[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 4 finale episode of The Magicians.]
The Magicians has always been an utterly unpredictable and sometimes disturbing series since it messes with magic, gods, time, and everything in between, but the show just pulled a move we genuinely never saw coming.
In its Season 4 finale, The Magicians killed off Quentin Coldwater (Jason Ralph), and not in the "this is a magic show where people come back to life all the time, so no one's really dead-dead" kind of way. It's in the real and very final "holy f-- they just did that" kind of way.
After sealing the monsters away and throwing them in the Seam, Quentin sacrificed himself to make sure they could never return and to kill Everett (Brian Markinson) so he could never become a god. In the end he actually fell prey to a mirror-world ricochet of his own magical discipline: minor mending. The final 15 minutes of the finale followed Quentin through the Underworld (he was the one Penny greeted down there earlier this season!) as he learned to let go of life and say goodbye to his loved ones, after which he stepped through a portal into the afterlife, never to be seen again.
Executive producers John McNamara, Sera Gamble, and Henry Alonso Myers released a statement about the decision to write Quentin out of the show:
"The Magicians has always been a fantastical show about real life — with a generous dose of magic to keep it all feeling less like bitter medicine and more like raiding a weirdly delicious pantry at 2am (probably while a bit drunk). That has been our approach to Season 4, knowing that we want to explore the most confounding, harsh and messy aspects of adulthood in our story. At the top of that list: facing your own mortality, and experiencing the death of someone you love.
Before we began this season, we entered into a creative conversation that included the writers, executive producer and director Chris Fisher, Lev Grossman, our partners at UCP and SYFY, and Jason Ralph. The choice for Jason to leave the show was arrived at mutually, with much respect for the story, fans of the show, and a shared sense of deliberate, essential creative risk. We want The Magicians to visit strange and fascinating new places, and we know we can't get there by treading the same garden path others have before us. So, we did the thing you're not supposed to do — we killed the character who's supposed to be 'safe.' In real life, none of us are safe."
The sudden and devastating loss of Quentin could have been left at him sacrificing himself for the good of the world and his friends, but The Magicians has always been a little more thoughtful than that.
When Quentin went through the Underworld process of revealing "Secrets Taken to the Grave," we got a much-needed moment of introspection. As a character who struggled with mental health and suicidal tendencies, Quentin was allowed a moment to reflect on whether he died in a noble act of sacrifice or whether he'd simply fallen prey to those dark thoughts and finally found a way to kill himself. The resulting scene, in which he watched his friends bid him farewell with a sad rendition of 'Take On Me" by A-ha made it clear to him that his life was not thrown away, and if given the choice, he would never have left behind the people who loved him so dearly.
"When we first met Quentin Coldwater, he was in a mental hospital, contending with painful questions of life and death," said McNamara, Gamble, and Myers in their statement. "This season, we saw the rare opportunity to complete his arc, bringing him to a real understanding of the incalculable value of his own life. Quentin, and we, got to see the truth: there is no such thing as a minor mending. The smallest action can ripple out in powerful ways we may never fully know."
And thus ends the story of Quentin Coldwater. When The Magicians returns for Season 5, it will never be the same.
The Magicians first three seasons are streaming on Netflix.