We all rage at some point about a character who deserved a much better ending than what they got. I’ve done it on this very site, about Tony Stark. Avengers: Endgame was also a disappointing ending for Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanov. But to rage about Endgame is to retread old ground. Let’s explore some more characters who deserved better, more satisfying endings.
But first: what is a better ending, anyhow? Does a better ending just mean a “happy” one? Is it merely satisfying, a character getting a just and fair end for everything they’ve put up with or done? A better ending doesn’t have to be the fairy tale ending we all hope for our favorite characters or the pairings in which they’re the other half. No, better endings are ones that make sense. Most shows that get a full run are able to do pull this off; some, like Game of Thrones…do not.
A better ending doesn’t have to be a happy one, although it certainly can be. In fact, some of the best endings are ones in which there’s not a happy conclusion. Heroes don’t have to end as heroes. Villains also don’t have to end as villains, but where a character ends up should still make sense.
Jadzia Dax: When Real Life Interferes With Better Endings
If you’re a Star Trek fan, you probably know about Jadzia Dax. Her character died at the end of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s sixth season. As the show only got one more season, her death is still jarring to watch. Reportedly, there were contract disputes between Terry Farrell, who played Jadzia, and the producers. There have also been reports of harassment towards Farrell on the set.
Jadzia’s death is a case of when real life intervenes, and the writers clearly don’t know what to do. They make her pregnant, after a long struggle, and immediately kill her off. Was that meant to be ironic? No, Jadzia didn’t have to die, which is the most frustrating part. She could’ve gone home to her home planet of Trill to handle her pregnancy, leaving the door open for Farrell to return in a guest spot. However, the trend whenever an actor wants to leave a show is usually to kill ’em off.
It’s a trend that should probably stop, seeing as you’re permanently closing the door on a character audiences enjoy ever returning, but one that cheerfully continues to this day. Jadzia is replaced by Ezri Dax, and fan reception is still mixed. Ezri is cute and loveable, but also deeply neurotic and not nearly as confident as the free-spirited Jadzia. In a final season that involves a pretty heavy war arc, her absence is felt.
Finnick Odair: Tragedy Porn Taken Too Far
Look, there’s nothing wrong with tragedy. There’s nothing wrong with The Hunger Games series being essentially a tragedy. No one really ends up happy. You can rip my theory that Katniss is in deep denial about her permanent PTSD in the epilogue from my cold dead hands. Suzanne Collins is one of my favorite authors and despite fury from the core fanbase over the fact that the prequel novel is about Snow, I personally can’t wait for a deep dive into that man’s psyche.
But…we need to talk about Finnick Odair, and tragedy taken too far. Tragedy porn is when a creator decides to include a character death for the sheer sake of making their point after they’ve already made their point. By the mid-point of Mockingjay, we knew this was a universe where anyone could and would die. Finnick was, among other things, an ex-sex slave (which we learned earlier in Mockingjay) and a soon-to-be father. He’d been through enough.
So to have him ripped apart by those dreadful mutts just as Katniss and her squad were almost triumphant? I wasn’t a fan. It felt like taking Collins’s point–war is hell and revolution is never without casualties–and driving it over a cliff.
Remus Lupin: Better Endings Shouldn’t Wreck A Character’s Development
Despite literally flinging my library copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix across the room when Sirius Black died and hating how the movies handled it, his was one of Harry Potter‘s better endings. Sirius’s death is telegraphed from his first appearance in OotP, and it just kept getting telegraphed. And it makes sense. Harry needs the death of one of his father figures to realize 1) just how far the Death Eaters would go and 2) how far gone Sirius really was. Sirius’s “nice one, James” might be the most heartbreaking lines in the series (never mind that it wasn’t actually in the books, just the movies).
But Remus’s death? It only comes after Remus left his wife and newborn child for…indeterminate reasons. Then, Tonks and he reunite at the Battle of Hogwarts…only to die halfway through. According to J.K. Rowling, queen of making good books kind of mediocre in hindsight, she killed off Remus because she was going to kill off Arthur Weasley instead. Rowling makes Remus seem rather cowardly in the first half of the book The Remus Lupin of earlier books was not marked by cowardice. Remus’s triumphant return is cut short by his death, alongside Tonks. And as fans pointed out, their deaths just left another orphan–Teddy.
I’m not saying Remus shouldn’t have died, but he deserved a better death rather than a brief mention of Harry finding his and Tonks’s bodies. Maybe even an earlier death. Remus loses out in the massive shuffle of the last two books. Furthermore, Snape gets a more significant death than he does? J.K., what?
General Leia Organa: Sure, Real Life Intervened, But You Could Have Done So Much Better
Carrie Fisher’s tragic death in 2016 surely had an effect on how Leia’s story concluded. But as we saw in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, they could do seemingly anything with the footage they still had. Leia could’ve lived, or she could’ve died, but her death definitely shouldn’t have been a play on the old “there’s still good in you” trope. That Leia’s final act is some murky attempt at reaching out to Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in a weak moment for him is…odd. It couldn’t have been reaching out to Rey to try to keep her from turning to the Dark Side? It couldn’t have been seeing her celebrate the triumph of the Resistance over her eternal enemy, Palpatine?
