Here’s another way that Star Trek: Discovery will shift course from older series in the iconic sci-fi franchise — and HBO’s Game of Thrones gets some of the credit: Showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg tell EW that major characters in the series will not be safe. As in: They can be killed off (and at least one, at some point, probably will be).
“Game of Thrones changed television,” Berg says. “They almost made it difficult to fall in love with people because you didn’t know if they were going to be taken away from you. That show’s had an influence on all TV dramas that have come after it.”
Adds Harberts: “Death isn’t treated gratuitously on this show. It’s not for shock value. But when it happens we want to make sure that people really feel it.”
And the best way to generate that impact is to have a character impacted that’s been developed over multiple episodes. HBO’s Thrones — along with AMC’s The Walking Dead — are widely considered to have rewritten the informal rules for serialized dramatic storytelling. It used to be that a show could tell a high-stakes story where the core cast was in constant mortal jeopardy season after season yet nobody was ever killed off and the audience just accepted that. Nowadays an action drama that’s free of mortal consequences doesn’t feel very credible.
The update comes on the heels of EW reporting how Star Trek: Discovery has more leeway to depict human drama among the Starfleet crew members than previous shows in the franchise have been given in the past, as well telling a more heavily serialized tale. The producers’ goal is a series that takes advantage of modern Peak TV dramatic storytelling techniques while still honoring Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic future-shock idealism.
Across the franchise’s 700 TV hours, there are instances where Trek series regular characters have died in previous editions of the show, of course. Such examples were typically due to a non-creative backstage reason, or followed by a speedy resurrection, or when a show was approaching its series finale. For instance, in The Next Generation, Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) was killed off in the show’s first season because Crosby wanted off the show, later complaining she was “miserable” because producers didn’t give her character enough to do (“I didn’t want to spend the next six years going ‘aye, aye, captain’ and standing there, in the same uniform, in the same position on the bridge,” she once said). Or Dax (Terry Farrell) on Deep Space Nine, who was killed off when her contract expired after six seasons and the actress quit the show. Or Kes (Jennifer Lien) on Voyager, who was written off the show after producers reportedly thought her character just wasn’t working (and made room for Seven of Nine). Or Enterprise’s Trip Tucker (Connor Trinneer) who was sacrificed in the show’s very last episode. Some are tragic Trek series regular deaths, but a bit different than the Discovery team’s long-form narrative approach to infuse an ongoing storyline with life and death stakes.
Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) as a brilliant Starfleet First Officer — the first human educated on Vulcan — who’s forced to make an impossibly difficult decision which impacts the entire Federation. The series also stars Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif and Mary Wiseman.
For more on Star Trek: Discovery, here is everything we know so far.
Star Trek: Discovery will debut Sunday, Sept. 24 (first on CBS, then shifting to CBS All Access streaming service; Netflix internationally).