'He Will Be Greatly Missed'

'He Will Be Greatly Missed'

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The Albuquerque Journal, the newspaper of record for New Mexico's largest city, published an obituary Oct. 3—as they do probably every day. But this one was a bit different: The eulogized individual had, technically, never lived.

White, Walter, aka "Heisenberg," 52, of Albuquerque, died Sunday after a long battle with lung cancer, and a gunshot wound. A co-founder of Gray Matter, White was a research chemist who taught high school chemistry, and later founded a meth manufacturing empire. He is survived by his wife, Skyler Lambert; son Walter "Flynn" Jr.; and daughter Holly. A private memorial was held by his family. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a drug abuse prevention charity of your choice. He will be greatly missed.

Walter White, of course, is a completely fictional character—a creation of Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and his stable of writers. Little in the obituary is, in the strictest sense, real.

Well, except for maybe that last line: He will be greatly missed.

 When a fictional character dies, we sometimes grieve as if we knew them, and knew them well. Television seems to be particularly adept at making us feel the loss of critical characters. Sure, perhaps not many folks actually mourned for Walter White; viewers knew he had it coming. But die-hard Breaking Bad fans will miss his story. Even shows that go through characters like Kleenex (I'm looking at you, 24) can leave fans feeling bereft when a favorite goes. These characters—even if you know that their storylines are doomed somewhere along the line—become familiar. They add something to the energy of the story. And when they leave, they leave a vacuum.

But other characters are truly grieved over, as if they'd been our friends. When M*A*S*H's Col. Blake was killed in a helicopter crash, viewers were in shock. When Edith Bunker on All in the Family died of a stroke, fans could've filled buckets with their tears.

I don't cry often for fictional characters, but it happens. When I was 11 and reading C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle for the first time, I sobbed like crazy when those dwarves shot down all those galloping horses. And even if I haven't shed actual tears for a television character lately, I too get attached. Watching Jin and Sun die holding hands in Lost was hard for my wife and I to watch. And last season, Downton Abbey took us through the wringer.

It may seem silly, to get so worked up over the death of people who never lived at all.

And yet, they did live, in a way—at least for those who heard their stories. The fact that we care what happens to these characters illustrates the power of story: We mourn more sincerely the passage of the Doctor from Doctor Who (even though a new Doctor is just a season away) than the many nameless, faceless real casualties we read about in the paper. It's strange, but I think it's true. And it's just human nature. When we know people, we feel their loss more—even if they weren't real people at all.

Have you ever grieved over a fictional character? If so, who?

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  • --Professor Snape. Always.

  • --I'm a Whovian, of course I have. Just think about Donna, Ten, and Rory. I'm sure Eleven's death will be awful. And then there's Lord of the Rings, I always cry when Boromir dies. But then, I can be struggling not to cry when talking about poverty in Africa with my Dad too. I care about people, and I care about many fictional characters too, because I KNOW that they are not real, and yet in my heart, they actually are real.

  • --I wouldn't be able to offer any kind of complete list, being of a soft-hearted nature and having cried for probably hundreds of characters on screens or pages over the years.  Story is very powerful.  Perhaps moreso in our society where we are constantly bombarded with "news" of deaths and suffering daily... I think it becomes our way to filter out what would be an unbearable amount of sorrow: we may grimace over those we hear of, we only engage with tears those we know something about.  Even when those "people" are not real, it can still breach our defenses with the sorrow we know, deep down, DOES plague the world.  

  • --LOL, all of mine are going to be anime/game related.

    Shogo Kawada in Battle Royale.  Super tough guy who was soft deep down and helped the main characters survive the terrible Battle Royale program in the novel and film and comic book adaptions of the story (think: Japanese version of the Hunger Games).  And after having survived two programs (the first in which he was the only survivor and where he was forced to kill his girlfriend to survive) he succumbs to his wounds as he and the heroes make their escape.   One of the few books where I actually cried when I finished reading it.

    The death of Aerith Gainsborough in Final Fantasy 7 is also a big one, as almost any RPG fan could tell you.  Especially since it was a game, you didn't just get to know the characters, you actually played them.  Aerith was a main character, who could level up and learn just as many attacks and abilities as everyone else in the game.  And then the player loses her and she's gone *for good*, no Resurrection spell or items can bring her back.  Most players wouldn't have even unlocked all her abilities by that point, it was a pretty hard hitting depiction of the sudden tragedy death often can bring, at the time.

  • --Someone died in Downtown Abbey?!

  • --Reading about Jean Valjean's death at the end of Les Mis always makes me tear up....

  • I grieved when Eddard ''Ned'' Stark was killed. It was just so cruel and unfair :(

  • --I'm a fan of Joss Whedon, so I've cried over quite a few character deaths.  As much as I love Breaking Bad, I didn't cry when Walt died at the end.  We've known his death was a possibility from the very first episode when he was diagnosed with cancer.  I'm sad to say goodbye to the show, though.

  • --I don't normally cry..... but there are a few tear jerkers out there! :P I'm more likely to be like, "NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" Like when Matthew died at the end of the last season of Dowton Abbey. I mean come on, he was like the one stable character!!!!!!

