s not always because they don’t like writing for these characters anymore. Sometimes characters get killed off to add to another character’s story arc, leave room for more characters to enter, or the character has simply gone everywhere they can go story-wise and have to be let go. Even the most prolific and popular characters were almost killed off, if they didn’t die before already.
Yes, some characters are easy to resurrect and many have been resurrected from the most fatal of deaths. The thing is, when characters are killed off not long after their debut, it can drastically slow down their momentum and change the landscape of a story. Thankfully, for creators and their fans, cooler heads prevailed before decisions were made to kill off major characters. Some stories wouldn’t have been as successful if certain characters were killed off when they were planned to. Some of pop culture’s most illustrious and well praised characters were almost killed off before they had a chance to make any real impact in their respective medium.
This list is filled with those kind of characters. This list is also filled with massive spoilers so FAIR SPOILER WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.
15. Poe Dameron – Star Wars
This one’s low on the list mostly because his part was a relatively small one and there is still plenty of time for him to get killed off in the new trilogy. However, all it took was a short amount of time for fighter pilot Poe Dameron to win the hearts of many fans who walked out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year. The character has been praised by many as their favorite new character in the trilogy but originally, Poe wasn’t meant to make it out of the movie alive. Anyone who has seen TFA remembers that Poe was presumed dead early on in the first act only to return by the film’s end, but that wasn’t always the plan. Around the film’s release, Oscar Isaac revealed in a GQ interview that when JJ Abrams approached him with the role, it was meant to be nothing more than a cameo. When they parted ways, Isaac was apprehensive about accepting such a small part, but looking at the bright side, Isaac wrote back to Abrams to accept only for Abrams to reply claiming he found a way to extend Poe’s role. As of now, this rebel lives to fight another day.
14. Lafayette Reynolds – True Blood
One of the more popular highlights of the sexy vampire series was the sharp wit of one Lafayette Reynolds. As more vampires exited their coffins for that good ole True Blood, Lafayette was penned to exit the show by season one. After all, Dead Until Dark–the first novel in the series that the show is based on–ended with Lafayette being found dead in the back of a cop car in the parking lot at Merlotte’s. That’s just how season one ends, only Lafayette is replaced by bogus exorcist, Miss Jeanette. Show creator Alan Ball has gone on record saying that Lafayette was saved because of Nelsan Ellis’ show-stealing performance. Lafayette went on to become an increasingly popular member of the show right until the series finale. Given how much of an interesting character Lafayette began to grow into with each passing season, this turned out to be a smart decision.
13. Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead has always been a show synonymous with killing off its most notable characters; so much so that last season’s cliffhanger ended on teasing which member of the cast was beaten to death by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). As often as characters drop like flies from the show, it’s surprising to see that Melissa McBride’s character, Carol, has survived for so long. What some fans do not know is that the show’s writers decided to kill Carol off a few seasons ago. In a recent issue of SFX Magazine, the show’s executive producer/director, Greg Nicotero, revealed that Carol was set to die because at the time, the writers did not have any plans for her and did not know where else her character could go story-wise. Before filming began, they decided that Carol still had a place on the show after all and killed off T-Dog instead.
Before Sylvester Stallone used his muscle bound prowess to bring Vietnam war vet John Rambo to the big screen, the character’s origins began in the novel First Blood by David Morrell. For anyone not willing to spend their last $5 on buying themselves an ebook or audiobook copy, I’ll save you the trip and break down the ending short and sweetly: Rambo is killed by Chief Teasle in what can sort of be considered an assisted suicide given how badly Rambo wanted to die. The film adaptation of the same name intended to keep a less brutal and less subtle version of that ending. The scene was actually filmed–and can be found on YouTube and the film’s DVD–but Stallone opted for Rambo to survive after seeing some franchise potential in the military macho man. Given all of the profit made from Rambo sequels, video games, toys, and even an animated show, it seems that Stallone was right.
11. Boyd Crowder – Justified
Much like the aforementioned Rambo, Boyd Crowder was killed off in his original book appearance. In Elmore Leonard’s Fire in the Hole, Boyd’s fate was decided by a bullet to the chest from Raylan Givens. When the short story was adapted for the show Justified, Boyd’s fate remained the same and was shot in the same manner in the pilot. However, test audiences responded so well to Walton Goggins’ performance that it was decided that Boyd would survive his gunshot wound and return in the next episode claiming to be “born again”. The character certainly was born again as he was immortalized in tv history as a fan favorite for the show’s entire run. Upon returning as a recurring character in season one, Boyd was quickly elevated to series regular by season two and appeared in nearly every episode of the show right up until the series finale five years later.
