The main difference between fiction and reality (well, besides their very definitions) is that death rarely sticks in works of imagination. That is especially true for television, where just because a character is killed doesn’t mean they are necessarily gone forever. There are ratings to chase, after all! The following TV deaths were eventually reversed, and whether it made much sense or not, you at least had your favorite characters back.
TV Characters Who Were Brought Back From The Dead
Jon Snow, Game of Thrones
Explanation: Prayer to the Lord of Light
Jon Snow was obviously not going to stay dead after being killed in the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, but they sure wanted you to think he was. Even with the actor who plays him (Kit Harington) vehemently denying his return at every opportunity in-between seasons, fans had already seen Beric Dondarrion resurrected several times by Thoros of Myr, so it was no stretch of the imagination to figure that Jon would rise from the dead in similar fashion with a little aid from the Lord of Light.
Tony Almeida, 24
Explanation: Shady organization injected him with a flimsy concept
If you were a fan of the FOX series 24 and it wasn’t because of Jack Bauer, odds are you were tuning in for the next chapter in the life of Tony Almeida…until Season 5 when he was killed off unexpectedly (and pretty unceremoniously). His “death” seemed to serve very little purpose beyond shock value, so when he showed up again as the villain in Season 7, it was a bit confusing. Especially once we were told how it was even possible: After being injected with a lethal dose of hyoscine-pentothal and dying, he was revived 10 minutes later with a hypothermic compound and recruited into a secret underground mercenary organization composed of former special forces soldiers with grudges against the government. Sure, why not.
Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Explanation: Yanked back from heaven by a magic spell
Both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel were no strangers to major deaths, including the occasional demise of a title character. When such an event happens as it did in the Season 5 finale of Buffy (jeez, is there a Season 5 of any show that doesn’t end in death and misery?), you know the character will be coming back the next year. Hence, Buffy was revived with a magic spell performed by her best friend, Willow. The only problem was that rather than pulling her out of the Hell that is the afterlife, she was dragged away from Heaven instead. Life sort of pales in comparison after that, as we found out over the course of Season 6.
Dr. Sara Tancredi, Prison Break
Explanation: Eh, that wasn’t her head in the box
Off-camera deaths are the worst, so it should come as no surprise that one of the dumbest resurrections in the history of television started as such. During Season 3 of Prison Break, a box was sent to Lincoln Burrows from The Company with the supposed head of Michael Scofield’s girlfriend, Dr. Sara Tancredi, inside. Psych! The next season, Sara returned alive and well with yet another half-assed explanation for her resurrection. Apparently, Linc didn’t get a real good look at that head-in-a-box (probably because it was a freakin’ head in a box!) and it was actually a decoy head belonging to another poor soul. The whole thing was pretty dumb all around, but since it wound up being due to contract negotiations with actress Sarah Wayne Callies and not just poor writing, we’ll let it slide. After all, she was brought back as fan service, anyway.
Sam and Dean Winchester, Supernatural
Explanation: Death has no permanence
Truth be told, I haven’t followed Supernatural since the Season 5 finale, which ended with Sam Winchester “dying” yet again, this time tumbling straight into Hell (yeah, it’s a pretty complicated show). But it had already become a running joke by that point that Sam and his older brother Dean get killed an awful lot for a couple of guys who aren’t actually dead. Well apparently, this is still a trend, as according to TV Guide, the pair have croaked a staggering 117 times combined (and counting). Clearly death means nothing to this series, a trope usually reserved for cartoons.
On the other end of the spectrum: 8 Revived Shows That Should Have Stayed Dead
Brian Griffin, Family Guy
Explanation: Time travel (but mostly fan outrage)
As far as killing off major characters goes, this one felt the most orchestrated specifically for ratings. We’re talking about the show that will murder a character in one scene and have them back unscathed in the next. Hell, they even “permanently” offed James Woods in the Season 9 episode “And Then There Were Fewer” only to bring him back one season later with a cheap, one-off joke. So I’m not even going to get into this one too much. In a nutshell, Stewie destroys his time travel machine, Brian dies, and Stewie realizes he can’t go back and fix it. Only one episode went by without Brian before he was resurrected in the Season 12 episode “Christmas Guy” after Stewie managed to get his hands on his past self’s time travel device. Even though this was clearly just a ploy for attention, fans freaked out and demanded Brian’s return instantly after his death. When they got what they wanted, Seth MacFarlane all but confirmed exactly what I just said with this tweet.
Doctor Who, Doctor Who
Explanation: New Who
This is the only instance where the main character’s death (sorry, “regeneration” in this case) is actually the lifeblood of the series. You see, whenever a Doctor “regenerates,” they come back in a new form, reinvigorating the show every few years with a new actor in the lead Doctor role. Beyond that, I have no freaking idea what this show is about. But it’s been around for 50+ years, so its clearly doing something right in the resurrections department.
Bobby Ewing, Dallas
Explanation: It was all a dream
This is about as “bottom of the barrel” as TV shows get when it comes to bringing main characters back from the grave. Like I said in the beginning, though, ratings conquer all. After Bobby Ewing’s sister-in-law Katherine Wentworth ran him down at the end of the 1984–1985 season of Dallas, he was brought back to the show a year later in the now classic shower scene pictured above. As it turned out, the entire previous season where Bobby had passed away had been a dream of his fiancée and ex-wife Pamela Barnes Ewing. That’s either lucky or lazy, but considering the show survived several more years (and revivals) regardless, probably a dash more of the former.
Agent Phil Coulson, Agents of Shield
Explanation: Something about alien organs
This is a strange one for many reasons. First and foremost, Agent Coulson wasn’t even killed during his time on the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He actually kicked the bucket in the first “The Avengers” film, as his character originated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So how did he not only end up alive, but with his own TV series? Aliens, of course. As luck would have it, Coulson had been put in charge of a secret project known as T.A.H.I.T.I. prior to his death, with the objective being the ability to revive dead Avengers with a drug derived from alien organs and DNA. However, when applied, the drug drove test subjects crazy, so it was scrapped. Once Coulson died in action, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury decided he’d simply give Coulson the T.A.H.I.T.I. treatment, but wipe his memory of all the bad stuff. Gotta love comic book logic!
Kenny McCormick, South Park
Speaking of comic book logic, no one besides maybe Wolverine regenerates faster than Kenny McCormick, the South Park character who would literally die every episode and come back for the first five seasons of the show. He still dies from time to time nowadays, but at the end of that fifth season, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone got tired of the gimmick and killed him off for good in the episode “Kenny Dies.” They eventually brought him back in Season 6 sans the running gag, and even fleshed out how such a phenomenon as rebirth was possible in the episodes “Coon 2: Hindsight,” “Mysterion Rises” and “Coon vs. Coon and Friends” in Season 14. As I was saying, comic book logic is the best logic.