Honoring the Fictional Departed On This Day of the Dead
The 15 Greatest Death Scenes Across the Board
Given the nature of this article, you should be warned: there are SPOILERS ahead, and not just Comic Book-related. This article explores this author's 15 Greatest Send-offs that have impacted you the most; as the reader, viewer, and gamer.
Some send-offs can be particularly morbid and gruesome, while others can be tender and heart-wrenching. With movies, television, video games, and even comics the way they are – death doesn’t have the same kind of permanence it once had. You don’t feel particularly moved because said character might have died in one of the most anti-climatic ways, and you probably had had just enough of him or her, and their death came as something of a relief to you.
Now to tell you the truth, I don’t watch television anymore. I’ll watch shows which have already been streamed online or released on DVD, but my knowledge of present television is extremely limited at this point. If you’d like, give me some pointers, although I imagine they would come with some serious spoilers – all things considered. For my selection, however, I am going to carefully warn you again about spoilers. This editorial covers a somewhat broad scope of films, and I’m going to list off the films in no particular order. If you have not seen them and plan to, it is strongly suggested that you do not read beyond the next paragraph.
What is it about these death scenes that make them so effectual to you? For me, the biggest turn-off is when it is done for shock value, and you actually stop to consider whether or not a character was brought into the story JUST to show danger. I’m looking at you, Grant Morrison… and so is my avatar. Back on track though, the real clincher is when a character performs his or her heroic sacrifice. And that is what has influenced my selection below the most.
James Cole – 12 Monkeys (1995)
Cole is in an awkward situation from the start. He constantly dreams of an event he witnessed as a child, a man shot right in front of him at an airport. But to him, this is nothing to speak of, as he’s grown up in the hell-hole that is the post-apocalyptic future, bearing the disadvantage of being used as a lab rat for scientists. Having lived a great deal of his life in a prison, Cole is prone to violence, and doesn’t particularly fit in with the average citizen of the 90s. When he is transported back in time, for instance, he plants the idea in the head of a crazed patient with powerful familial connections – of the human race being more or less wiped out by a plague. Yet despite his brutish appearance and bludgeoning approach to problems, he managed to gain the sympathy of one attractive psychiatrist.
When he is sent back to the correct time, Cole does what any time-traveler from a post-apocalyptic future would do to the only woman who shows him any compassion – he kidnaps her. Though understandably angry, Dr Railly suspends her disbelief to his ravings when she is shown evidence of his time-traveling activities, while at the same time, Cole would like nothing more than to discard the future as hallucinations. Having developed into a state of Stockholm syndrome, Railly agrees to flee the country with Cole, just in case.
At the airport, Cole is given a gun, with instructions to shoot the terrorist responsible for spreading the virus. Before him lies the illusion of two paths, but only one real choice. He knows the future is real, just as he also knows the operators will transport him back from that timeline if he doesn’t carry out his mission, but he wants to stay with Railly. Finding his target, he bulldozes past security at the terminal and attempts to kill him. He is gunned down before a child, and bleeds to death in Railly’s arms, while the terrorist carries out his plans. Life and death are not without a sense of irony.
Rorschach – Watchmen (2009)
He will not compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon. Evil must be punished. Watchmen followed Rorschach’s progression through Veidt’s conspiracy, where his reward was to be treated as a lunatic for his tenacity. While some retired vigilantes did some soul searching, or tried to rekindle the old spark they felt when they put on their costumes – Rorschach walked the beat. Night after night he scowled at the very people he worked to protect, a scowl hidden beneath his mask – his face. Alone in his crusade, he came to abandon his humanity as he believed humanity had long ago given up on itself, but even with his contemptuous outlook, he kept to his vows.
As it happens, Walter Kovacs was only human, and while he did manage to confront Veidt at his Antarctic headquarters, it was thirty-five minutes too late. Having failed to prevent his former colleague from annihilating New York City, Rorschach could only hold onto the truth and allow justice to follow. Even so, the all-powerful Doctor Manhattan wouldn’t allow Rorschach to leave Antarctica, as the peace Veidt promised, regardless of its foundation, was too good to pass up. Rorschach unmasked himself to his blue and radiating executioner, and asked him what he was waiting for. For the last time, we see the face behind his ink-blot mask, boiling with the same intensity and passion as he shouted for Doctor Manhattan to “do it.”
