Subverting Expectations: The Megathread - Or How Baby Dick Creators ‘Sort of Forgot’ What an Anti-Climax Is

Secret Asshole

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If you aren’t used to my threads or posts, this is going to be long as fuck. So if you don’t want to read some asshole’s novel on how story-telling has shit itself in the past few years, I don’t blame you. I’m also spoiling Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Attack on Titan. Kinda.



So, there’s been this recent trend in a LOT of media I’ve noticed. Its sort of creeped in very slowly, but very surely into a lot of things. I believe it got super-popular with Game of Thrones once it got to mega-hit status. Something that started out so beautiful, turning into a festering pile of shit. I know it got meme’d and got into the psyche of pop-culture with The Last Jedi, but it started long before that. Especially in what I would call the genre media: Fantasy, Science Fiction and Anime (if you’re not a Weeb, I’ll explain. If you don’t care, you can skip the anime bits, but its important to my point as infecting the ‘genre fiction' as a whole).

What subverting expectations is, basically in a sense, playing a trick on your audience. The Prestige brilliantly explains subverting expectations and how to do it well in basically two and a half minutes:


This is how subverting expectations works, in. Essentially, its a narrative magic trick. However, you’re ALWAYS hinting to your audience that something is off, something isn’t right, and what they are expecting to happen in your story, might not happen as they imagine. But the point is: You let them in on your trick. I mean, not so much as The Prestige does, as it directly tell it to your face its going to trick you. But narratively, everything is there. The point is, as Michael Caine says, ‘Making something disappear, it isn’t enough. You have to bring it back.’ And that’s exactly what you have to do when you subvert any narrative. You MUST bring it thematically, tonally, narratively, back to a place where it makes sense within your story-telling trick. If you don’t bring it back….

…you end up with an anti-climax. A word mostly forgotten nowadays, because when a writer today says ‘subvert expectations’, they mean ‘Anti-Climax’. What writers and creators are doing is pretty much ego tripping, pulling the carpet from out under their audiences thinking that they’re brilliant and leaving their audience going:


They read all the online theories and are SO DESPERATE for tricking them with ‘mystery boxes’ that lead to fucking NOTHING. Any asshole can do this. Its piss easy. Doing it well, like most things, is extremely difficult, takes a lot of time and a lot of energy and requires you to INTAMTELY know your narrative, more than your audience does. The more long-form your narrative, the harder this is to do. Because subverting expectations properly requires you to have a concrete plan. You must know EARLY in the work. You can’t be like ‘Oh that’s cool’ and do it half-way in, or even a third. You will fuck your audience over if you do this, because you can’t expect to diverge dramatically from where you were going and keep that original audience on a different narrative thread. If you’re going to make the hero the villain or vice-versa, there MUST be threads there that can be traced back, so when your audience goes back for seconds, its there for them to see and extremely gratifying.

Which is why a lot of one-off movies do this so well and a lot of series that try this die, flat on their face. Often these long-form series huge fanbases that dissect works which often have huge gaps of time before they come out. The problem is there has become this weird obsession with keeping ahead of your audience to where they’ve figured out where you want to go, so you begin to pull your narrative in directions which it doesn’t fit so that it completely breaks apart. And then people think they’re geniuses for doing this.

Star Wars set up J.J. Abrahms infamous mystery boxes, only for basically every single plot strand to be completely nullified by Rain Johnson who somehow thought this was good storytelling by delivering a movie that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. Ok? Are you a brain-dead faggot? What were you hoping to accomplish? Your audience is paying you billions, you’re not an indie creator anymore fuckwit. I guess by ignoring every single mystery set-up by your predecessor or making their outcomes massively mediocre, disrespect characters so they no longer are in any way recognizable and have no characterization or real narrative you’ll be thought of as a genius. No wait, you killed the IP. Oh well.

Game of Thrones got obsessed with its fandom and CONSTANTLY looked for ways to make sure it stayed ahead of them. Except the fanbase was so massive, everything you would ever do was described out in detail. So…they did re.tarded shit no one thought out because no one was re.tarded enough to see it. Ok. That’s one dynamic way to crater an IP, give them points for creativity. No one figured out they were quite that dumbfuck mental to do what they did.

