There’s a scene in the first Austin Powers that was deleted from the final cut where a henchman is killed and it cuts to sometime later where his family finds out. His wife and child are mourning at his passing as the result of being run over by a steam roller.
It’s an amazing scene unjustly cut from the theatrical release. It’s funny because it plays off how cheap life is in Bond flicks and action films in general. What if Hans Gruber had a sweetheart? We celebrate him falling from the building because he’s a sadistic bad guy expertly played by the incomparable, and sadly late, Alan Rickman. Never mind his many henchman that pass through this veil of tears throughout the movie. They could’ve had families right? Everyone’s got a mom.
I’ve been thinking about this as I binge Attack on Titan, a masterwork of anime, that explores mortality and the way human lives are weighed against a greater cause. The show is a work of brilliance but it’s also brutal. Most characters that you grow to love die screaming for mercy or whimpering like children as they are pulled apart and consumed by humanoid giants. There’s little valor or glory in their deaths. I honestly have nightmares about it. The characters later reflect on the many who died so they could be where they are now, they talk about the cost. The gruesome and jarring deaths of the characters are a way of bringing gravity to death. It’s disturbing because, I assume, the creators want you to be disturbed, maybe we should be disturbed. The Last of Us had a similar ethos.
This is not to say that I don’t cheer John Wick on as he plows through henchman who, presumably, had some small part in the death of his puppy. I rejoice in the bloody vengeance because it’s cathartic, it feels right. Wick is consumed by revenge and the score must be settled. All this to say that as a world creator it’s worth considering how death will impact our characters, but also how it is viewed in the periphery of the world. It could be that a lavish description of death might suit that end, perhaps shock expressed by the falling of a comrade in battle, or weary shell shocked soldiers recovering in the background. What about a news editorial devoted to your character’s bloody escapades the night before? Your world can reflect an attitude to death, and it should if death is to carry weight in its own right (and not just because main characters were killed).
Death weighs heavily on the human experience. It’s amazing how jarring it is for us while being wholly inescapable. Literally everyone goes through it, literally everyone experiences it, but it haunts us still. Does the specter of death loom heavily in your world too?
Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.
We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.