I think almost every time I’ve written a situation where I planned for a character to get killed off, when I thought like “well what if I didn’t do that” the prospect of them just dying seemed like the lazy way out, or something I was just writing because “that’s how stories like this go”.
Like, years ago when I thought I was going to be on an extended hiatus I was planning to do a MGDMT graphic novel that had nothing to do with video games and just focused on the original super soldier characters. Mostly the idea was the same theme, Macho Action Dude Reacting to Movie Tropes Like A Reasonably Normal Guy, so it was gonna have all the motions of those same old conventions, but play out differently. At one point the idea was “the girlfriend character dies and he has to deal with it like an emotionally believable person and not a larger than life action guy”. But when I thought about it, that didn’t sit well with me, because even if it was trying to comment on a trope, it was still “female character gets killed for no reason other than the male lead to have a character arc about it” and that rubbed me the wrong way. So I thought, okay, what if she still gets kinda messed up, so they build her some cool robot parts and she’s like Shit Yeah! This is the best! And she thinks it’s so rad having robot parts it kinda throws off the course her life was going down because suddenly the idea of being Robocop seems a lot more exciting than nesting with her high school sweetheart. And he doesn’t have to go have emotions about a dead girlfriend, he has to learn to come to terms with someone he was very close to having a life experience he can’t exactly empathize with that put her on a road to becoming the person she’s decided she wants to be, but not the person he ever planned on her becoming. So his arc is sort of dealing with the grief of a lost hypothetical person, and learning to respect her autonomy to make decisions that he might consider “a bad idea” but improve her quality of life as she wants to live it. Which, in the end, felt like a lot more of an interesting story than “the girl dies so the main character can have emotions about it. But I only got to that point by recognizing the original idea was stale and racking my brain to do something different.
I guess what I’m saying is, when I see professional TV writers get excited about what a twist it is that they kill a beloved character in something to shake up the snowglobe so to speak, I can’t help but think that they fell into that rut of thinking “this is the convention I have been trained to attach to this story”, and didn’t even stop to think there may have been a more interesting and unique route they could have gone. Intrigue comes from giving the audience something they don’t expect to see. It’s easy to think that killing a character for shock value suits that task, but that’s become such a normal device to throw out there that it doesn’t surprise anyone anymore. It’s always worth at least considering what would happen to the story if you didn’t just go down the first path that came into your mind, because the first will almost certainly be the most well-trodden with the least surprises along the way.