The Game of Thrones Season 5 finale has left fans praying for a resurrection, and the idea is hardly unprecedented in pop culture. In fact, the tradition of a hero “dying” and journeying through the underworld, only to reemerge in the land of the living, goes back as far as Odysseus’s adventures in The Odyssey.
So, while we’re taking a break from watching for more Kit Harrington sightings, we thought we’d celebrate five of popular culture’s coolest resurrections.
Gandalf – Lord of the Rings
Gandalf sacrificing himself in the Mines of Moria, to protect the rest of the Fellowship from the Balrog, is one of the most heart wrenching scenes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels or Peter Jackson’s film adaptation.
Of course, the wizard only came back stronger for the experience. Gandalf went down fighting, literally battling the Balrog as the two fell through the earth. Gandalf died and returned to his master, but was sent back to complete his original mission. Gandalf the Grey became Gandalf the White, which was bad news for the treacherous Saruman.
Scott Pilgrim – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
After battling six of Ramona Flowers’ evil exes, Scott Pilgrim finally came face-to-face with the “final boss” of his journey, Gideon Graves. And Scott lost. And it sucked.
Luckily, Scott had picked up an extra life earlier in his journey. In perhaps the most perfect example of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “life as a video game” motif, Scott gets a do-over and a chance to learn from his fatal mistakes.
Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It looked like the end for Buffy, both the character and the series. The WB had declined to renew after the series’ fifth season. In the season, and could-have-been series, finale, Buffy heroically sacrificed herself to save Earth from gaping portal into a hell dimension, but only after giving her sister a powerful monologue about life and living it.
But then UPN picked up the series, and the “Buffy Lives’ advertising campaign kicked off. Buffy's friends preformed a resurrection ceremony to bring Buffy back from what they assumed – based on other acquaintances’ past experiences with death – to be hell. The ritual worked, but it turned out Buffy wasn’t in Hell, but Heaven.
What made this resurrection special was that it had repercussions for the characters. Buffy didn’t just get better. Much of the arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 revolved around Buffy figuring out why she should care about living on Earth after she’s already experienced rapture in paradise, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do.
Harry Potter – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The boy who lived came to die. And then he got better.
Still a teenager, Harry Potter was forced to willingly walk to his own death, knowing that it was the only way Lord Voldemort would ever be defeated. So he died, releasing the bit of Tom Riddle’s soul that had been trapped within him.
Dumbledore – either the actual Dumbledore or Harry’s memory of him – talks Harry into returning to the mortal realm, where he lays the magical smackdown on the Dark Lord once and for all.
Jean Grey – Marvel Comics
We could have made a list entirely out of resurrected comic book characters, considering how prevalent the trope is in the medium, but none embody the idea so much as Jean “Phoenix” Grey.
What made Jean’s resurrection such a big deal was just how iconic and meaningful her death was. “The Dark Phoenix Saga” saw Jean possessed by a cosmic entity and then driven to murder an entire planet. The X-Men were forced to fight for Jean’s life, after she got better, against the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. In the end, it didn’t matter. Sensing the Phoenix Force taking hold again, Jean committed suicide by activating an alien weapon that was aiming at her.
Eventually Marvel decided that they wanted the original X-Men to reunite, and used a loophole thought up by a young Kurt Busiek to bring Jean back. Marvel retconned the entire Saga to say that it wasn’t Jean possessed by the Phoenix who died, but the Phoenix imitating Jean’s appearance. The actual Jean was found at the bottom of the bay where the Dark Phoenix first emerged.
Honorable Mention: The Doctor – Doctor Who
We left this one off the list since he technically regenerates rather than resurrects, but who else in popular culture has returning from the grave literally written into their DNA but The Doctor?
What are some of your favorite pop culture resurrections? Let us know in the comments!