DiscardedYKTTW Inappropriately Ignominious Death YKTTW Discussion

Inappropriately Ignominious Death
A character (usually major) who one would expect to have a fairly badass death, instead gets an ignominious one
(permanent link) added: 2012-04-20 10:52:59 sponsor: mzytryck (last reply: 2012-04-28 18:50:33)

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The narrative equivalent of an Anticlimax Boss; this character is built up as a major character who deserves a fairly impressive death, in accordance with the Theory of Narrative Causality. If they're evil, they might be the Big Bad or The Dragon, and if good they might simply be extremely Badass, or suitably crucial enough to the plot that their death would be a big deal.

Consequently, any viewers/readers with the merest ounce of Genre Savvyness would expect their death to come at the hands of their Archenemy, or after a major battle (either physically or intellectually) that gives this character a chance to show us exactly why they're such an important character. Instead, they get this. Maybe they're simply killed by the "wrong" character. Maybe their death is more of an accident than the result of their enemies' efforts. Maybe their death is particularly embarassing (and not in the satisfying Humiliation Conga sort of way that happens to many a Big Bad at the hands of The Hero). In any case, the manner of this character's death will leave the viewer/reader with a genuine feeling of Didn't See That Coming, even if it was expected that the character would die at some point.

If handled poorly, this might be somewhat unsatisfying, making the character's supposed intelligence/badassery come across as an Informed Ability, or seem like a major case of the Idiot Ball, or an overly contrived out of character moment that gets the individual killed for plot purposes. However, if handled well, it can emphasise that this particular world does not follow the Theory of Narrative Causality (keeping even the most Genre Savvy viewers on their toes) or it can be appropriate in an entirely different way. In such a case, the death is likely to have an element of simple bad luck; a Fatal Flaw that can normally be controlled may become apparent at a particularly bad time, the character may let their guard down for perfectly understandable reasons, or a subplot may suddenly crash into the main plot in such a way that it's fatal for this main character.

WARNING! As a Death Trope, all spoilers will be unmarked.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Tywin Lannister is The Patriarch of an extremely dangerous family, one of the strongest candidates for Big Bad, a hardened battle commander, a shrewd and experienced Manipulative Bastard and wisely feared by many as The Chessmaster of the series. Consequently, one would expect his death to be the result of some sort of climactic showdown with Robb Stark (until his own death) or possibly Daenarys, who both lost parents to his family's ambition. Instead, he gets shot in the groin by Tyrion, the despised Unfavorite, while taking a dump, and with the same Unfavorite's former whore in his bed. Even though his abuse of Tyrion and his various instances of hypocrisy make his death extremely appropriate in many ways, the expected path of an epic story like this one would not have him suffer this.
    • Subversion: Robert Baratheon considers himself to be the victim of this, having gotten drunk and ripped open by a pig he was trying to hunt, he is well aware of what a ridiculous end for a formerly badass warrior king this has been. The subversion is that, unbeknownst to him it was an assassination designed to look like an accident.
  • YMMV heavily on this one, but Voldemort's death in Harry Potter might count as this, and might be the reason they changed it for the film. In the book, Harry and Voldemort's final duel is a Single-Stroke Battle, that has nothing whatsoever to do with magical skill. This is totally appropriate in some ways; it has been stated many times that Harry is not even close to a match for Voldemort in a fair fight, it means that Voldemort's downfall is (again) caused by his own hand and it shows that, even from beyond the grave, Dumbledore is till Voldemort's most dangerous foe. However, it means that The Hero does not have a chance to be particularly Badass in a straight fight with the Big Bad (his great courage in facing him in the first place notwithstanding), and the fight itself consists more of a conversation which shows how great Dumbledore was, rather than how great Harry is. The film featured a proper duel between them, with Harry surviving it and putting up quite a good fight, despite the fact that Harry is merely a reasonably talented wizard, whereas Voldemort is supposedly the most powerful wizard in history.
  • Light Yagami in Death Note, especially in the manga. Though his downfall is appropriately caused by him being outgambitted by a team of enemies who collectively outwit him, is actually The Fool who shoots him, and Ryuk who kills him, pretty much on a whim, because he was no longer going to be any fun. Also, in the manga, he went out crying and begging, which is appropriate for showing that he's just an arrogant schoolboy rather than a god, but is still unexpected for someone who is considered by many to be the poster boy for Magnificent Bastards in anime and manga.
  • Averted, lampshaded and then played straight in Gangs of New York; Bill the Butcher, who is a badass of the highest calibre, narrowly avoids getting assassinated by "a nobody", and Bill himself says "what an ignominious end that would have been", and the audience is likely to agree that it would not have seemed "right" for someone like him to die in that fashion, especially since The Hero has his own designs on Bill's life. Later, the climactic duel between Bill and his archenemy is abruptly cut short by the film's subplot suddenly hijacking the story, and he ends up getting mortally wounded by cannon shrapnel fired by some nameless, faceless soldier who wasn't even aiming at him specifically.
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