Teasing Major Character Death: Is It Worth It?

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At New York Comic Con late last year Jeff Davis teased that not everyone would make it through the upcoming season of Teen Wolf. It was just a teasing remark and it probably would have been quickly forgotten if he hadn’t brought it up again, and again. By the time Season 3B started airing the fandom was in a frenzy at the possibility of losing one of the core characters. Jeff Davis certainly managed to get people talking, but was it worth it?

This article contains possible spoilers for Teen Wolf Season 3B; please proceed with caution.

Teasing major character death is a well-worn marketing gimmick. Networks love it and it’s often employed during sweeps week or as a last ditch effort to pump some life into a dying show. It must work on some level because they keep using it, but with today’s increasingly genre savvy audiences it doesn’t really pack the same punch it might have done in the past.

Simply teasing  the possibility of death is not really enough to elicit fear within fandom for a few reasons, the most obvious is that actors have contracts. Generally, we know well in advance if an actor is leaving a series so if a character we know is contracted for at least another season is placed in mortal peril it’s a safe bet to assume that they won’t die or if they do they won’t stay dead for long.

For this reason, when a show teases major character death it usually means one of three things:

  1. We already know who dies.
  2. Not really a “major” character.
  3. Disney Death.

None of these things are particularly shocking and depending on how much the so-called death has been plugged by the network it can result in more annoyance than anticipation.

1545662_231048703745605_1206740757_nSo the Teen Wolf audience, or any audience really, is not particularly inclined to trust this kind of teaser. But then Jeff Davis told Happy Cool that fans should “prepare to lose someone” and that they “will possibly be changing out the main title sequence so not everyone’s going to make it out of this season alive”, which is relatively specific. If (and that’s a big if) they are going to kill someone that appears in the opening credits, Scott (Tyler Posey), Stiles (Dylan O’Brien), Allison (Crystal Reed), Derek (Tyler Hoechlin), and Lydia (Holland Roden) are all on the chopping block.

Killing one of the core five characters would be a huge deal because I doubt anyone that is a fan of the show will be happy to see any one of them go. As a general rule, characters that appear in the opening credits are blessed with contractual immortality. The possibility that anyone could die certainly increases the tension but this knowledge also makes the audience hyper vigilant – the fans are on the look out for ANY information that could tell them which character is marked for death.

Season 4 starts shooting before the end of this month, so it’s going to be increasingly difficult to keep the dead characters identity a secret. Once that information is out, most (if not all) of the tension gained by teasing major character death is lost. That is of course, if they actually end up actually killing one of the five core characters. Because this is not the first time Teen Wolf has teased a major character death and they have yet to actually follow through.

1623327_10151924943407742_168951305_nThey teased the possibility of death a couple of times during Season 2 – Jackson died, twice, only to come back to life moments later (Disney Death). It gets extra annoying since Colton Haynes, who played Jackson, left the series soon after. Then during the first half of Season 3, Teen Wolf teased that a major character would die – turns out “major” is a relative word because they ended up killing of the character that had had the least amount of screen time, which was a massive cop-out.

That’s the thing with teasing major character death. If they manage to keep the character’s identity a secret AND they actually kill a significant character, then it’s not a bad move. The whole audience, especially fans that think they are one step ahead of the powers that be, will be on the edge of their seat for the whole season. As hard as it is to let go of a character we love, it’s also incredibly exciting. BUT if the secret gets out OR the death is not as major as we were led to believe then all you get is a pissed off and/or bored audience that feels let down and betrayed.

Sure the audience will be relieved if all five of the core characters are still alive when the season ends but they will also be annoyed because it means TPTB exploited their fear without any pay-off. Basically they lied to trick us into watching and that’s not cool. If they do follow through and spoiler gets out because everyone is looking for it then they have lost any impact they could have had if they kept the possibility of death a secret. As Tyler Posey said, “I kind of wish Jeff [Davis] didn’t tease that because it would have been so much more impactful when you watch it and this character dies.”

Don’t get me wrong, the tension of knowing something is going to happen but not knowing who it’s going to happen to is fantastically fun in a kind of masochistic way. But at the moment it’s kind of a fight between the fandom and TPTB. The winner of this war will dictate whether or not teasing major character death was worth it. I do not envy Teen Wolf’s task because the odds are against them.

Already we know that Tyler Posey, Dylan O’Brien and Holland Roden have been confirmed for Season 4 (they could be misleading us of course), which means that if the character death is one of the core five it’s down to either Tyler Hoechlin (Derek) or Crystal Reed (Allison). In fact Dylan’s confirmation for Season 4 takes much of tension away, because Stiles is the character that is supposedly on the brink of death this season.

The fact that we are supposed to fear for Stiles even though we know Stiles is coming back would have made the surprise death of another character incredibly shocking. That’s why, like Posey, I am disappointed that Jeff decided to tease the fans in this way but only time will tell if it was ultimately worth it.

Author: Undie Girl

Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.

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