Attack on Titan went from an interesting, post-apocalyptic, medieval horror setting to a boring, ‘Game of Thrones in World War I /II except with Titans as Dragons’, replete with ‘shocking’ character deaths, pseudo-magic and (possible) time travel, nonsensical character actions with little to no explanation and no real decent narrative that strings together its plot or really ever recovers from losing its interesting setting in its first third. For me, ‘Attack on Titan’ lost me a long time ago once an interesting world was thrown away with a stupid fucking basement reveal and idiotic timeskip, which basically destroyed narrative cohesion and characterization. Which means AoT has (or had) NO IDEA where its going (or was) and the author is going to fill in the gaps later to make excuses for what’s going on (you will never prove to me the dude had a plan when he times-kipped. He basically shifted the entire narrative of his work from horror to ‘Game of Thrones’. He had no fucking clue where it was going once he did the narrative, thematic and tonal shift). While AoT isn’t finished, the creator apparently loved Game of Thrones Season 8, which means he gets an erection from franchise-destroying elements. I’d recommend getting involved only to laugh at the resulting fanbase implosion. If you're looking for something that will satisfy you, stick to other weeb shit.

Lastly, I’ve noticed a lot of these symptoms comes from normie infection. That is, a lot of the three franchises I’ve mentioned above have become replete with people who aren’t sci-fi fans, aren’t fantasy fans and aren’t anime fans. Which leads to a massive explosion in fan theories and basically outlining your work before you’ve even finished it. And this leads to authors obsessing about subverting expectations, for which they’ve not narratively prepared for at all. Which then means a lot of fan-fiction becomes BETTER and MORE gratifying than the actual work. Because it makes more narrative sense. Which will inevitably mean no audience will ever trust your lying, faggot, pseudo-intellectual ass ever again. At least I hope. The normies can go get fucked as far as I'm concerned.

Which is why genres seemed burdened with this problem than traditional dramas or other sorts of story-telling. You still want to tell a unique story, but you have/get/need this mass market appeal, so your fans are basically outpacing you, so to outpace them, you essentially have to betray their trust and fuck them over to feel like you had a unique story. Or something. The problem is, that you end up with two acts in the prestige. You never give back what you took away from your audience. You don't have to leave them with a happy ending, or all the heroes winning or even the villains or ANYBODY getting what they want. Your obligation as a creator is to not waste their fucking time. When you don't replace what you took from your audience, you leave them ungratified, felt you wasted their time and alienated them to feel like some genius, when all you did was fuck up your story by writing an anti-climax. Which is pretty much what ‘subverting expectations’ in genre fiction now means and is code for.

Here, I’ll explain and give some examples as to what an anti-climax looks like:
 

Poiseon

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Were you going to post more? You kinda cut off at the end there.

The best way to create an interesting story and make it work is to do so without obsessing over the fanbases, or even looking at their 'theories' at all. How many stupid fucks has Scott Cawthan wrangled cash out of thanks to his stupid FNAF series getting every autist to sperg on for hours about non-existent plot points in what is essentially a flash game?

You want to make a good story? Write it and finish it. Then release it. If it is shit and poorly received then whatever. Learn from your mistakes and move on. It's it's good stick to your original vision for future installments.
 

Exigent Circumcisions

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You had some decent points, I don't disagree really, but your asinine potty-mouthing sort of grated on me. I won't write a novel about it but I will say that it's difficult for me to take what is ostensibly serious critique of an artistic movement seriously when the critic is being crass and self-indulgent, especially coming out of left field and, dare I say, subverting my expectations?

ETA: I don't mean to say that using fuck et al. in a colloquial sense is a problem, but it seemed like you started leaning on colourful profanity to keep up the flow of the narrative. 'Idiot' works just fine in place of 'fuckwit' and 'fucking idiot' bridges the gap without feeling forced.

This ends today's lesson in efficient usage of curse words, faggots (and faggettes).
 
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Secret Asshole

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I was fucking OP's mom she and OP walked in amd started jacking off. That subverted my expectations.
I appreciate the fact you knew that endless 'subverting expectations' jokes were going to come so you came early.

