In the pre-release hype for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, MCU fans were convinced that one or more of the team were going to shuffle off this mortal coil. After all, Avengers: Endgame ended with the deaths of Black Widow and Iron Man. For this final installment of the Guardians trilogy, we’d have to lose at least one of the team, right? Everyone was betting heavily on Rocket or Drax biting the dust, although there was some chatter that Star-Lord himself might go. Gamora already died once, so she seemed safe. But the rest? Take your pick. They were fair game. Well, not so fast.
Reports of the Guardian’s Deaths Were Greatly Exaggerated
In Vol. 3, both Rocket and Peter Quill almost die. Heck, Rocket technically does die. He gets an afterlife moment and everything. But in traditional comic book style, Rocket very quickly got better. There was also a “psych!” moment with Peter Quill where he seemingly passed on, but he too was rescued from the jaws of oblivion by one Adam Warlock. To the shock of many, none of our beloved Guardians bit the dust. Instead, Peter returns home to Earth to finally connect with his grandfather, and Rocket leads a new Guardians team, with Groot by his side. Gamora rejoins the Ravagers, and Drax and Nebula become the caretakers of Knowhere. Mantis leaves for parts unknown.
James Gunn surprised us all, by not killing off a single main member of the Guardians. Did the man who claimed that Vol. 3 would definitely end this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy prank us all? No, not even a little. The third Guardians film absolutely ended the sentence with a very definitive period. This version of our beloved space misfits is over. We’ve been so conditioned by pop culture that climaxes of stories must have big character deaths, that we now think that’s the only kind of ending that works. But life just isn’t like that. Major life endings happen all the time without a death.
Death Is Not the Only Way to End a Story Dramatically
When we’re in high school or college, we form a tight-knit group of friends we see every day. Then, you graduate, and that iteration of the friend group is over. Oh, you may all still be friends. That happens of course. But the “in the trenches” bond of being together every day is now over. It is an ending. The same goes for friends you make in certain jobs, or in the military, or in any other similar situation. When the circumstances that brought the group together change, and people go in separate directions, that’s an ending. Nobody needs to die for those endings to happen.
James Gunn completely understands this. The end of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 is bittersweet, and we know a lot of folks out there who were watching it cried buckets. And you didn’t need anyone to die to elicit that emotion. Just knowing that this found family was going their separate ways was enough to know that this was the end of an era, and even if there is another movie with the name Guardians of the Galaxy, it won’t be these guys again. Besides, Gunn probably realized the Avengers saga ended with two major deaths and a big funeral for its main hero, Tony Stark. If Guardians of the Galaxy ended with the exact same tone, it could have felt like a huge ripoff.
Star Trek: Picard’s Ending Had Similar Vibes
Guardians Vol. 3 came quickly on the heels of another well-received ending where fans were convinced someone was going to die. We’re talking about Star Trek: Picard’s third season, which saw the reuniting of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew for one more adventure. Most watching fretted on social media that Picard, Worf, or one of the other Enterprise-D crew members would die heroically, giving the series a bittersweet ending. But instead, all of our main characters survived, and they close out the show playing a round of poker together. It’s still bittersweet, because we know when that game is over and that they will all return to their separate lives. Their days as the crew of the Enterprise are over. It delivered emotions without having to kill a single character.
Of course, sometimes you so need big deaths in a narrative. We can’t imagine a version of Return of the Jedi where Luke and his dad get to live happily ever after like nothing ever happened. And say what you want about Game of Thrones, but it would have felt really weird for that show to end without some major character deaths. And originally, Dexter ended with our titular serial killer getting away with it, and it just felt wrong. They needed to reboot the show to fix that much-hated mistake. But while sometimes the narrative calls for death, it simply isn’t always necessary. With Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3, James Gunn proved that you don’t need a funeral finale to have an emotional and cathartic ending. There’s more than one way to say “The End.”