Spike Spiegel – Cowboy Bebop (1999)
This space cowboy just reunited with his long-lost lover, Julia, in an attempt to liberate her from a rising gangster, Vicious. When Vicious’ goons show up to kill the two, Spike and Julia seem likely to make it to safety – until Julia is shot in the back. Aboard the Bebop, his friends are angered not because of Julia’s demise, but because they know what Spike is going to do next. While Jet perpetually embraces honor over reason and resigns himself to the idea of not interfering; Faye sees Spike as a man she cares for who is preparing to throw his life away. Spike tells Faye that he’s not going to Mars to die, but to find out if he’s really alive.
In a somber but jazzy tone, “The Real Folk Blues” plays through Spike’s journey to Vicious, as Faye weeps in a hallway and Jet wipes the bridge of the Bebop down. Spike dives through Vicious’ men recklessly, taking upon himself a number of injuries before finally confronting the syndicate leader. After a gun-to-sword fight, Spike finally shoots Vicious dead, but not before he is fatally wounded. He remembers Julia’s last words, telling him that in the end, it’s all a dream. Hobbling down the stairs and into the lobby where the guards await him, Spike points his fingers into a hand, smirks, and says: “bang” before collapsing dead.
Peter and Nathan Petrelli – Heroes: Genesis (2006)
Enter the Petrelli family, where the eldest son keeps his powers of flight under wraps because he’s running for senator, and the youngest son wants to use his absorption powers in his call to action. The two brothers are polar opposites, with Nathan wanting desperately to cover his ass, and Peter wanting desperately to save the world. The problem they run into? Peter learns that his powers will get out of control and cause him to literally explode, taking out a good part of Manhattan. Nathan is tasked by his future-dreaming mother and his mobster sponsor with allowing this tragedy to unfold. Given his cold and selfish nature, we believe he’ll do just that.
Now we’re down to the last act of the season finale: “How to Stop an Exploding Man”. The power-hungry Sylar has arrived at Kirby Plaza, where the surviving “specials” are fleeing a clandestine organization’s headquarters. Niki and Micah are dragging D.L. (who is bleeding to death) along to safety, with Dr Suresh following suit with his patient. Bennet, who promised to shoot Peter as a contingency plan, has just had his arm broken. Peter is in a telekinetic choke-hold and telepathic officer Parkman has just been put down with four bullets redirected from his own fired gun. Thankfully, Niki finally does something useful – in the form of stunning Sylar with an uprooted parking meter. Having now absorbed Niki’s super strength, Peter recovers and proceeds to beat him to a pulp with his bare and now glowing hands.
In a panicking frenzy, Peter tries to no avail to regain his calm as Sylar taunts him, spitting blood out onto the cement. Hiro teleports at the last minute and mortally perforates Sylar, but is forced to teleport away when Sylar flings him away telekinetically. Peter’s niece, Claire, arrives to grab her adoptive father’s gun to follow through with their contingency plan, and Peter begs her to shoot him. But wouldn’t you know it? Having a change of heart, in flies the prodigal brother, Nathan. In a dramatic (if not slightly hokey) declaration, Nathan assures Peter that he won’t leave him, that he can’t let everyone die just to save himself. The cast watches in both shock and awe as the two brothers take hold, and Nathan shoots them off into the stratosphere, where Peter detonates at last.
Darth Vader – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) RIP Sebastian Shaw
The oh-so hesitant dark Lord of the Sith has already established his ruthlessness, and by this film’s end, it appears that he is doing everything he can to spare killing his son, Luke. Although considered a fate worse than death, he deems it a necessity – destiny in fact, that Luke must turn to the dark side, even if it means he has to die in order for that to happen. Although Darth Vader has given up on himself, Luke refuses to slay him and declares himself a Jedi, like his father before him. The Emperor is less than thrilled with this turn of events. Palpatine proceeds to electrocute Luke, exclaiming that if he will not be turned, then he will be destroyed.
After pleading with his father for help, Vader finally snaps. He grabs the mad Sith Lord and gets a strong dose of electricity through his cybernetic circuitry, but follows through, tossing Palpatine down a chasm to his death. Collapsing as his life-support fails, Darth Vader is no more. Luke manages to drag him to a shuttle as the Imperial forces aboard the Death Star prepare to evacuate, but his father stops him. Knowing he is about to die, he wishes to look upon his son with his own eyes, asking Luke to take his mask off. Although he is something of a ghastly pale sight, Luke shares a smile with Anakin. He tells Luke with his dying breaths that he was right about him, he could be redeemed.
