This post includes spoilers for Game of Thrones and Lucifer.
Tropes are the building blocks that make up our favourite series, and many literature types include them. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, have a few different tropes: favourite children, the contrast of red and white, curses, and someone transformed into an animal, among others. Tropes from Gothic fiction include virginal maidens, weak or evil clergymen, and gloomy, older buildings for the setting (usually castles or monasteries) that have secrets of their own.
Fantasy and sci-fi literature have their own tropes as well, like magic items, hidden royalty, and innate or rare types of magic.
Tropes are not necessarily bad. However, some have been overused to the point where they are cliché. Others don’t live up to modern standards; they promote harm against others or weak character development.
In this blog series, I will explore some of these worse-for-wear tropes and offer suggestions to revitalize them.
First up: Fridging.
What is Fridging?
Otherwise known as Women in Refrigerators Syndrome, Fridging is when a female character is beaten, raped, or killed off for the sole purpose of furthering a male character’s development.
The term comes from a Green Lantern storyline, in which Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, is literally stuffed into a refrigerator by his enemy, Major Force, for him to find.
Fridging treats female characters—or, more specifically, violence against female characters—as a prop.
For example, in the Game of Thrones Season Five episode, “Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken,” Sansa Stark is raped by her husband, Ramsay Bolton, on their wedding night. But, this scene focuses on Theon Greyjoy’s pain as he watches it happen; the rape isn’t about Sansa at all. The scene doesn’t do justice to Sansa’s character and the horrible event that is happening to her. Instead, it is simply a tool to develop a male character’s journey.
How Lucifer Avoids Fridging
Amenadiel: Hey, just hold on, Charlotte. I’m going to get help.
Charlotte: I already survived death once, I think twice is asking too much.
In Lucifer Season Three, Charlotte Richards’ soul returns to her body after Season Two’s events (in which she was killed and her body was taken over by the Goddess of creation). She doesn’t remember the months she was “away,” but has a recurring nightmare in which her family is killed in front of her. She comes to believe that she was in hell.
As a high-powered lawyer, Charlotte spent her career helping criminals avoid jail, and it’s her guilt about this that sent her to hell; in her nightmare, the murderer is always a criminal she helped walk free. She realizes that she has a second chance and starts to change her ways so that she doesn’t end back in hell when she dies (again): she leaves her lucrative law firm for a “lowly” position as a District Attorney.
At the same time, Amenadiel, a fallen angel who was once the First Son of God, is trying to find redemption. He let his pride and arrogance get the better of him and, as a result, he lost his wings. He has come to the realization that angels self-actualize, meaning that he physically doesn’t have his wings because he feels that he doesn’t deserve them.
After he confirms Charlotte’s suspicions that she was actually in hell, the two of them team up to find information on the season’s villain. Along the way, Charlotte jumps in front of a bullet for Amenadiel and, as she takes her last breath, he regains his wings and carries her up to heaven.
On the surface, it seems like Charlotte was fridged because the female character died while the male character lived and made an emotional breakthrough. But Charlotte’s death was about her just as much as it was about Amenadiel. The show did not treat her like a prop until the moment of her death, but rather gave her a compelling story arc during the entirety of Season Three. The show also gave her a fitting ending as a woman determined to make the most of her second chance: she gets the reward of peace in heaven.
Unlike Charlotte’s death, Sansa’s rape is unnecessary. On top of driving Theon’s pain, one Vanity Fair reviewer noted that this scene was also used to establish Ramsay as “the new Joffrey in town,” but that there was already enough evidence of his brutality; the show didn’t need to add a rape on top of it. The review also stated that Ramsay had killed many of Sansa’s family members during the Red Wedding. She already had a legitimate reason to try and take him down. Because of this, the rape seems like overkill. It did not serve Sansa’s character, whereas Charlotte’s death enriched her story.
Questions to Ask Before You Kill off a Female Character
Characters die and get hurt; that’s a given when we’re writing exciting stories. These scenes often pack an emotional punch and stay with us long after we’ve finished reading the book. Who can forget Dumbledore’s tumble off the Astronomy Tower or the shock of seeing Joyce Summers’ body on the couch?
If you’re going to kill off (or hurt) a female character, I encourage you to ask these questions before you do:
- How was she treated before her death? Did she have in-depth character development or a compelling story arc? Does her death make sense as an ending to her story arc?
- Which character’s story benefits from her death (or from her being hurt)? Does a female character’s death focus on a male character?
Characters’ death scenes are just as important as, if not more than, their story arcs. Our female characters deserve more than to be stuffed into fridges. Let’s make their deaths matter.