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terça-feira, 27 de outubro de 2015

Death, Be Not Meh: Are Big TV Kill-Offs Starting to Lose Their Power?

The following piece contains spoilers for significant events on “The Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones” and other series. Assuming they actually happened.
A scene from “The Walking Dead.”
There was a time when there would have been no doubt whether Glenn (Steven Yeun) had really died on “The Walking Dead.” Of course he hadn’t! He was a central character — not just central but beloved, sympathetic, a fan favorite. Before the dark-drama revolution of the ’00s, this was generally not done on TV. Maybe a longtime star, ending his or her contract, would get a slow, melodramatic Viking funeral for sweeps month. But suddenly, brutally disemboweled, 15 minutes from the end of a season’s third episode? It had to be a fake-out. Why would you believe otherwise?
Then there was another time when there would have been no doubt whether Glenn had really died on “The Walking Dead.” Of course he had! This was the recent era when we learned, first from the likes of “The Sopranos” and “Lost,” then more emphatically from “Game of Thrones,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “The Walking Dead” itself, that the test of a serious drama with true stakes was its willingness to kill early and kill big. People we cared about died suddenly on TV because people we care about died suddenly in life, man. Why would you believe otherwise?
Now, however, we’ve reached a nebulous point between the two. We’ve just seen a character pinned to the ground, set upon by enough zombies to fill a football arena, blood spurting and walkers feasting on entrails from his own point of view, on a show that has killed several major characters — a show with “Dead” in its title — yet we’re not sure.
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Steven Yeun in “The Walking Dead.”Credit Gene Page/AMC
This is in part for reasons specific to this incident. At first viewing, Glenn’s death seems unambiguous. But people always look for reasons to deny death, and if you looked, they were there. Did we actually see those guts coming out of Glenn’s abdomen? Where was Nicholas’s body? Did Glenn really look like a man having his torso turned into a raw bar?
Nor did AMC’s extratextual gamesmanship clear much up. The post-show wrap-up “Talking Dead” included a statement from the producer Scott M. Gimple: “In some way we will see Glenn, some version of Glenn, or parts of Glenn again, either in flashback or in the current story, to help complete the story.” (“Yup, he’s zombie meat,” would have been shorter and just as easy to say.)
Maybe this was just clumsy storytelling; maybe it was deliberate audience manipulation, on the part of a show that is not exactly in desperate need of a ratings boost. But either way it suggests something else: we may have reached the point where major character deaths are losing their power to stun us, or to convince us, in and of themselves.
The blood had barely started to dry in that alley, after all, when the suggestions began that “The Walking Dead” had pulled a “Jon Snow” on its fans. This is a reference to “Game of Thrones,” home of TV’s deadliest weddings, in whose last season finale the popular character Jon Snow seemed to die of multiple stab wounds. Fans — whether because of denial, hints from the source books or reports from the set — doubted it immediately. “Dead is dead!” the show’s makers insisted. “Sure it is… wink wink!” fans replied.
I make no predictions: Jon may be dead or resurrected or about to warg his soul into the body of a direwolf. But I do think the TV fan base suspects that even the most violent shows are reaching the limits of what they can do to top themselves, and beginning to see the whole bloody business — originally a refreshing change from the stunts of TV past — as a kind of stunt in itself.
Killing off major characters became the way a show made its bones, proved no one was safe, proved it was willing to “go there.” But now we “go there” so often we practically have our mail forwarded there.
It’s still possible for a surprise death on a primetime drama to be powerful. Will Gardner’s death by gunshot in Season 5 of “The Good Wife” was effective not just because it was startling in the usually bloodless context of that show, but because the series was willing to live with its repercussions and consequences.
Maybe Glenn really is no more, and it’s our fault for not being able to see a character’s death even when someone literally rips out his guts and shows them to us. But it also suggests that big character deaths have become overused enough for fans to grow cynical. As Glenn hit the pavement, it may have been the moment we saw this particular device begin to eat itself.

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