You had some decent points, I don't disagree really, but your asinine potty-mouthing sort of grated on me. I won't write a novel about it but I will say that it's difficult for me to take what is ostensibly serious critique of an artistic movement seriously when the critic is being crass and self-indulgent, especially coming out of left field and, dare I say, subverting my expectations?

ETA: I don't mean to say that using fuck et al. in a colloquial sense is a problem, but it seemed like you started leaning on colourful profanity to keep up the flow of the narrative. 'Idiot' works just fine in place of 'fuckwit' and 'fucking idiot' bridges the gap without feeling forced.

This ends today's lesson in efficient usage of curse words, faggots (and faggettes).
It might be quite possible, indeed. But its also my posting style too, so if I just went out of left field and wrote a serious critique without my colorful language it'd just be too obvious. Everyone used to my posts would see the joke pretty much instantly. Making the last punchline, and the more effective one, IMO, lose its impact. So I had to take one or the other. I chose the ending, but your mileage may vary.

...Are you... are you subverting our expectations?
Well played, Asshole :drink:
Well, I did say it was the subverting expectations megathread. I let you know right upfront what you were gonna get.
 
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Kari Kamiya

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Remember in Dragon Ball when it was building up to become Gohan's story only for Goku to take back the spotlight from his own son because he (and Toriyama, and his editor, and Shonen Jump) didn't have faith in Gohan to have the strength to defeat Kid Buu and save the day? What a way to ~subvert my expectations~.
 

Tiem Cahp

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Remember at the end of Infinity War how things were all serious and you were like OMG What will they do??? Then Endgame was all garbage?
Not a single soul genuinely asked what the end result would be -- we all knew how it was gonna be in the end. Anyone saying otherwise was invoking the silent prayer: "Anything but this...".
 

Secret Asshole

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Of all the @Secret Asshole threads on the fourms, this is the @Secret Asshole-iest.
I was going to say a pun, but I'll spare the forums that. I will say, I did try my hardest.

Remember at the end of Infinity War how things were all serious and you were like OMG What will they do??? Then Endgame was all garbage?
I also made certain assumptions, like they'd be back for cameos and shit and not completely done with the MCU. And since Scarlett Johansson had a movie coming out, I generously thought there'd be more Widow. I'm sorry I didn't break into the Russo household and sneak a peak at the script and report back that she's fucking perma dead and the Widow movie is a prequel.

Garbage is more than a little harsh, especially as to how Game of Thrones ended. I also don't think they stabbed the audience in the back or really tried to subvert anybodies expectations, so I'm not even sure what your point is here? Having a surprise in your story isn't the same as subverting the expectations of your audience. All stories are going to be surprising in some way. I mean you can think Endgame is bad, that's fine, but they were most definitely not subverting audience expectations. All the actions were in line with each character, I didn't feel like any characterization was betrayed or subverted.

Would I have liked something closer to the comic ending? Sure. Was I disappointed with some aspects? No doubt (The loss of the Thanos characterization from Infinity War is the most common criticism of Endgame and I think that's certainly its weakest point. The point of killing off old Thanos in the first, what 15 minutes, was to show all deaths are final. The movie was not going to get to 'cheat' by pulling people out of time and restoring them to life. Their characters and characterization does not come back either. It goes with establishing the narrative and to reinforce the character sacrifices that come later. I understand why they did what they did, it was an aspect necessary for the story). But I did not feel it was a subversion nor were they going for one.

Endgame is also not the last Phase 3 movie, that'd be Spiderman: Far Away From Home. Which implies they're introducing alternate universes. I mean, its also the lying sack of shit Mysterio saying it. So it could all be crap. Spiderman: Homecoming, is basically the epilogue to Phase 3 and the set-up of Phase 4. I don't make any predictions and at this point assume all deaths are final.

No one asked what they would do. We all knew how it was gonna be in the end. Anyone saying otherwise was invoking the silent prayer: "Anything but this...".
My prayer was "Please Good Lord, Do Not Let Captain Marvel Do Shit in This Movie" And the Lord was kind and said "Yes, Asshole, nobody likes that cracker-ass bitch."
 
