We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.
As the world continues to fall apart, I am constantly craving old and new shows to watch that can provide me some escape. Oddly enough, a show that deals with its own apocalypse comes to mind.
I’ve talked about The Walking Dead before, but I don’t think I ever expressed how much I used to love this show. It was my escape back then and I am hoping it can be an escape for me now. However, the more I keep thinking about whether I want to give it another shot, the more I remember why I stopped watching it in the first place.
What made The Walking Dead one of my favorite shows back in the day was the fantastic group of characters it chose to focus on. Each character had their own set of problems and ways in which they went about dealing with their impending doom. It was always fun to watch them explore each character.
However, the main reason I stopped watching The Walking Dead was that I found them to have a sense of carelessness when it came to Glenn. While we all knew he was destined to die, the writers couldn’t help but toy with our emotions. For practically an entire season before his actual death, the writers would keep making us believe that he was dead when in fact that brutal murder would come later.
And while that plot point was just annoying for the most part, it also reminded me a lot of a trope that’s carried out in a lot of different television series.
I watch a lot of supernatural shows so it’s always hard for me to believe that once a character is killed, they stay dead. While this isn’t technically what The Walking Dead does because Glenn did really die, it gives me a bad vibe.
When you have a character “die” but then come back to life multiple times over, it kind of diminishes the meaning of death. It then often gets to the point in which death has no meaning because we know that the character is most likely going to come back in some form whether that be as a vampire, ghost or what have you.
The Vampire Diaries is notorious for this. I can’t even begin to count how many times Jeremy and Alaric died throughout the course of the show. And guess what? They still remained alive in some capacity by the time the show ended. What made the early seasons of The Vampire Diaries so good was that deaths packed a punch. Jenna’s death, for example, really gutted anyone who was remotely invested in the show.
But the second they start tossing in rings that brought back the dead and ghosts, deaths no longer held the same meaning as they once did.
Honestly, I think The Vampire Diaries just fell victim to trying to bite off more than they could chew in terms of handling supernatural mythology. Teen Wolf, on the other hand, did a great job of not exploiting that mythos. When Allison tragically died, she stayed that way. Scott or Lydia didn’t try to raise the dead in order to bring her back even though Peter was able to in a previous season.
The writers could have easily wasted a season trying to bring Allison back (even though the reason they killed her was because the actress wanted to leave), but they refrained. No matter the reasoning, it ended up benefiting the show as a whole. It meant stakes were actually high and our favorite characters weren’t guaranteed life.
Most of the time, I only think this trope works if it’s just a minor character or a villain. I have to admit, it’s pretty great when you unexpectedly find out that a foe you once thought was dead just pops up.
Chuck’s storyline with Daniel Shaw is a perfect example of this. Shaw’s villain arc is one of my favorite storylines ever. Maybe it’s because I just love Brandon Routh or maybe it’s also because they execute it perfectly. Shaw starts out as a great spy that you think is going to be on team Chuck forever. But when it’s later revealed that Sarah killed his wife, he takes a turn for the dark side forcing Chuck to shoot him to protect Sarah.
And even though Shaw was shot multiple times and fell into a freezing river, he managed to come back with a vengeance. This is why they’re never dead unless you have a body!
Shaw’s reemergence not only shocked Chuck, Casey and Sarah but the viewer as well. This is exactly what this trope is supposed to do and why it doesn’t work if you’re trying to do it on the main character.
One of the greatest moments in Buffy occurred at the end of season five in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save everyone. A classic Buffy move, but would leave us without, well, Buffy. And that obviously can’t happen. Surprising absolutely no one, Buffy does come back to life at the beginning of season six but that doesn’t mean that her death wasn’t monumental.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer would go on to spend the majority of the season going over the ramifications of Buffy’s death. By not simply ignoring her death and resurrection, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was able to explore some serious issues. For example, we learn that Buffy was actually in heaven and that her friends essentially ripped her away from that peace. This impacted Buffy significantly, adding another layer of complexity to a character we’ve already spent seasons getting to know.
When Jeremy was brought back from the dead at the end of season two of The Vampire Diaries, we didn’t get that added character complexity. We got ghosts which only brought back more dead characters.
As much as I love the nostalgia of seeing previous characters reappear, I think it’s important for shows to hold meaning to death. While this is harder in a supernatural show where you’re one blood drop away from becoming undead, it still can be done.
I don’t typically like comparing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries because they are different shows despite similar themes. But I will say one of the most defining attributes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that The Vampire Diaries didn’t have was that they never toyed with death. Whenever death came knocking, it meant something.
Did that make Buffy the Vampire Slayer superior? Well, I’ll leave that to you to decide. I think you can tell what my answer is based on this article.