10. Ron Weasley – Harry Potter Series
One of the most relatable and endearing aspects to JK Rowling‘s magical series was the friendship shared between Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The Golden Trio is one of the most popular threesomes (not that kind of threesome!) to ever share a bond in pop culture, but Rowling considered breaking them up only halfway through the series. Rowling admitted in an interview that when she was in a rather dark place, she strongly considered killing off Ron solely out of spite. She thought against it in favor of putting him in a relationship with Hermione as a personal “wish fulfillment”. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Ron was based off a friend of Rowling’s (Sean Harris) while she herself identifies with Hermione, but it’s mere speculation. All we know is that there was a time Rowling wanted Ron to spill out some red that matched the red on his head. It’s not too hard to imagine how the Potter universe would continue without Ron in the mix, but for fans of the books and especially the character, it’s all too heartbreaking to even imagine a world without the redheaded Gryffindor.
9. Spike – Buffyverse
On cult favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this bleach blond vamp was universally loved instantly, but was planned to be staked out of the picture as quickly as he arrived. James Marsters has confirmed in numerous interviews that Spike was originally brought on for only three episodes. Since everyone from fans to the cast and crew loved his performance, he was given a couple extra episodes to terrorize Sunnydale. His final appearance would’ve seen him pulverized by a piano organ in the episode “What’s My Line? Pt. 2” until Joss Whedon decided to promote Spike to a recurring role. Within a couple seasons, Spike was made into a series regular. Even when the character finally bit the dust in the series finale, Spike returned to tv screens shortly after to join the cast of the Buffy spinoff, Angel, in its final season. This wasn’t the last time Joss Whedon took sympathy on his characters in order to bring them back from the dead.
8. Agent Coulson – Marvel Cinematic Universe
For years, audiences loved SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson’s small but integral role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Audiences looked on in horror to see Coulson stabbed to death by Loki in the first Avengers film. Ultimately, Coulson’s death was necessary and significant in helping everyone in The Avengers come together as a unit anxious to avenge (pardon the pun) their fallen ally. That still didn’t stop fans from writing in with letters and hashtags to Marvel begging for Coulson’s return. Marvel eventually delivered by not only bringing Coulson back, but giving him his own show on ABC. Agents of SHIELD explained his death as a trip to Tahiti (which is a magical place, by the way) that included surgeries working to bring Coulson back to life as he screamed in agony. Some (including Joss Whedon) wish that Coulson stayed dead, but regardless, he’s been alive and kicking for three seasons of AoS.
7. Omar Little – The Wire
If you run into anyone who has ever seen The Wire (which, let’s face it, who hasn’t seen The Wire by now?) and ask them who their favorite character was, you can bet top dollar that their answer will be Omar Little. In a show that spun a modern twist on the cops vs robbers tropes of old, this openly homosexual, whistling, quipping, gun toting gangster feels just as unique now as he did in 2002. The character was supposed to bite the dust after a seven episode arc in season one, but thanks to an exhilarating performance by Michael K. Williams, he stayed for an extra four seasons. The Wire’s writing was sharp enough that the show possibly could’ve survived without Omar, but when a magnetic character like that becomes the highlight of every storyline centered around him, it’s hard to even think of the show without thinking of him.
6. Barnabas Collins – Dark Shadows
No, not the 2012 flop starring Johnny Depp. It’s a shame that so many people had to sit through the stench of that stinker while so little know about the classic that inspired it. The original Dark Shadows was a Gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971 for 1,225 episodes. Four of its five years featured Jonathan Frid as a 175-year-old vampire, Barnabas Collins. In its first year, Dark Shadows pretty much tanked in the ratings and to spice things up a year later, Collins’ villainous character was introduced. The character was meant to only stay for 13 episodes and then get killed off, but the character grew so popular so quickly and ratings rose so high after his debut that he was given a lead role. In due time, Collins was elevated from villain to protagonist. For a lifeless bloodthirsty vampire, Collins pumped some much needed life into Dark Shadows and saved the show from cancellation.