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Clop

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GoT? Subverting expectations? That shit was the most 'reality TV'-like crap I'd seen. I've never seen villains be so two-dimensional and lame, it was like sexual deviancy was the only thing the writer could think of to show that someone's SUPER EVIL YOU GUYS, and I stopped watching long before shit got to the final season that everyone hates. People should've assumed Daenerys going straight to Evil without passing Go or collecting 2,000 bucks when she committed the act of incest because that seems to be the defining characteristic of every goddamned villain as long as they live long enough to lose their fucking virginity.

You have no idea how happy it made me to hear that the fans of the show got a shit ending. I was getting really ticked off when even goddamned ads started with "Some people STILL haven't watched Game of Thrones" at which point I'd ruin my vocal chords.
 

SteelPlatedHeart

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Does HIMYM count? Technically, the major issue with that ending was the wrote an ending for season 2 and then stuck with it even though it went on for 7 more seasons, so they had to negate everyone’s characterizations, growth,arcs, ect since then in order to stick with an ending for characters that had long since changed.
 

RomanesEuntDomus

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The problem is that GoT used many quite surprising twists (stuff like the Ned Stark betrayal by Littlefinger and his execution or the Red Wedding) and it got popular for that. The takeaway for atrocious writers and stupid viewers wasn't "A well made twist, that makes the plot differ from what you'd usually see in such media, can have a huge payoff", the takeaway was "Things that you didn't expect are the height of writing".

The old seasons (and obviously books) did all this masterfully. If I'm not mistaken, there's a scene where Tyrion meets Tywin in his chambers and sees him writing a letter. Tywin vaguely states that this letter will serve the family in the future and iirc, it's the letter to Walder Frey, that will convince him to do the Red Wedding.
The early seasons (that were still emulating the books) had many instances of twists that had been carefully prepared, with small indications here and there. At the least, they would make sense within the context of the story.
Ned Stark is the noble, honorable good guy. In any other show, he'd be one of the characters who would survive/succeed on virtue of being one of the good guys. In GoT, not only does his honor get him betrayed (since his vice is being too trustful of others), but it also gets him killed.
All he did was trying to do the right thing, not only in preventing from Joffrey taking the throne, but also by trying to save Cersei's life, since he knows that Robert would have her killed, so he offers her to leave King's Landing. Then he sets up an alliance with Littlefinger and has him buy out the City Watch, which backfires since Littlefinger has his own idea of how shit should pan out. Then Ned is in a dungeon and gets offered to be send to the wall in exchange for lying about the reasons why he rebelled against Joffrey.
Without having seen spoilers, the scene where Joffrey proclaims the punishment, you are taken by surprise, since you expect that Ned will be pardoned, send to the wall and there serve with his bastard son Jon, just like it was discussed earlier.
When he is beheaded, the viewer realizes that this is a setting that does not fuck around with its characters. When the stakes are this high, any mistake can and will get you killed.

The Ned Stark Subplot is a great example, since it's not so much foreshadowed what will happen (ie: Ned Stark getting killed), but it is a logical conclusion to the plot. Similar things get foreshadowed here and there (like the Red Wedding, which is even almost spelled out in a vision to Dany when she's in that house of the wizards).
The viewer gets surprised a couple of times in the Ned Stark plot and the end result establishes the nature of this show that plot armor doesn't (yet) exist. It's not a big twist, but it's an effective one. There's many more instances of characters dying suddenly. Problem is: Idiots thought this meant that characters have no actual character arcs, if they end up getting killed, entirely missing the point that getting killed is part of that character arc. Many people defended the S8 shenanigans going "GoT is a show where unexpected stuff happens and now people complain that they did not expect this". Which is also similar to the TLJ-Defense Force. There's nothing wrong with something unexpected happening, but there is a huge issue with something nonsensical, anti-climactic or outright idiotic and offensive happening.

