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Why we will really mourn the deaths of beloved 'Game of Thrones' and 'Avengers: Endgame' characters

"Avengers: Endgame" stars Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner promote the movie on April 15, 2019, in Seoul. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images for Disney)
Avengers: Endgame stars Brie Larson, Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner promote the movie on April 15, 2019, in Seoul. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images for Disney)

Might want to keep a box of tissues handy this weekend.

Fans of both Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame are bracing themselves for the end of some of their favorite characters. No, that’s not a spoiler, just a fact as the blockbuster superhero franchise and the beloved HBO series wrap up. The Emmy-winning show’s Sunday night episode marks its halfway point in its final season — teasing an epic battle between the living and the dead — and the latest Avengers concludes what Marvel is calling “The Infinity Saga.” The outlook on everyone making it out alive is, well, not good. Even the characters that do will no longer be part of viewers’ lives in the same way.

Human behavior expert Patrick Wanis tells Yahoo Entertainment that some fans will need comforting as they adjust to this pop culture development, because it’s not as simple as saying, the characters aren’t real. For people who regularly follow Jon Snow or, more likely, a less important character who will meet his or her end sooner, the character is real.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow and John Bradley as Samwell Tarly in <i>Game of Thrones</i>. (Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)
Kit Harington as Jon Snow and John Bradley as Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones. (Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

“We’ve formed a one-sided relationship with this character,” Wanis says. “We believe that they exist. We believe that we actually know them. We believe that we understand them or we know how they think, and that is known as a parasocial relationship.”

It’s the same thing that happens with celebrities. We find someone to whom we relate, someone with the same values, in this case, maybe justice, or maybe someone in similar circumstances, and we form a bond with them. We watch them grow and change, maybe we even quote them. They become part of our identity, as we think ourselves as a fan of Game of Thrones, the Avengers or, shudder, both.

“The brain can’t differentiate from that relationship with a fictional character and a relationship with a real person,” Wanis explains.

The result is that viewers have empathy for those characters just as they would for a person in real life.

Psychologist Danielle Forshee explains that the ability to share and understand the feelings of others, such as a TV character, is a survival mechanism.

“When we feel we know someone and like them — or the character they play on TV— we are more likely to feel an attachment toward that character, eliciting an empathy response,” Forshee says. “Although, the intensity at which we perceive the feelings of loss and pain while watching deaths or violence on TV versus witnessing it in person are less intense.”

So while the character isn’t real, his or her death still feels like a real loss.

It’s a chance that audiences are willing to take, as they grow more and more interested in the storyline of a show or movie.

The way to cope with that loss, Wanis says, is the way you would cope with one in real life, beginning with acceptance of how this is affecting you. And that it truly is affecting you. After all, audiences spend hours upon hours over the years with characters in our favorite entertainment.

Wanis suggests fans connect with one another to talk about their loss.

He says they should also look inward to consider what a character gave to them.

“How did this character change the way you looked at life?” Wanis says. “How did this character make you feel better about yourself, either giving you great confidence, greater belief in your own capabilities, giving you more courage, a greater sense of bravery? Look at all the ways that this character contributed in a positive way to your life. Write those things out, because they are really meaningful.”

Finally, have hope.

“And hope is about saying there’s still lots of great things in life,” Wanis says. “Therefore, let me continue to immerse myself in life and to set new goals. So, hope isn’t just wishing that things will get better. It’s believing that things can get better and taking action by setting goals that you will actually strive to realize.”

One goal, for instance, could be to replace your pop culture obsession with one of the many other options premiering soon.

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