Why 'Riverdale's' Big Death Probably Won't Stick

The CW series seemed to kill off a major character, but it's likely just another in a long string of fake-outs.
Diyah Pera/The CW
KJ Apa on 'Riverdale'

Since its debut in 2017, The CW's Riverdale has cornered the market in surreal and shocking teen drama. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's willingness to embrace the ridiculous, traffic in meta-commentary and make the most of the tongue-in-cheek potential of a dark and sexy adaptation of one of the most wholesome and safe pieces of Americana — as well as a smart and successful second window deal with Netflix — has made the show one of the network's biggest successes of the past few years.

That penchant for shock, and an eagerness to get Twitter talking again after the midseason break, is likely what led to the over-the-top cliffhanger ending on the Jan. 16 episode that had fans fearful for the fate of their favorite redheaded lothario. The midseason premiere ended with KJ Apa's Archie seemingly dead after a fight with a bear, which left him in a fever-induced hallucination for most of the episode.

Remarkably, that wasn't even the most outrageous thing that happened on the episode — that honor probably goes to the lesbian Robin Hood subplot or the nuns who committed mass suicide via cyanide-spiked Kool-Aid — but it did spark the trending hashtag #RIPArchie and saw many shocked that the series had apparently killed off its lead character.

Though it would be a bold decision from the writing team and showrunner, it's far more likely that the move was meant to spark conversation and keep viewers hooked for the next episode. In fact, Riverdale has a history of almost killing off key characters and leaving their lives and fates hanging in the balance whilst fans despair.

The first season ended with Luke Perry's Fred Andrews fighting for his life after being shot during what seemed to be a botched robbery at Pop's Chock'lit Shop. Fred's fate was revealed in the premiere of the sophomore season — he survived — but that was after five months of fretting by fans. Fan favorite Jughead (Cole Sprouse) got the same treatment later in the season after being beaten half to death by a rival gang, offering up another "Is really he dead?" cliffhanger.

So, with a history of teasing the loss of major players while always keeping them alive, it's unlikely that Archie Andrews is gone, especially as Riverdale is an adaptation of the comics named after the all-American boy. But it also seemed pretty clear that Archie was dead at the end of the last episode, which offers up an opportunity. Thanks to the strange continuity of the comics, there's a route the show could go that would lean into the genre storytelling that Aguirre-Sacasa loves so much and would be a change from the last-minute reprieves the series has relied on.

During a line-wide relaunch of Archie Comics in 2013, a horror-themed variant cover led to a conversation between CEO Jon Goldwater and comics creator and lifelong Archie fan — and future Riverdale showrunner — Aguirre-Sacasa. The result was a dark series called Afterlife With Archie which saw Riverdale hit by a zombie apocalypse. It became so popular that it spawned the launch of other titles including Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Jughead: The Hunger. The latter features Archie's BFF dealing with a werewolf transformation, and could be an answer to Riverdale's cliffhanger conundrum.

The audience never saw the bear that attacked Archie, just the massive paw prints and the brutal wounds that it left on him. His fever-dream hallucinations were reminiscent of the classic lycanthropy movie An American Werewolf in London, and a potential supernatural Hail Mary could be the link to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that the Archie-verse has been looking for. Whatever the out, it's pretty clear that we'll see Red return when Riverdale hits screens on Wednesday.