Dumb&Dumber obviously did not understand how this works either. They thought, having something unforseen happen is what people enjoy (and to some degree, they do), but in the end, they piled unsatisfactory crap twist on unsatisfactory crap twist and this whole thing fell apart in Season 8... and it's no wonder either it happened in the end. Up until then, they were ending up with many unresolved character plots, which they now suddenly had to conclude and they had no clue what to do with them and went with "No one will expect this, so it'll be amazing", giving us NinjArya singlehandedly slaying the NK, who turns out to be an inconsequential wuss and a waste of time. The Dragons flic-flac between being the biggest and most amazing threat ever to being utterly useless and easily defeated and then they are amazing and strong a few moments later. Just so we can either have the "shocking" moment of a Dragon dying but also the "shocking" moment of them killing thousands of enemies the next episode.
People were wondering who might end up on the throne, Dumb&Dumber put Bran there, even though thematically it makes absolutely no sense for his character or his arc. Why? Just cause it's such a ridiculously stupid idea, that no one was expecting that, so of course they go with that. Which brings me back to the issue of idiots not understanding that GoT/ASOIAF is very strongly structured with important character arcs, it's just that they are usually rather unconventional and they still follow a strong and rigid set of rules and logic and bow to the plot. If the plot and inner logic demand that a character is in a hopeless situation and death is on the line, there's little hope for them to survive. Or at least there should be little hope, Dumb&Dumber gave many characters plot armor out the wazoo in later seasons, which is entirely antithetic to what ASOIAF should be.

GoT turned into an especially frustrating experience since it started out as one of the best shows when it comes to surprising twists and then became the worst offender of shitty cheap anti-climaxes.

Just for shits n giggles, here's the scene when the Starks receive word that Jon Arryn, former hand of King Robert and close friend of Ned, passed away:
Jon Arryn, as we later find out, was killed in some conspiracy and it takes quite long to unfurl who's behind it all... but here's the kicker.
Do you know what music is playing in this scene? The House Baelish (ie: Littlefinger's) theme...

That's pretty neat and subtle. And then, in S8, we get twists for the twist's sake, even though it makes no sense within the logic of the show, the narrative structure or the character arc.

But don't even get me started on TLJ, where GoT is now the posterchild of hack writers coming up with inane twists just to do something unexpected, TLJ was entirely made from a spiteful person that holds the fanbase in contempt and publically shamed them for caring about the plot.
The GoT writers might be the most guilty of huffing their own farts, but Ruin Johnson was outright malevolent and went out of his way to invalidate anything set up by JJ as well as dragging everything noble and good about the OT through the mud.
 

verissimus

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@RomanesEuntDomus

I'm going to have to be the contrarian a bit and disagree with the notion that the Red Wedding and Ned Stark's death were some kind of twists. I understand that there were people out there that didn't see that coming. Fine, but just because people didn't see it coming doesn't necessarily mean its a twist (never mind a good one) especially when the result either fits in the context of story or furthers it in some capacity.

For me in particular with Ned Stark's death, it made the most narrative sense that the character be killed off. Why? Mainly because doing so would bring conflict in the story, conflict being one of the key ingredients to many stories out there especially those with intrigue (both of which were already hinted at just by the first episode with the death of Jon Aryn) or set in a fantasy setting. Additionally, if you kill off a character in a story like GoT (which has too damn many which is often a big giveaway that you will see characters killed off) you open up the door for other character's to step in and activate their story line. For example, Arya wanting revenge for her father's death or Robb Stark leading the coalition of the North and Riverlands against the Lannisters. If you had left Ned either stuck in the wall or in the Red Keep, then as Tywin mentioned, the Lannisters would have had time to deal with Robert's brothers (hek the Red Wedding might not have happened at all assuming the North didn't make an alliance with the Freys and then subsequently dined in their castle), and we would be looking at potentially an entirely different story. Put simply to be a bit of a semantic jackass, I don't find such things to be proper "twists" if 1) it fits in already with the kind of story being told and 2) the result is necessary for the story to proceed in interesting path(s) which are not necessarily unforeseeable for the uninitiated.

I do agree though that the later "twists" (if you can call them that) that the writers tried to pull off after the Red Wedding were all bullcrap. As far as I'm concerned, one of the biggest problems of the story is that it's too long and tries using the same tricks over and over again with diminishing return. It also doesn't help that the later "shock deaths" which weren't shocking at all were fairly predictable like Baelish death, because it seemed abundantly clear the writers didn't know what more to do with said character.
 
