The character death ret-con, in which a fan-favorite character is traumatically killed off, only for the story’s writers to miraculously bring him or her back later through an unbelievable plot contrivance, is one of the most frustrating tropes in all of fiction. Nevertheless, it continues to happen far too often in books, movies, TV shows, comics and other media, and it’s almost never handled well. Here are some examples that made us roll our eyes.
There are so many to pick from here, but I’ll go with the one that bothered me the most in recent years. In Season 5 of TV’s ‘24‘, popular character Tony Almeida (played by Carlos Bernard) tries to get revenge for the death of his wife by taking out baddie Christopher Henderson (RoboCop himself, Peter Weller) with a lethal dose of poison. Instead, Henderson is able to disarm Tony and injects him with the poison first, “killing” him instantly… or so we thought. Two seasons later, Tony pops up again, telling hero Jack Bauer that Henderson intentionally avoided injecting him in the heart and had Tony revived shortly after his so-called death, hoping to turn Tony against Jack and the other good guys.
Of course, when Tony does come back, he winds up being a bad guy, or at least doing bad things to get revenge for his wife and unborn son’s death. This makes you wonder why the show-runners bothered to revive his character at all. The last we saw of Tony was in a bonus feature to the home video release of ‘24: Live Another Day‘, which shows Tony in federal prison and possibly planning his escape.
The very worst offender in recent history was the supposed death of a central character on ‘The Walking Dead‘.
Disclaimer: If a character appears to be killed off (like James Gordon in ‘The Dark Knight’) and the characters and we, the audience, are led to believe that he/she is dead, then I’m okay with it when it’s revealed this faux death was part of the plot and not just a ploy for the audience. No harm, no foul. It served a purpose within the context of that movie – but that’s not at all what happened this season on ‘The Walking Dead’. (If you’re a fan of the series, but aren’t caught up with recent episodes, quit reading now.)
In one episode, Glenn (Steven Yeun) falls off a dumpster with another cast member. The two drop right into the middle of a herd of zombies. From a close-up shot that shows Glenn from his collarbones to the top of his head, we see zombie arms reach down into the off-screen area of his chest and abdomen, then retract with handfuls of dripping flesh as thick blood flows into the frame onto his shoulders, neck and face. That’s a pretty obvious death, right? Wrong. Without an ounce of impact to the characters or the story itself, several episodes passed before we saw what really happened. As Glenn fell, his buddy’s body fell on top of him, so the flesh and blood that we saw was actually his pal’s. That’s right, because of a camera angle, we were made to believe that he died. What a pathetic joke.
As far as back-from-the-dead characters go, Bucky Barnes from ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ takes the cake. I can’t believe he’s not only alive, but now the centerpiece of two additional movies! His entire survival and return as a super-villain then cause for Civil War is so silly that it’s almost too much for me. Nothing about Bucky is interesting, so making him the focal point for two massive films is just puzzling.
Few things are as unset as a dead character in comic book, but what’s often more annoying is the inevitable exercise to bring back a popular character. That’s why Morph from ‘X-Men: The Animated Series‘ is such a chafing ret-con. He’s practically a Red Shirt in yellow and blue, who was killed off solely to cause conflict and reaction among the show’s lead characters. And yet, the writers couldn’t help but to bring his extremely non-resilient person back to life.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Aunt May had been portrayed as withered and frail from the moment she was first introduced into ‘Spider-Man‘ lore all the way back in 1962, and that was when our friendly neighborhood web slinger was still a teenager. By the time Peter Parker celebrated his 30th birthday, Aunt May must’ve been pushing 90. That’s a challenging age for anyone, let alone the maternal figure of New York’s most embattled superhero. Her death in ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #400 was peaceful, loving, and in every way befitting the character we’d come to know so well over three preceding decades.
A few years later, it was revealed that the Green Goblin had long ago kidnapped the real Aunt May, and the woman who died was actually an actress he hired to deceive Peter for years on end. Sigh.
Easily the most notorious and most laughable example of a character death ret-con was the “It was all a dream!” resurrection of Bobby Ewing on ‘Dallas‘. That dumb plot twist not only rewrote one character’s death, it threw out everything that had happened on the show for an entire season. While I’m sure some fans were glad to have their favorite character back, they must have asked themselves why they bothered to watch the show at all that year.
The evil Cigarette Smoking Man was killed off at least three times on ‘The X-Files‘, always to crawl back out of the shadows like a cockroach later. In the Season 9 finale, which at the time was supposed to be the series finale, CSM was blown to smithereens when a helicopter literally fired a rocket directly into his face and blew up an entire mountain. That should be a pretty definitive, unambiguous death, right? Of course, when Chris Carter relaunched the show with Season 10 this year, his first order of business was to reveal that CSM survived that massive explosion with just a few burns and flesh wounds. He’s even in quite good spirits about it.
The climax of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan‘ saw beloved Vulcan first officer Spock sacrifice his own life to save the crew of his ship. In the film’s emotional final moments, Spock said his goodbyes to best friend James Kirk through a pane of glass separating them and promised, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” – an event that sent Trekkies home bawling their eyes out. The movie was a hit, and the studio wanted a sequel, but how could ‘Star Trek’ continue without Spock? So, the producers threw a bunch of cash at Leonard Nimoy and told him he could direct the next sequel, and suddenly we have ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock‘, in which the dead Vulcan is resurrected through a combination of science magic bullshit and spiritual soul transfer mumbo-jumbo. While most fans forgave the franchise, even the most ardent of them have to admit that this was a lame copout.
What character death ret-cons have annoyed you the most? Tell us about them in the Comments.
The blog is taking the Good Friday holiday off. We’ll see you back here on Monday.