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You've been warned - spoilers ahead - only mouse over if you're OK with that. In the film Serenity:

Wash and Shepherd Book, both major characters in the TV series, die. My question is: what is the out of universe reason for this? Both deaths seemed fairly pointless - not a heroic end but just dead - particularly Wash since he just got spiked and died without even a closing speech, unlike Shepherd who got to make a few wisecracks. Was it just to heighten the tension, since almost everyone was injured at the end and could have died as well? Or did Joss Whedon want to refresh the crew in any future series?

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    Have you ever seen anything else Whedon created? He almost always kills off major characters. It's part of his writing style. – BBlake Oct 26 '12 at 11:49
  • @BBlake: I haven't no, so thanks for the info. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 26 '12 at 11:54
  • I'm puzzled why this is attracting downvotes, so comments are welcome. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 26 '12 at 13:28
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About Wash specifically, Whedon himself said:

Dramatically, the more I worked on [the screenplay], the more it became clear that in order to make people feel that this was real, a certain shocking thing is going to have to happen.

Cited in this article which is entirely about Whedon's tendencies to do such things in many of his series, and the reasons behind it. I'm with him - heroic deaths are by now a ridiculously worn-out trope.

Note that he's also said that he would not have killed off Wash if the series had not been cancelled, so kinda the opposite of your speculation: he used the opportunity of not having to "conserve" characters to give the story more impact.

This shows a fundamental weakness of the series format: you want to continue using characters, so you can't have them die even if it would make for a better story. When writers want to have their cake and eat it too here, it leads to comic book death.

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    Quiet a few TV show do kill major characters: Babylon 5 for example. But I agree with you that they rarely kill protagonists. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Oct 26 '12 at 9:42
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    Moral of the story: Joss Whedon kills the things you love. Usually with a chest wound. – Adele C Oct 26 '12 at 14:33
  • @Sardathrion: Are you referring to a specific death in Season 4? If so, I'd say its for the same reasons. @ AdeleC: Or heartbreak (Dr. Horrible). – Corwin01 Oct 26 '12 at 18:30
  • @Corwin01: Season 2, Season 3, and Seasons 4 all have main characters deaths. Yeah sure, you can argue who is a main character and who is not... – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Oct 29 '12 at 7:39
  • As an attempt around this weakness of the series format, "Heros" was planned having a continually rotating ensemble cast with a really high body count among "main" characters. The show became quite popular very quickly (along with the characters), and the cast rotation was significantly reduced. As another attempt, "American Horror Story" has a new setting every season, in which all actors play new characters. This frees up the writers to kill off main characters while still keeping actors involved in the series. – Michael Richardson Jul 21 '16 at 15:41

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