Nothing can prepare your tear ducts for the raw emotions death brings to the table — not even spoilers tweeted by the deceased themselves. After all, even though it’s not uncommon for popular TV shows to kill off major characters nowadays in an attempt to capitalize on the shock value, the surprise isn’t any less devastating.
When Detective Nathan West (played by Ryan Paevey) “General Hospital” died from a gunshot wound to the chest recently — an injury inflicted by his criminal mastermind father Cesar Faison, no less — I was stunned. Like many fans, I simply didn’t see the twist coming. Even though I discovered the news via Twitter spoilers, I found my breath catch in my throat as I quickly scrambled to confirm these facts. It was clearly true, but I started to explore related trending topics in search of fan theories expressing the contrary anyway.
Much like the actual mourning process, I was in denial.
Despite the fact that Paevey remains alive and well, it was hard to fathom that Nathan’s shy smirk, the one that twitched to life whenever he’d gaze upon his on-screen love Maxie Jones (played by Kirsten Storms) with those baby blues, would no longer be part of my afternoons. He’ll no longer save Port Charles from the bad guys that roam the docks. He’ll never offer his sister Nina (played by Michelle Stafford) another supportive pep talk.
When you stop to think about all the “never agains” that come along with death, even in the fictional sense, it’s difficult to absorb and accept the wasted potential of a young life curtailed. In this case, Paevey’s decision to leave the acclaimed daytime drama was motivated by his desire to pursue his dreams and embrace said potential. Nathan’s tragic death subsequently tapped the emotions we hold deep within, evoking a visceral, involuntary reaction that one can only be attributed to genuine acting talent from the entire ensemble and brilliant writing from the creative team.
Each actor’s grief reached beyond the screen, tugging at the heartstrings non-stop. It’s hard to watch such scenes, no matter your attachment to the character specifically, for the tears appear to come from the cast’s mourning for a dynamic that can never be reclaimed. Just as the audience was suddenly forced to grapple with their emotions, the actors involved with this storyline had to bring the words on the page to life in the face of his on-screen death.
Of course, having watched soap operas for most of my life, I’ve already eased my sadness by brainstorming ways for the writers to bring Paevey’s character back from the dead down the road, should the actor choose to return. (It’s simple, really. This entire string of events was merely staged, you see. Nathan’s just in hiding — the Witness Protection Program, or something similar — in order to protect his unborn child until the threat of evil fades. It’s been done before, I believe, so it’s within the realm of possibility.) It’s the only way I’ve been able to get through these scenes without bawling alongside his fictional family.
While viewers are aware that the given death isn’t real, the brain can’t seem to convince the heart that what’s depicted isn’t true. Because we can empathize by putting ourselves in their metaphorical shoes, we feel what the actors feel — we sob when they sob, we ache when they ache, we crumble when they crumble. Even though we know we can easily connect with the actor in question via social media, five seconds after they flatline, it’s hard not to mourn someone we invite into our home each day. It’s hard not to grieve the end of something familiar.
Paevey’s character arrived in Port Charles just over four years ago, but the actor has left an indelible mark on the show in a relatively short period of time. Nathan’s one of the few characters in soap history who’s maintained their “good guy” vibe — even when he was being secretive, it was only in an effort to help his friend Amy (played by Risa Dorken) pay for her wounded brother’s medical bills upon his return from Iraq. It’s no wonder Paevey’s departure launched an endless stream of crying emojis all across social media. He was an instant favorite and, wherever the wind takes him, his devoted fans are sure to follow.
(This post originally appeared on Storia.)