Boromir – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
With all Sean Bean’s death count in the twenties, you had to figure he’d show up at least once around these parts. Enter Boromir, favored son of the steward of Gondor – the last free kingdom of Men left in Middle Earth. Called to the council summit at Rivendale by the elder elf Elrond, Boromir represented the race of Men, and volunteered to aid the Fellowship on their journey to destroy the Ring of Sauron. During their travels, Boromir showed his benevolent nature caring for the hobbits, later demanding they alter their path for fear of them freezing to death. When their journey grew dimmer, the Ring began to tempt Boromir.
Having stopped to rest on the hill of Amon Hen, Boromir approached Frodo with the intent to take the Ring and hide it within the capital city of Gondor. When Frodo refused, Boromir attacked him, but the hobbot was too quick for him. Not long after, the Fellowship fell under attack by an Uruk-hai party, splitting them in different directions. Boromir, regaining his senses, came to the defense of Merry and Pippin, slaying many attacking orcs before taking three arrows to the chest. When Aragorn found him and learned he had let Frodo depart, Boromir praises him for having done what he could not. In passing, he tells Aragorn he would have followed him, his captain; his king.
King Leonidas – 300 (2007)
A Persian messenger party rides to Sparta with a demand from King Xerxes. Submission is the goal of the Persian conqueror, but the Spartan king spitefully rebukes the “offer”, kicking the messengers down a well and into a watery grave. Leonidas knows of the consequences, and seeks both the council and priests’ blessing in engaging the Persians in war. They refuse, but the will of Sparta is the will of its king, and Leonidas won’t be deterred by tradition or bureaucracy. Taking a party of 300 “bodyguards”, Leonidas bids farewell to his queen, who bravely tells him to come back with his shield, or on it. Together the Spartans march to battle, determined to chill the blood of the Persians with their unflinching tenacity. At Thermopylae, the free Spartan warriors drown the Persian slaves in their own blood, forcing Xerxes to finally approach Leonidas personally.
Although Leonidas is ever-willing, he tells his men to pray that he’ll be assassinated during negotiations, so that all of Sparta will be forced to go to war against Persia. Xerxes, thinking himself (literally) godly, has the audacity to order Leonidas to surrender in exchange for his life. Sparta’s king, not one to change his mettle, refuses. At the pinnacle of their battle, Leonidas and his men approach Xerxes, cornered, with archers trained to slaughter them at will. Xerxes demands one last time that Sparta kneel before him, and to his surprise, their king obliges… only for Stelios to use as a jumping point to impale Xerxes herald. Swords slash through the flesh, arrows are fired into hearts, and in his last act of retaliation, Leonidas hurls a spear at Xerxes – disfiguring one side of the false god’s face. Stelios grasps his hand and tells his king it was an honor to have died by his side, and Leonidas responds in kind that it was an honor to have lived by his.
Shane Walsh – The Walking Dead (2012)
Here lies a great shame; a self-serving, conniving coward of a man. To his credit, as a police officer, he did his duty just fine, and when his best friend was thought dead in a walker-infested hospital, Shane took it upon himself not only to barricade Rick’s room, but to look after his wife and son. And that seemed to be going pretty well for everyone, that is, until Rick Grimes turned up not so dead as the pack of survivors’ new favorite badge-carrying moral compass. Add to the fact that his wife Lori, who Shane had been having sexual encounters with, is now pushing him away as well as suspecting him of lying to her… and Shane will get a little hot under the collar.
Keeping things somewhat subdued while on the run, the survivors happen upon a peaceful farm whose owner is gracious enough to offer them hospitality until they get back on their feet. While Rick doesn’t like the idea of running again, he understands that it would be intruding to overstay their welcome, and encourages his group to prove themselves helpful. Shane has no patience for making nice, and when he discovers that the farm has been keeping neighboring walkers contained in a barn, he gives each and every one a bullet to the head, much to the horror of their friends. At the crossroads, Shane makes it abundantly clear to Rick that he is too soft and not man enough to lead any group of survivors, much less manage his own family. This enmity extends to one final trick: having Rick lead him into an isolated clearing.
This scene was particularly satisfying because of all that Shane represents to Rick, both as a foil to his model moral choices as well as the doubt that had been bothering him for some time. Shane was right, he was too soft. After a very suspicious journey through the woods and into the clearing, Rick finally stops and holsters his gun, exhausted by the charade. Shane explains that his wife and son will get over him, just as they did before, and in an attempt to taunt Rick, he packs his own gun away, daring his best friend to make the hard choice and fight for his family. Rick doesn’t oblige him any, and attempt to talk him down – claiming that nothing has actually happened, they can still lay down their arms and go back. He slowly unholsters his revolver, and as he hands it to Shane, Rick stabs his best friend in the heart. He curses Shane for making him kill him, lamenting his failed friendship.
