Why Does the Gay Character Always Have to Die?

Okay, so the headline of this article is a little misleading: gay characters on television don’t always die. Plenty of gay and bisexual characters have lived long happy lives – and more are living that way all the time.

But let’s face it: sometimes it seems like the gay character always dies. And they almost certainly die more than their numbers would warrant.

The deaths of the two gay characters on Spartacus: Blood and Sand are only the most recent, but there are plenty of other examples:

  • Dale Tomasson, Big Love: suicide (2010)
  • Felix Gaeta, Battlestar Galactica: executed (2009)
  • Eddie, True Blood: murdered (2008)
  • Alex, In Treatment: suicide (2008)
  • Ianto Jones, Torchwood: murdered by aliens (2009)
  • 11-12, The Prisoner: suicide (2009)
  • 909, The Prisoner: murdered (2009)
  • Joseph, Kings: murdered (2009)
  • Omar Little, The Wire: murdered (2008)
  • Ray Fiske, Damages: suicide (2007)
  • Steve, Reaper: casualty of demon war (2008)
  • Vito, The Sopranos: murdered (2006)
  • Salim, Sleeper Cell (2006)
  • Cassady Casablancas, Veronica Mars: suicide (2006) 

And these are just the dead regular, or at least featured, TV characters. Gay or bisexual men have frequently popped up as “guest” characters on shows like CSI, The Mentalist, Ghost Whisperer, Supernatural, and Law & Order – only to die, often before the opening credits.
Indeed, in addition to the dead gays on Spartacus and Big Love, the last few weeks have also seen gay victims on Law & Order: SVU and NCIS: Los Angeles.

What’s going on here? Does Hollywood have a gay death wish?

Let’s get one thing straight: a gay or bisexual character dying is not necessarily an indication of homophobia or bias. Characters die on television a lot. It’s called “drama” for a reason, and there’s no more classic a denouement for a character’s story arc, or inciting incident for another character’s subsequent emotional development, than the death of another character.

Sparatacus: Blood and Sand’s Spartacus finds Pietros’ hanging body

Sure enough, “character development” is usually how the writers justify these deaths: it’s how Joss Whedon justified the death of Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; it’s how Russell T. Davies defended the death of Ianto on Torchwood; and it’s how Steven DeKnight most recently explained the deaths of Barca and Pietros on Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

And maybe it makes sense in certain ways that gay characters are more likely to die than straight characters. Shows like Cold Case and Grey’s Anatomy have featured extremely touching episodes where guest gay characters died, but the episodes themselves were dramatizing the bias that gay and bisexual people often still experience.

Still, what Hollywood writers never mention, and usually don’t even seem to be aware of, is the fact that the (often brutal) death of a gay character is a longstanding writers’ trope.

Next Page! The Dead Gay Guy cliche!

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