Sunday, April 23, 2017

Character Types: That Guy Who Just Won't Die

Have you ever gotten to the end of a book or movie, and looking back, you think about one of the characters and ask, “How are you still ALIVE?” Even though you may have watched the film or read the book, some circumstances seem a little over the top.

This post is dedicated to the survivors. To the characters who somehow managed to cheat death. To That Guy Who Just Won’t Die.

Disclaimer: A lot of my vocabulary comes from the American Midwest where the term “guy” is like the singular version of the southern “y’all”. Calling someone a “guy” is not gender specific and can refer to a man or a woman. In informal situations, I often refer a group of women as “you guys”. Also, because of the nature of this post, some spoilers may be present for The Hobbit, Leverage, Sherlock, Batman Returns, and Batman v Superman.

There’s a fine line between unbelievable and believable. Often times, That Guy Who Just Won’t Die crosses that line. After all, if I don’t see the body, I won’t believe he’s dead! And as my friend Faith likes to point out, sometimes not even then…

I’ve decided to rank the survivors on a scale of one to ten, one being the characters in the most intense situations who somehow still live. You’re free to debate the order. I had a hard enough time deciding myself.

10) Thorin Oakenshield and Company (J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit)

Bear with me here. Despite being a huge fan of The Hobbit, I often wonder how many of the characters survived. After all, Thorin managed to survive Smaug’s takeover of Erebor, several encounters with orcs and goblins, not to mention the mountain trolls, a thunder battle, the spiders of Mirkwood, dragon sickness, and ridiculous falls throughout the movies. It’s amazing any of the characters made out of the Shire alive, let alone to the Lonely Mountain.

Yet The Battle of Five Armies, and the last chapters of The Hobbit, reveals that not every hero lives to see victory. Unless, of course, you’re a hobbit.

9) The Red Crosse Knight (Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, book 1 of 6)

How many ways can you almost kill off a character in an epic poem? How about one for every book? Okay, so it’s not quite that many, but it’s a lot! In this classic story, the Red Crosse Knight fights off a giant and a dragon, nearly dying at least four times. But you can’t actually kill off the hero before you get to the final chapter, can you?  

8) Characters from Disney adaptations

Ever heard the phrase: life is not a fairy tale? Well, it’s a good thing it’s not! In a lot of fairy tales, many of the characters die and not everybody gets to live happily ever after. In most of the Disney adaptations, however, a parent or two might be missing, but most of the primary characters make it to the end, from Russell and Mr. Fredrickson in Up to Anna and Sven in Frozen.

7) Select characters from The Illuminae Files 

(by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)

Granted, a lot of people do die in these books. It’s just full of so many intense situations, that I was surprised anybody survived them. I mean, without survival, there wouldn’t be a story, but still. By the time I got to the second book, I no longer expected certain characters to die,  though that wasn’t always the case because of parallel dimensions. As if space travel wasn’t confusing enough…

6) Odysseus (Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey)

I recently watched The Odyssey with my dad, and man, poor Odysseus just couldn’t get a break. Sure, he’s obnoxious in his pride, but he still manages to be the sole survivor of his shipmates on his ten-year voyage back to Ithaca despite Poseidon’s threats.

Granted, I haven’t actually read the books yet. (*gasp* I know, I’m a bad bookworm. But they’re next on my classics list.) Yet a lot of characters tend to survive outrageous situations in mythology. I’m surprised more of them didn’t die sooner…

5) Sage (Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy)  

This was perhaps the first book I read where I started questioning how certain characters made it to the end alive. At one point Sage literally jumps off a cliff, and the chapter ends there. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is. Sure, Sage’s narrating style is brilliantly humorous, but he’s also insane.

4) Eliot Spencer (Leverage)

Of his con-artist team, Eliot is known as the hitter. In nearly every episode, he’s knocking out somebody in hand-to-hand combat. But let’s face it, he’s had a lot of training. And he doesn’t always come away from every episode unscathed. But if he gets shot, he just walks it off. Or limps it off.

Parker: You’re shot. You should go to the hospital.
Eliot: I don’t do hospitals.
Hardison: I told you. He takes getting shot very lightly.
(Season 5: “The Rundown Job”)

3) Sherlock Holmes 

(Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and BBC’s Sherlock)

Despite all attempts to kill off this famous and outrageously annoying detective, he’s still solving crimes. Forget Moriarty, not even the author, Doyle, could kill him off for long without the fans demanding his return.

Sherlock's survival is another reason I simultaneously like/dislike the BBC adaptation. They won’t explain why, but Sherlock is most definitely alive.

John: I’m definitely going to kill you.
Sherlock: Oh, please. Killing me, that’s so two years ago.
(Season 3: “The Empty Hearse”)

Petition to rename Season 4: Three Different Ways to Try (And Fail) to Asphyxiate a High-Functioning Sociopath. Or maybe we could just stick with Sherlock

2) DC superheroes

Me: Why are you still alive?
Batman: Because I’m Batman.
Need I say more?

I’m still confused about Superman, though. Supposedly he’s invincible with the exception of kryptonite, but in the last couple of movies he died. Or did he? Is DC trying to be vague?

1) Basically any Marvel character EVER

Forget surviving impossible situations—most Marvel characters just come back if they happen to die. Thor dies and comes back. Loki fakes his death at least twice. Captain America gets frozen and comes back. Bucky falls off a cliff but somehow manages to survive. I don’t even know how many times Wolverine regenerates. I could go on. Whether coming back disqualifies them from That Guy Who Just Won’t Die status, I’ll leave up to you.  

Now, before you think that characters are basically invincible (if only), remember that they’re not. Go watch a Shakespeare play (pick a play, any play) or read Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings” (hint: it’s not terribly happy). Death is a common occurrence in literature, just like life, which just makes the survivors that much more peculiar or fantastic, depending on your perspective.

Personally, I find this character trope to be a little annoying and really overused. Sure, to have a good story, you need good suspense. But not too much, or it’s unbelievable.


Film references: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Desolation of Smaug, and Battle of Five Armies; The Odyssey; Leverage; Sherlock; Superman Returns; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice; Thor and Thor: The Dark World; and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Literary references: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit; Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, book 1; Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s The Illuminae Files; Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey; Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection; and Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings”.

Let’s chat! On a scale of Macbeth to Wolverine, how likely is your favorite character to survive to the end of the story? Which characters are you surprised made it out alive? What is your take on the Guy Who Just Won’t Die? Yea or nay?  


  1. Haha I totally get this! It actually annoys me sometimes though?!? Like I GET IT...we want our heroes to live. But it also gets unrealistic at times. I'm actually frustrated Marvel won't kill anyone off. It takes the fear out of the movies because you know they'll never really hurt you. :P And I like to be terrified in movies so yeeeah.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Cait! I just finished another book with this character type. *sigh* Figures. I miss the suspense!

      Yes! We Leverage fans may be few in number, but we are mighty. Eliot has to one of my favorite characters, despite his nigh-invincibility.