  • --I too have been easy to make cry at many, many character deaths.  One notable time I didn't was with an anime titled Dennou Coil (SPOILERS) Towards the end of the series, a beloved pet dies in the best Death By Newbery Medal style.  I cried.  But then in the final episode it turns out the pet is not dead dead, due to the special circumstances of the series--but must sacrifice its life to save the protagonists.  Clearly meant to be tragic, but I sat stony-faced because I'd already shed my tears for the character, and bringing it back for a victory lap felt like gilding the lily.(/SPOILERS)

  • --The charectors don't even nessacaraly have to die to start the tears. Toy story 3. Enough said

  • --Where do I even start? Books: I cried when Reepicheep sailed off to Aslan's country in Narnia, when Thorin Oakenshield, Fili, and Kili died in The Hobbit (I'll cry in the theater when the movie comes out too), when Frodo and Bilbo left Middle Earth and sailed to Valinor in LOTR, etc. Movies and TV: I cried when Kate died suddenly on NCIS, when Ellie died in UP, when everyone and their brother died on Lost (I stopped watching during season 3 because I got tired of all the dying), When Jinx, Mrs. Fredericks, and Leena died on Warehouse 13, when the old chief of police died on Castle, I cried from beginning to end during the Christian film Though None Go with Me, etc.

    Anyway, even though these characters are fictional they become real in the mind of the reader/viewer and you feel like they are your friends. In some cases we cry because of what the character meant to us, or the lessons they thought us during their fleeting hours upon the stage.  

    Although I don't cry at every sad headline in the news I still sometimes shed a tear at the loss of human life in our world, especially when something like Sandy Hook happens. I think it is a defense mechanism that we let so much of the world's troubles pass over us without a second thought. It's not that we don't care or even that we're too desensitized to be upset by it, rather we have to harden ourselves to a certain extent so that we don't become depressed and hopeless. Although we may be saddened at times by the darkness of the world, I think God wants us to focus more on the solution than the problem. He wants us to have hope for a better tomorrow and be a light to the world rather that be bogged down by the darkness.

    I would like to quote another fictional character: Samwise Gamgee from the LOTR film the Two Towers because he sums it up so well.

    “It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was after so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances at turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.” Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?” Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for!”

  • --I have found that I tend to be more emotional when a character doesn't die, than when they do. An example would be the end of Australia.

    @E.F.B. I greatly wish that you had put in a Spoiler about the deaths of characters in the Hobbit since I have not yet completed the book and the movie installments are not yet released. Now that I know the ending I have greatly lost my desire to finish the book :(Especially since Kili and Fili were two of my more favorite characters from the movie):

    But I did enjoy Sam's quote.

    Aragorn's plunge over the edge of the cliff; if my dad hadn't have said, 'don't worry, his [trained] horse rescues him.'  I would've cried for sure. And in the book when Frodo meets Shelob. It's too bad they couldn't have done the movie the same way.

    I found myself most moved by Australia's ending, the climax of Far and Away (when they're in the house pretending) and the 'death' of Sherlock [BBC, for clarification]. (Simply cannot wait for the next installment!!)

    I was much more shocked at Matthew and Sybil's passing than actually saddened or moved to tears. Same as Ziva's not coming back in NCIS. Kate was sad, but I was too late in the series and more attached to Ziva by the time I saw the rerun of Kate's passing. **(Spoiler) I was very shocked at Chris Hemsworth's death in Red Dawn (How could they kill him???) (End Spoiler)**

    I actually did cry at Lassie and Eight Below, both of which I will not be watching again. And the death (read: murder) of Napoleon [the mouse] in the Canadian West series by Janette Oke. That was sadder than little Andy, in the previous chapter.

    I'm kinda surprised that no one has said Gone with the Wind or Titanic. I guess those just go without saying.

  • --I think it's much more natural to grieve over fictional characters more than real people we don't know personally because we absorb fiction at least in part to know the characters in them. We look for shades of ourselves in their personalities and decisions. I remember one of the Adventures in Odyssey writers commenting in the show's 500th episode that when the character of Connie Kendall came to a saving faith in Christ during Odyssey's early history, it felt like a real friend had made that decision. The type of fiction we seek out can also correspond with how we feel - or want to feel. Even within the realm of fiction, the deaths of nameless people we don't know don't feel quite as weighty as, say, The Obi-Wan who mentored the main character(s) with whom we spent more time.

    Personally, I find myself more connected with video game or television characters over characters from a movie because those two mediums actually require a more significant amount of time to invest in order to know them. Well-written role-playing games are often my favorite because half of the experience is getting to know the people around you - not just the characteristics that they display toward everyone, but also the layers beneath the surface that contribute to the entirety of who they are. I remember while going through Mass Effect 3, one particular character had to make a big sacrifice. Sacrificial deaths are typically fairly heavy subject matter, but in this case, the character was effectively undoing his life's work in order to make a choice that would benefit the people he hurt along the way. It wouldn't have been nearly as meaningful had we not been allowed the opportunity to hear his story and his experiences beforehand.

    And on top of all that, he was quietly singing to himself before he passed. Singing.

  • --I've cried over a death on just about every television show I've ever watched, and cried many times reading books, too. But I think Harry Potter ripped my heart into pieces the most. In the last book, I lost three out of four of my favorite characters. That was hard.