Jean Grey – X2: X-Men United (2003)
This cute and shy mutant telepath may not have had the most personality among the X-Men, but she was loveable enough to leave a lasting impression. After utilizing her powers in a truly life-or-death scenario on Ellis Island, Jean’s psychic barriers began to wear down. She could hear thoughts uncontrollably, redirect a launched missile, and even managed to hold back Scott’s optic blast. Despite her growing power, she remained reserved in a supporting position on the team as they broke through the former Weapon X facility to rescue her mentor.
Then circumstances changed. A breaking dam began to flood the facility through the spillways, and it was only a matter of time before the dam itself was torn down. The Brotherhood absconded with the only remaining helicopter, the Blackbird was malfunctioning, and the X-Men (along with their rescued students) were going to be crushed and underwater. Jean makes the decision to step outside of the grounded jet, and used her telekinesis to halt the rushing tide before it could topple them. Creating a psychic bubble around the Blackbird, Jean prevented Nightcrawler from teleporting to stop her, while giving the jet the lift it needed to clear the tide. Using her telepathy as she began to burn up, Jean spoke through Xavier to bid Scott farewell, and then faced her death with dignity.
Bill – Kill Bill vol. 2 (2004) RIP David Carradine
Bill shot the pregnant Bride in the head, but miraculously, she survived in a comatose state. Four years later, she awoke from her coma and wept, for she had surely lost her baby. Beatrix went on a roaring rampage of revenge to punish those responsible for killing her chance at a new life, for killing her fiancé, her friends, and most importantly, her unborn child. But when Beatrix caught up with Bill at his hacienda, she made one particular discovery – their daughter is still alive.
At this point, it has been revealed through her scheming, through her killing – that Beatrix is really no better than Bill. Her former lover and mentor was even decent enough to be a father to their daughter, and tuck her in before paying his comeuppance. After a lengthy discussion discerning one another’s intentions, Bill and Beatrix cross swords but she prevails with the Five-Point-Palm-Exploding-Heart Technique.
As Bill sits dying, the two find forgiveness. Bill does one better: smiling gently while holding her hand, before leaving the table. As he stands straight and proud, the theme from “Navajo Joe” plays, and Bill begins his journey. After five graceful strides into the lawn, Bill collapses in a dead heap.
Satine – Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Her death is not only foreshadowed throughout, but blatantly spelled out from the very beginning, as of course, the entire film is one big flashback. It puts a very dark shadow over the escapist romance which is already doomed to end badly even without the consumption. But here we follow Christian, a penniless writer who has fallen in love with Satine, the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge, while pitching a new show for the Duke – the cabaret’s top investor. While Christian is smitten over Satine and writes the entire show to emulate their circumstances, Satine has been all but bought by the Duke, who is hell-bent on protecting his “property”. When it comes to the Duke’s attention that Satine and Christian have been consorting right under his nose, he demands the writer removed from the production and banned from the Moulin Rouge. Satine, understandably angered by this, packs her bags to leave along with Christian, until it is revealed to her by her manager that she is dying. In order to protect Christian from himself, she agrees to break his heart and turn him away from the Moulin Rouge forever.
As the manager suggests, the show must go on. Yet Christian is not finished. He sells his typewriter for cash to angrily confront Satine with during the final act of the show, telling the entire audience “I have paid my whore.” Just when it seems as though the Duke is satisfied by this turn of events, Satine begins to sing to Christian as he leaves – their secret song to tell the other they love them despite appearances. Reinvigorated by her profession, Christian finishes the play as his fictional alter-ego, and just when the Duke is about to go ham with a pistol, the manager of the Moulin Rouge punches him out. The audience loves it, and the actors take their bows during the curtain call. Back stage, however, Satine finally succumbs to tuberculosis and dies to Christian’s utter shock and dismay. In her dying, gasping breaths, she makes him promise to live, and tell their story.
Mordin Solus – Mass Effect 3 (2012)
He was the very model of a scientist Salarian. On the uninhabitable homeworld of a dying race of warriors, Mordin has the opportunity to distribute the cure for a sterility plague his people had cooked up centuries ago. Unfortunately, the only means of dispersing the cure is a one-trip elevator ride to a control center… which was going up in flames before Mordin even entered. His last act in the galaxy is administering the cure en masse; giving hope to a doomed race, hope that working with the rest of the galaxy to stop the Reapers will lead to a better tomorrow.