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RomanesEuntDomus

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I'm going to have to be the contrarian a bit and disagree with the notion that the Red Wedding and Ned Stark's death were some kind of twists. I understand that there were people out there that didn't see that coming. Fine, but just because people didn't see it coming doesn't necessarily mean its a twist (never mind a good one) especially when the result either fits in the context of story or furthers it in some capacity.

For me in particular with Ned Stark's death, it made the most narrative sense that the character be killed off. Why? Mainly because doing so would bring conflict in the story, conflict being one of the key ingredients to many stories out there especially those with intrigue (both of which were already hinted at just by the first episode with the death of Jon Aryn) or set in a fantasy setting.
I knew about the Red Wedding and Ned Starks death beforehand, I merely assume that without knowing about these, they do come as a bit of a surprise to the audience. Not the "OMG I would never have imagined this to happen in any shape or form!" but rather a "Oh, I didn't expect the story to actually go down this route" kind of way. (When the audience precludes the possibility of a negative outcome for a character at all, you end up with Rey from nuStar Wars and the failure of the suspension of disbelief)
The fact I call them twists has more to do with how the plot deviates from the norm in a regularly structured plot in a generic fantasy series, where undoubtedly, chances of Ned Stark somehow coming out not only alive but possibly even as the victor would have been much higher. In a regular show, Ned's confession and banishment to the wall would have been the end of that particular conflict (and still tie in with the later course of the plot), however instead of winding down, George Martin raised the stakes and that's what's kind of a surprise in that instance.
Same with the Red Wedding, you sort of expect the conflict between the Freys and the Starks to wind down, however it escalates.

It's not so much about something totally unthinkable and utterly unexpected happening, it's more about something happening, that you considered less likely.

That's exactly the problem with Dumb&Dumber. They thought "No one is expecting this!" will equal "This is a good twist", since their idea of a good twist is that it comes completely out of nowhere with only a very filmsy foundation (if at all)... and of course, cheap shock deaths the moment a character no longer has a purpose, such as Lyanna Mormont (or Jorah, for that matter). They didn't know what to do with her for the rest of the show, so they just offed her.
 

verissimus

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It's not so much about something totally unthinkable and utterly unexpected happening, it's more about something happening, that you considered less likely.
Sure, but you and others are basing that on other fantasy series though where they're more reluctant to kill off characters and aren't obsessed with making things gritty, cynical, and brutish which was clearly a mistake on your end with all due respect or to put it another way. Yes, it's (the course of the story) a change of pace of things (i.e. different) then what you'd normally expect from other stories but clearly the show wasn't supposed to be like other fantasy stories especially considering its tone.

The other thing is, and I know it's somewhat superficial (probably not the best word to use here) to mention this, but there are other big giveaways to me for this particular type of stories.

1) It's an HBO show. What I mean by that is that the show runs with a very similar if not the same formula other shows like the Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and even Rome (HBO) uses. I.e. planned shock deaths. And to be fair, this actually works well to an extent even though this is a sort tired trope if you have watched all those programs or things similar to them.

2) As mentioned before, it usually is a big giveaway that you're going to have death and destruction in your show if you have too many characters in it especially if you have the additional factor of wanting to make things more serious/gripping with shocking character deaths. See Code Geass, Attack on Titans, Red Dead Redemption 2, for examples. Hek I would even include the Star Wars Prequels to an extent especially in contrast with the original Trilogy given the overall darker/tragic tone set for the former.

3) The tone and/or themes of your story as well to an extent your audience as well can play a part in these kinds of stories. It simply shouldn't come as a surprise for the "initiated" audience for a show clearly orientated for adults specifically to have significant character deaths (I would imagine you would be extraordinarily hard pressed to find an exception to this rule) .

I suppose simply to not drag this out further or make too much of an argument about it, I think people over-inflated this aspect of the show along with the whole "it's realistic" (I don't want to into that here...) take with regards to the shows early writing anyway.
 
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