In television, scriptwriters - with the stroke of a pen or tap of a key - love to nix characters viewers have become attached to, overwhelming them with intense sadness, confusion, and anger. Think Ned Stark on Games of Thrones, Omar Little on The Wire, Zoe Barnes on House of Cards, or Derek Shepherd on Grey's Anatomy. Often, fans are so bothered by these sudden and abrupt offings they can't wait to tune in to the next episode to understand what happened. And the next episode after that. And so on.
While dispatching important characters is one way to rile up audiences and get them hooked, it can sometimes backfire, causing legions of unruly, dedicated watchers to take to the internet to air their grievances. It turns out the producers of these shows are paying attention. In some cases, scriptwriters bring these characters back to life. In others, they introduce new, likable characters to replace the gaps left by series favorites, often testing the popularity of one-offs before they become regular cast members.
The characters on this list don't fall into any of these categories. Instead, they are characters who, although initially created to perish early on in each show, were kept alive by scriptwriters for various reasons. Good thing it worked out for these fictional folks because they've become some of the most beloved television characters of all time.
- Photo: AMC
The Original Plan: Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan presented multiple pitches to producers before he started making the show. One of these pitches involved ending Jesse Pinkman, Walter White's partner-in-crime, in Season 1. Gilligan envisioned Jesse perishing at the hands of a rival dealer. He wanted a distraught Walt to kidnap and torture this character.
Why It Changed: The producers were not impressed, although they weren't completely opposed to Jesse's demise. While Jesse's fate was up in the air for a while, he was kept on for many reasons. Gilligan decided to adopt a slower, less graphic pace for the series, focused more on character development than on action. Gilligan was also impressed by Aaron Paul's portrayal of Jesse, and, according to him, "it became pretty clear early on that that would be a huge, colossal mistake to [end] Jesse."
- Played By: Aaron Paul
- Photo: Netflix
The Original Plan: Telepathic youngster Eleven was supposed to perish during the first season finale. Co-creator Ross Duffer explained the season was set to end like this: "So, Eleven was gonna sacrifice herself and save the world, and then that was going to be it."
Why It Changed: Originally planned as a limited series, Stranger Things was written to end after one, and only one, season. Due to how well it was received by critics and test audiences, Netflix worked with the show's creators to turn it into a regular series. Eleven, a fan favorite, became the star of the show, getting her own unique plotlines and backstory in Season 2. Duffer is happy about that, exclaiming, "Thank god that dumb idea was nixed. Why would you get rid of the most compelling part of your show?"
- Played By: Millie Bobby Brown
- Photo: 20th Television
The Original Plan: Spike, a vampire, was written into Buffy The Vampire Slayer as a vehicle to fuel the heartbreak between Buffy and Angel. Originally, Joss Whedon wanted Angel (David Boreanaz), who had turned evil in Season 2, to spike Spike in order to shack up with female vampire (and perennial Spike love interest) Drusilla. As James Marsters, who played Spike, put it in an interview, "They only built me up to be really cool so that Angel would be really cool."
Why It Changed: Instead of a five-episode arc, Spike was ultimately kept on for the entire series, appearing in 97 episodes. Joss Whedon decided against including such a nefarious plot twist with Angel, giving Marsters the chance to have plenty of fun with Spike. Boreanaz later headlined a self-titled Buffy spin-off - in which Spike, who was ultimately ended in Buffy's final season, would come back as a double-undead series regular. When perishing is as fluid as it is in the Buffyverse, showrunners can weave a tangled web indeed.
- Played By: James Marsters
- Photo: ABC
The Original Plan: In NBC's Lost, main character Jack Shephard was originally written for actor Michael Keaton. J.J. Abrams envisioned it as a un-serialized drama whose first episode would end with Jack's demise. Keaton was intrigued by the idea of a show where the main character perishes at the end of the pilot. In an interview, Keaton claimed that while many people would ask questions like, "Why would you ever do that, where you’re the big lead guy, and then you [perish]?" he personally found it very interesting.
Why It Changed: Producers of the show were worried fans would be too attached to the character, and Michael Keaton was too busy to commit to starring in a television series. Ultimately, the role was given to Matthew Fox.
- Played By: Matthew Fox