At its heart, it appears as if it would be a rip-off of Spock’s sacrifice in The Wrath of Khan, and in some ways, it kind of was (which is why it ranks #4) – Shepard all but begs Mordin not to take the elevator, as surely there must be another way. Mordin straightens up however, takes a deep breath, and exclaims that it had to be him: anyone else would have gotten it wrong. It is a beautiful scene: he sings his amusing song from the previous game, but in a slower, quieter manner. Just before he finishes, the entire room detonates from behind him, and the Krogan below observe the explosion – but there is something else. The cure, like snowflakes, falls gently down upon them, and Shepard catches some in her hand thoughtfully.
the Terminator – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Sent into the past to protect humankind’s future savior from a different, more advanced cybernetic assassin, the T-800’s role becomes slightly blurred after a while. In the past, his exact model had killed John Connor’s father, and here it is now, replacing Kyle, though unintentionally. For the longest time, John not only had a hard time swallowing his mother’s stories, but also couldn’t adjust with to his foster parents’ authority. Suddenly John is confronted with the truth compounded in the form of a guardian who will never stop, never leave him, never shout at him, never get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him.
After the T-1000 is terminated, the T-800’s purpose fades away, however. It agrees with Sarah that it is the last piece of technology from the future left in their timeline, and in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, it must be destroyed. When John protests, it exclaims that it knows now why he cries, but that is something it can never do. After a hug from John and a handshake of acceptance from a weary Sarah, the T-800 is slowly lowered into a pit of molten steel, giving John an encouraging “thumbs up” before blacking out forever.
Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)
The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and Roy has burned so very very brightly. One of the most influential characters of modern fiction, this much maligned replicant wants more time. Roy and a small group of replicants have travelled to Los Angeles from off-world to meet their maker, both literally and figuratively. Sadly for them, their very existence is illegal, and they are to be hunted down and retired on sight. To make matters worse, Roy’s creator, Tyrell, informs him that there is nothing that can be done to prevent his body from decaying – he will die. Roy woefully crushes Tyrell’s head between his hands.
Upon returning to his hideout and finding his companion shot dead, Roy’s sanity erodes. He drives a nail through one hand to prevent it from going numb, and begins to bait the Blade Runner, Deckard, wildly. He challenges the Deckard to pursue him in, through, and above the run-down tenement. Upon the rain-drenched rooftops, he clutches a dove in one hand, while sporting the nail through the other… assisting Deckard in regaining his bearings. Gaining his own composure, he meets his end with a soliloquy, explaining that all of experiences will be lost to time, like tears in the rain. As he passes, the dove takes flight over the choking high-rises.
Spock – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Formerly serving as the chief science officer as well as first officer, Captain Spock is now in command of the Enterprise, leading a large team of Starfleet cadets and trainees on a three-week shakedown cruise. If logic did not dictate his every action, he would be decidedly proud to demonstrate this new generation to his superior officer and best friend, Admiral Kirk, who is dealing with his own mid-life crisis and semi-retirement. It’s all fun and games until two of Kirk’s biggest loose ends and failures return to open old wounds. The displaced and exiled genetic supremacist Khan Noonien Singh has commandeered a Federation vessel and pillaged the science experiment code-named “Genesis” an old flame of Kirk’s had been heading with their son. Spock, having no ego to bruise, gives command of the Enterprise to Jim.
If it’s revenge Khan wanted, it is what he accomplished in spades. The trainee crew takes massive casualties working to repair and stabilize critical areas of the Enterprise as Khan fires through Kirk’s over-confidence (and lack of raised shielding). After the Reliant and the Enterprise blindly go head to head in the statically-charged Mutara Nebula, Khan’s crew is decimated. He has but one last offense at his disposal, however, and the former warlord activates the doomsday device aboard his stolen ship. Aboard the Enterprise, the warp drive is offline, with radiation leaking heavily through the manes – no one in Engineering is fit to restore power. Spock doesn’t hesitate, and leaves his post at the bridge.
Sulu notes that even at full impulse, the Enterprise won’t be able to escape the range of the Genesis payload, much to the despair of the senior officers. In Engineering, Spock incapacitates the obstructing Bones after taking Scotty’s thermal gloves, and seals himself in with the leaking manes. All of Engineering watches as their captain is bombarded with lethal doses of radiation, but succeeds in restoring power to the warp drive. Jim orders Sulu to get the hell out of there, and everyone on the bridge breathes a sigh of relief as the Enterprise goes to warp and escapes the blast wave. Just then, Bones radios Jim that he better get down there.
Now, I realize some of my choices are rather questionable, not to mention very recent, but without using the best of my ability, these are the most memorable, the most influential, and most impacting send-offs I’ve seen on my television. Hope you enjoy!
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