This article contains spoilers for several current television shows.
On April 8, “Sleepy Hollow” killed off Abbie Mills, portrayed by Nicole Beharie, one of the show’s two lead characters and one of the most prominent Black female leads on television. Many fans were understandably upset. The dynamic between her character and the other lead Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), had been what attracted many to the show in the first place, and following disappointing second and third seasons, had become one of the only reasons many continued to watch the show at all.
Abbie’s death came after her character arc was pushed aside in favor of her white counterparts like Ichabod Crane and his wife Katrina to such an extent that Beharie asked to leave the show, even though the first season built up her story as if she were the main character. Abbie dies by sacrificing herself in order to destroy the power of the “Hidden One,” a villain hell-bent on destroying the universe. Her final words are directed at her white, male partner: “Crane, never give up hope.”
Television shows kill off characters all the time, but Abbie Mills’ death comes in the wake of the deaths of many other fictional POC recently. Tracy Stewart on “Teen Wolf.” Yidu on “Vikings.” Lincoln on “The 100.” Nina Krilova on “The Americans.”
Not to mention the recent streak of lesbian and bisexual characters that have been dying, including but sadly not limited to Lexa on “The 100,” Denise on “The Walking Dead” and Camilla Whiteman on “Empire.”
Most of these TV shows are notorious for their “anyone can die” attitudes that hold suspense by making the audience truly fear for the characters when they are in peril, something which has been used to justify the current trend. Add the fact that these shows have been lauded for their diversity and it seems inevitable that a few characters should happen to kick the bucket.
But people are upset by these current trends, and not without reason. All too often, minority lives are expendable in fiction in ways that straight white male lives are not. “Sleepy Hollow” may be a show in which the writers feel that anyone can die, and yet Ichabod has been alive for two hundred years. While Denise’s death in “The Walking Dead” may have been shocking, it’s hard to imagine the writers ever killing, say, Rick Grimes.
Why haven’t we seen half as many straight white men
die in the past month? Why is it that, again and again, TV writers turn to minority characters when they need a shocking or heart-wrenching death?
Then there’s the matter of the way the deaths are treated. Think about Walter White’s death on “Breaking Bad”: he died in the series finale, after multiple seasons of buildup, as the natural conclusion to his character arc. Compare that to “The 100,” where Lexa is killed by a stray bullet immediately after beginning a relationship with the show’s lead, Clarke Griffin, and Lincoln, a warrior of increasing importance to the main narrative, was executed in order to save a crowd of nameless characters. These deaths have been compared to Tara’s death on “Buffy,” also by stray bullet, immediately after consummating her relationship with Willow. The motivation hardly ever has anything to do with the characters who die—their deaths are ultimately used to further another character’s emotional growth, or are simply a cheap way for writers to add shock value or sadness to the story, or, let’s be honest, just so writers can make more space for other characters.
The trend of killing off LGBTQ characters, especially for shock value, has been noted for a long time on the popular website TV Tropes as the “Bury Your Gays” trope, with “Buffy” being perhaps the most prominent example. Similar tropes are well established around POC characters as well. TV writers need to learn, as Twitter hashtags plead, to #BuryTropesNotUs.