Look, TRoS is not known for its better endings for the main characters. Rey goes out to Tatooine, a planet she has no connection to outside of Luke, presumably to become another Obi-Wan Kenobi. Who knows what happens to Poe and Finn. Kylo/Ben, for all the myriad of emotions surrounding him, flops down like a dead fish and then just…vanishes. Palpatine couldn’t just stay dead. He is resurrected in order to just kill him off again.
Leia’s death should’ve been due to a heroic act or merely a peaceful goodbye. That the sequel trilogy merrily killed off all three of the original trilogy’s main characters is to its detriment. Oh, and the fact that Han doesn’t even acknowledge Leia’s death when he for some reason appears to Kylo/Ben is just…what even, J.J. Abrams.
Samuel Grant: When Villains Deserve Better Endings
In classic “me” style on this site, I’m going to bring up a piece of media I love but that very few others have ever heard of, let alone seen. Frontier is a show about Jason Momoa being a badass as he kills most of the British forces in 18th-century Canada. It is also terribly anachronistic, showcases violence against women and is vaguely homophobic when it comes to two minor villains. I am mixed on the series overall, but I want to talk about the two minor villains.
Samuel Grant and Cobbs Pond were two of the most anachronistic characters on a show which just did not care about historical accuracy. In the first season, the fact that they’re gay and in a loving relationship is subtextual; by the second season, it’s blatant, and they’re open about it. The last execution for sodomy in the US was in 1785. The Museum of London says that in the 18th century “the lives of many gay men and women were lived in secrecy and fear.” On one hand, the mere existence of Samuel and Cobbs is progressive. On the other hand, the way the writing treats them is borderline homophobic. And how at least one of them ends up is…yeah.
Just Because You Run Out Of Time Doesn’t Mean You Have To Rush Things
Things on Frontier escalate quickly in the middle of its second season. There are a few contextual elements you need to know. One, Samuel and Cobbs frequently murder their adversaries–well, Cobbs does. Two, Samuel’s chief adversary is a queer-coded woman, Elizabeth Carruthers. And three, Samuel commits his first official murder in the second season by…bludgeoning her to death? It’s not pleasant. It destroys a perfectly good build-up, and two perfectly good, subtle villains at the same time.
Then they kill off Samuel in the next (and probably final) season, but only after destroying his relationship with Cobbs. Cobbs doesn’t even get a chance to mourn Samuel, because he never finds out. It’s too much, too fast–stretched out over a few more seasons, maybe it all would’ve made sense. The producers and writers were probably operating on the “three seasons” rule at Netflix. But villains deserve better endings too, especially when they’re part of a marginalized group.
If Samuel and Cobbs and Elizabeth all got better endings, I actually think they all would’ve ended up in similar situations. It would’ve taken time and development and not just “they’re all psychopaths so of course murder is the only solution.” They aren’t psychopaths, which was made rather clear by their relationships with one another and other people. No, they were just deeply angry people ahead of their times.
Tony Stark: Not To Rehash Old Ground, But…
Tony Stark’s death sums up a lot of the points I’ve made. One, lack of actor, shouldn’t dictate whether or not you kill a character or simply send them away for a bit. Steve Rogers got to live; why couldn’t Tony or Natasha? Two, wanting to make something “tragic” for tragedy’s sake is not how tragedy works. Tragedy is about your fatal flaw defeating you.
While I guess you could call Tony’s willingness to sacrifice himself for others to be a flaw, he’s still a superhero. That’s more of a basic trait. Tony’s death goes against his character development up until that point; Infinity War was all about him learning that sacrifice isn’t the only way out of a problem. Endgame implies it is. A better ending should be coherent with the character’s writing up until that point. Finally, while no one could argue that the twenty-one films leading up to Endgame were rushing things, Tony’s sacrifice does smell slightly of something that wasn’t originally the ending of the Infinity Saga.
Tony Stark’s end was only formulated four years before the film released. The MCU has been around for nearly twelve years. The screenwriters argued that he would’ve kept fighting if he had lived, and like–that’s the point of being a big damn hero. Why would leaving the door open to more Tony have been a bad thing? Needless to say, better endings don’t have to be happy endings–had Tony died with better build-up or more coherent character plotting, it probably would have made sense. However, Tony and the above characters don’t get the benefit of good writing to take them out. And that’s too bad.
Better Endings Should Happen Not Just For The Fans, But For The Good Of The Story
Tony and Natasha, Jadzia and Leia, Finnick and Samuel: they all deserved better endings, and I’m not just saying that because I was a huge fan of all of them. They deserved a better ending because it would have served their stories so much better. In the end, when characters die confusing deaths or commit out of character acts, it harms the story a creator seeks to tell.
Beloved characters become beloved because they are well-written at the beginning. The key is to keep the momentum going and to not cut off a character before they’ve fully gotten to explore their arcs.