5. Ellen Ripley – Alien Franchise
Ellen Ripley is a significant character not only for the Alien franchise, but for how women are portrayed in the horror and sci-fi genre. She is easily the most memorable character Sigourney Weaver has played in her career, but she almost didn’t play the part for as long as she did. Originally, director Ridley Scott wanted Alien to end with the creature biting Ripley’s head off, but the studio weren’t in favor of such a dark ending to an already gloomy movie. It ended up working out for the better of the franchise. Alien went on to spawn three sequels–all starring Weaver as Ripley–with a fifth film on the way with Weaver again reprising her role for the first time on screen in 20 years. The franchise also includes a spin off film in Prometheus and countless other memorabilia that includes comic books and video games. Ellen Ripley was the heart and soul of the Alien franchise and had she been killed off as early on as she almost was, it’s hard to imagine the franchise being as successful without her ongoing presence.
4. Han Solo – Star Wars
For many Star Wars fans, the most devastating moment in The Force Awakens was watching their beloved hero Han Solo fall to his death at the hands of his son, Kylo Ren. Believe it or not, Harrison Ford himself has been campaigning for the death of Han Solo for over 30 years. For years, it was speculated that Ford just hated the role or got bored of it the more he played it, but in a recent Q&A with Entertainment Weekly, he claims that he just thought his character sacrificing himself would “lend gravitas and emotional weight” to the right movie. When he returned for Return of the Jedi, Ford tried to persuade George Lucas to kill off his character in order to raise the stakes of the film, but Lucas refused. Apparently, he thought Han Solo toys were more marketable if Han Solo was alive. Now, after all these years, Ford finally got his wish. And considering the emotional significance of his death in that movie, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
3. The Joker
Ever since his first appearance in Batman #1 in 1940, The Joker has been an iconic staple in DC Comics lore and in comics in general. He’s arguably the most popular villain to grace a comic book page and undeniably one of the most celebrated characters to ever be inked onto a page. So it’s shocking to think that he would’ve been killed off in the same issue he debuted in. One of the character’s creators, Bill Finger, wanted Joker’s fate to end after a stab to the chest because Finger believed a recurring villain would make Batman seem weak at his job. However, seeing potential in the character, editor Whitney Ellsworth disagreed and had a panel written that confirmed Joker’s survival. As much of a prominent figure The Joker is as both Batman’s definitive rival and a pop culture paragon, it’s hard to imagine just how different comic book culture would be if Ellsworth hadn’t reversed Finger’s decision.
2. Jesse Pinkman – Breaking Bad
That’s right. Everyone’s favorite meth cooking, “Bitch” cursing sidekick to Walter White was almost killed off. In fact, Jesse almost didn’t make it passed the first season. Vince Gilligan admitted in a podcast that he originally planned for Jesse to get killed by a drug lord way back in season one. This would’ve eventually led to Walt brutally torturing Jesse’s killer for weeks. Long story short, the killer would’ve killed himself along with Walter Jr. When Gilligan initially pitched this idea, the whole scenario was too grim for a room full of studio execs to handle. Needless to say, the plan never happened and Jesse was allowed to live a little longer. Thankfully, by the second episode of season two, Gilligan realized that Jesse was the moral center of the show and it would be a “colossal mistake” to kill him off. That and the fact that Gilligan fell in love with Aaron Paul‘s chemistry with Bryan Cranston was enough to keep Pinkman around until the final episode.
1. Sherlock Holmes
Novels, television, films, comics…you name it. Sherlock Holmes has been there and withstood the test of time as a pop culture icon. Although, if his creator Arthur Conan Doyle had his way, it would be a much different story. Doyle decided to kill off the private detective to focus on writing historical novels. On top of that, he was bored of writing about Holmes. Doyle ended The Final Problem in 1893 with Sherlock falling to his death following a battle with Moriarty and that was the end of it. Except it wasn’t. For eight years, there was a public outcry for more Sherlock Holmes novels. Doyle caved into that pressure in 1902 by publishing a story that took place before Sherlock’s death, The Hound of the Baskervilles, but fans still weren’t satisfied. Fans wanted Sherlock back for good and Doyle delivered a couple years later with The Adventure of the Empty House. That story retconned Sherlock’s death by stating Sherlock survived and climbed up from the cliff he fell from when Watson wasn’t looking. Doyle would continue writing for Holmes until retiring the character in 1917 with His Last Bow. One has to wonder just how enduring a legacy Sherlock Holmes would have if he died when Doyle intended.
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