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Why It's Totally Normal To Mourn TV Characters When They Die, According To Actual Science

Even though Missandei and Rhaegal didn't exist IRL, it's still fine to not feel fine.
PHOTO: courtesy of HBO

Did you stock up on Kleenex to brace yourself for Game Of Thrones' Battle of Winterfell? Are you mourning the Fallen in Avengers: Endgame? You're not alone: the pain you feel when your favorite fictional characters are killed off is totally legitimate.

Feeling for fictional characters has its own clinical term, "parasocial relationships," says Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles. This refers to the one-way relationships we develop with characters from films and TV showsand those feels we get when they're killed off, or even just when our favorite shows are canceled.

"The strong, non-delusional emotional connection you have with fictional characters you've known for 10 years is real," Dr. Letamendi told Cosmopolitan UK. Which explains the emotion we've all felt dealing with as many characters' (often tragic) endings in the Game Of Thrones' final season, and the wrapping up of 10 years of MCU drama in Avengers: Endgame, for example.

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Spoiler alert: not everyone in Avengers: Endgame makes it out alive. Avengers: Endgame/Disney
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"A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship, the perspective that you have a relational bond with a person, a fictional person, and it is a one-sided bond. So you feel as though it is close and meaningful. This is not a delusion. Rationally, you know that they are not speaking to you, rationally you know that they don’t know you exist, but nonetheless, you feel like you have a connection."

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"For me, I get a sense of emotional fulfillment, and for me, that feels positive, but as you can probably anticipate, this comes with all sorts of outcomes… and these relationships with fictional characters comes with a dark side, of course."

The good news is that being someone who can relate to the low feelings of losing characters you care about is no bad thing.

"Parasocial relationships are more common with individuals strong in imaginative personalities," explains Dr. Letamendi, on who is most susceptible to the phenomenon. "They are able to immerse themselves in a reality different than their own."

Clear to make the distinction that this isn't something to hide, she explains, "I also stress that there is nothing inherently unhealthy or maladaptive about strong parasocial relationships."

You should only start to worry if you feel yourself or a friend pulling away from IRL friendships, instead focusing on their fictional ones. "These do not and should not replace what are considered 'terrestrial relationships.'"

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When our favorite characters are killed off, the grief those affected by parasocial relationships feel is legitimate in a similar way to losing someone real.

"Studies do show that we experience a relative amount of personal grief and loss when characters are killed off or shows are canceled."

Which is perhaps why most of the universe was a blubbering mess when Game Of Thrones' Theon took that spear through the stomach, or Lyanna gave that giant wight a piece of her mind (and a dagger in the eye), or even when we waved goodbye to Daenerys' dragon, Rhaegal.

Courtesy of HBO
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Looks like we'll be stocking up on ice cream, canceling all plans, and planning a day of self-care when this final Game Of Thrones season comes to its end this month as we've already been told there are plenty more deaths to come.

But if you're not feeling like work will accept your request for some personal time off work when it comes to grieving your lost parasocial relationships to the archives of TV history, Dr. Letamedi has some words of sass you could try on your boss. She recently tweeted: "You have permission to feel grief, sadness, and anger. And if anyone calls you foolish for feeling these things, tell them I said to f*ck off."

When she's not helping us put our Red Wedding grief into words (#RIPRobbStark), Dr. Letamendi is the host of Star Wars podcast Lattes With Leia, which she co-hosts with author Amy Ratcliffe.


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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.