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9 Pop Culture Characters That Were Supposed to Die

As the old saying goes in Game of Thrones, “Valar Morghulis.” All men must die. Unless, of course, the producers realize that they’re getting rid of a bona fide cash cow, in which case some fan-favorite characters manage to avoid shuffling off this mortal coil. On today’s episode of The Dan Cave, we’re taking a look at some pop culture icons that nearly bit the dust, but were saved at the last minute.

Han Solo

Image: Lucasfilm

Harrison Ford had a death wish while making Star Wars, and I’m not referring to the legendary Tunisian Death Drink that Eric Idle gave him and Carrie Fisher during the filming of Empire Strikes Back. Harrison Ford famously wanted Han Solo to die at the end of Empire, long before his thicc son murdered him in The Force Awakens. Ford hadn’t yet signed a contract for a third film, so freezing Han in carbonite was their elegant solution in the interim.

“I thought he should have died in the last one to give it some bottom,” Ford said in a 2010 interview with ABC News. “George Lucas didn’t think there was any future in dead Han toys.”

And while Han did indeed bite the dust in an early draft of Return of the Jedi, he ultimately returned thanks to a little thing called $500,000. Coincidentally, that’s the amount I’m asking for to return for next week’s episode of The Dan Cave. Something tells me I’m just gonna get air-locked though.

Ellen Ripley

Image: 20th Century Fox

Intergalactic badass and uncertified P-5000 Powered Work Loader operator extraordinaire Ellen Ripley nearly didn’t survive her own cinematic debut. Ridley Scott had a very different ending in mind for 1979’s Alien.

“I thought that the alien should come in, and Ripley harpoons it and it makes no difference, so it slams through her mask and rips her head off,” Scott told Entertainment Weekly in 2017.

The scene would then cut to the xenomorph using the ship’s controls. “It would mimic Captain Dallas [Tom Skerritt] saying, ‘I’m signing off.’”

But fortunately for us, the studio executives at 20th Century Fox weren’t on board. They arrived on set within 14 hours and threatened to fire Ridley Scott on the spot. And thank goodness for that because Aliens would NOT be the same without Ripley.

Ron Weasley

Image: Warner Bros.

J.K. Rowling’s hands are stained awfully red at this point. Severus Snape, Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Dobby…the list of fan favorite characters felled by her pen goes on and on. But her hands were almost even redder with the blood of everyone’s favorite ruddy redhead Ron Weasley. In a conversation with Daniel Radcliffe on the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD, Rowling said that while she planned from the start that none of the main trio would die, she had a change of heart midway through. Chalking it up to being in a bad place emotionally, she started seriously thinking about killing off a major character—specifically Ron—out of “sheer spite.”

“‘There, now you definitely can’t have him any more,’” she added. Ultimately, she snapped out of it and decided to just murder Fred Weasley off-screen instead, which I am still salty about more than a decade later.

Poe Dameron

Image: Lucasfilm

Han Solo wasn’t the only ace pilot from the galaxy far, far away that escaped an early death. Originally, the movie was going to open on Poe Dameron’s epic mission and end with his terrible, tragic death where he would only live on in the form of a really nice jacket. Oscar Isaac was hesitant to sign on because he had done several movies where he died early on and didn’t want to straight Sean Bean it. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan rewrote the script so he survived his encounter with the First Order and went on to have serious romantic chemistry with literally every other character on screen, including ones he has never met like Unkar Plott, and ones we never met like Constable Zuvio. You’ll learn more about that in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Ecstasy of Poe.

Dr. Ian Malcolm

Image: Universal

Little did Jeff Goldblum know when he uttered his famous line “Life finds a way” in Jurassic Park that he was talking about the fate of his character, who dies in the end of the Michael Crichton novel on which the movie is based. But because Jeff Goldblum is so damn charming and gave us one of the all-time great shirtless scenes in cinema history, Crichton, who co-wrote the screenplay, not only changed the character’s fate on the big screen, but brought him back to life in the books too. Such is the power of Jeff Goldblum. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s laughing about it right now.

Jesse Pinkman

Image: AMC

Imagine Batman without Robin, peanut butter without jelly, or a New Mexico roof without a large pepperoni pizza on top of it. Such was nearly the case for Walter White and his not-so-streetwise sidekick Jesse Pinkman. Originally, Vince Gilligan pitched studios that at the end of season one, Jesse would get violently murdered by a drug lord, which would make Walt go crazy, locking the drug lord up in basement and brutally torturing him every day. All of this culminated in the death of breakfast’s number one fan, Walter Jr., who discovered the drug lord and accidentally triggered a trip wire connected to a shotgun, killing them both. The studio execs obviously did not go for it, preferring instead to keep Jesse around for a valuable lesson on the nature of magnets.


Image: Orion Pictures

They may have drawn First Blood, but John Rambo was going to draw the last blood. Ever. Of his entire life. While we’re getting a fifth Rambo movie in the next year or two, Sylvester Stallone’s vengeful vet was supposed to bite the bullet at the end of First Blood. In David Morrell’s 1972 novel on which the film is based, John Rambo takes his own life at the end of a long standoff with Sheriff Teasle. Stallone even went as far as to film the death scene, but smelling blood in the water, which is to say major franchise potential, Sly and company filmed an ending where Rambo lives and the rest, as they say, is murdery history. Which I guess is just history when you stop and think about it.

Rocky Balboa

Image: MGM

Speaking of beloved Stallone characters that are inexplicably still in theaters, Rocky Balboa almost went down for the count once and for all in Rocky V. It was supposed to be the final film in the franchise and Rocky was going to get beaten to death during a street fight with Tommy Gunn. But studio executives were like “Oh HELL no.” They told director John Avildsen that “Rocky’s not going to die. Batman doesn’t die, Superman, James Bond, these people don’t die.” I’m guessing they never saw Dawn of Justice. Nevertheless, Rocky lived on and thankfully it proved to be worthwhile because Creed genuinely rules. If you haven’t seen it yet, fix your life.

Jack Shephard

Image: ABC

Remember Lost? With all of its weird bunkers and smoke monsters and polar bears? Good times, right? Well imagine a world in which Jack Shephard wasn’t played by Matthew Fox, but by Batman himself, Michael Keaton. Because that world very nearly happened. When J.J. Abrams was first developing Lost, he approached Michael Keaton about playing Dr. Jack Shephard. But this version of Jack wouldn’t have regrettable tattoos and a major plot point revolving around a well-timed Coldplay song. This Jack was going to die in the pilot, paving the way for Evangeline Lilly’s Kate to take on a bigger leadership role. But unfortunately for us, they decided to keep Jack around for the long haul, and Michael Keaton moved on to bigger and better things like Herbie: Fully Loaded. And, you know, an Oscar nomination, but mostly Herbie: Fully Loaded.

And those are some of the most beloved pop culture characters who were originally supposed to die, but didn’t. Which of these characters do you think should have died off sooner? Who else would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter (@DanCasey).

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