SAN DIEGO, March 26, 2014 – Fans and critics are still catching their breath over the stunning plot twist on the CBS drama “The Good Wife” on Sunday. If you’re waiting to watch on your DVR, stop reading right now.
The rest of you are recovering from the bloody courtroom murder of character Will Gardner, played by Josh Charles. Never mind that the show’s producers and Charles himself explained after the show he asked to be written out, and agreed to appear in several episodes this year to facilitate his exit. Gardner was a key character and plot catalyst on the show.
If you don’t like it, blame Gardner’s demise on the success of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
The first death of a major TV series character enraged the audience so much, it scared off producers thinking about doing anything similar for years. When “M*A*S*H” producers killed off McLean Stevenson’s character Henry Blake in 1975, they received thousands of letters in the pre-social media era from irate fans. But it was also the show’s second highest rated episode. Only the finale had more viewers.
Thirty-six years later, HBO first aired its adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular fantasy novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It has quickly become the cable network’s most popular and highly acclaimed series ever.
As fans who have read the books know, Martin jams his storylines full of characters and complicated relationships. Martin jokes that he has to kill off characters so he can introduce new ones as the plots develop. Martin explains he likes his fiction to be unpredictable.
HBO producers have stayed true to Martin’s vision and his plot lines for the most part. Lead character and hero Ned Stark was brutally executed at the end of Season 1. Viewers were stunned, but they kept coming. Through all three seasons, “Game of Thrones” has killed off numerous major characters, culminating in last season’s “Red Wedding” episode with its character carnage.
On Communities last September, our Live Chat participants who didn’t know the Red Wedding was coming were so upset, we kept the chat going for hours after the show to allow them to express their emotions as a form of therapy for them.
Fans have been talking about it ever since, right up to the debut of the new season of “Game of Thrones” starting Sunday, April 6. What a way to keep the buzz alive.
Martin reports in interviews readers would write him and tell him after being mad for about two weeks after reading about some awful death in one of the original novels and trashing the book, they would sheepishly go buy another copy because they had to find out what happened. It’s been exactly the same with the HBO series.
Television is full of copycats. The success of “Game of Thrones” has given producers of popular shows like “Homeland,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Gray’s Anatomy” the courage to kill off major characters to advance plot lines and send a jolt of energy into their shows, drive social media interest and keep the audience engaged.
TV shows have killed off major characters since Henry Blake and before the Red Wedding, but they have been minimal, and often played for laughs like the death of attorney Rosalind Shays on “L.A. Law” in 1991.
“Game of Thrones” made it acceptable, even trendy to shock the audience and keep their attention instead of writing out a character in a gentler way.
Psychotherapist, researcher and CDN columnist Paul Mountjoy says it’s natural to invest emotion into fictional characters, and the relationships we develop can feel as real and meaningful as a relationship with a friend in real life.
“If the characters die, particularly a violent death, a person feels loss… a part of their self-assessed value is gone. Someone they respect is brutalized and a show they treasured is now destroyed along with the character he or she developed their relationship with,” Mountjoy says.
The result? People blame the media for their loss. “Folks hate loss,” Mountjoy point out.
Without “Game of Thrones” Josh Charles might be alive. He’d be gone from “The Good Wife,” anyway, but he would have moved to Seattle to farm marijuana. Maybe he would have developed amnesia. How retro.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Media Migraine and Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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