We’ll preface this with a major spoiler warning. I’m about to discuss character deaths from the four published Red Rising books and the Sons of Ares comics! If you’re not caught up on the series, please read no further. And if you stumbled upon this article wonder what Red Rising is, you can read a spoiler-free breakdown here.
Spoiler warning aside, it’s not major spoiler to say that Pierce Brown has taken liberties with our emotions throughout the run of this series. And let’s face it, he’s probably not done breaking our hearts. With that said, when looking at the list of characters whose death left a mark on our hearts, it’s a fair indication of just how great the story is that we’re willing to keep reading despite sometimes wanting to throw the book at a wall (or put it in the freezer, Joey Tribiani-style.)
A good character must be earned. The Red Rising series earned all of these, and then some. So here they are, starting from least heartbreaking to most.
Aja au Grimmus
I know, I said heartbreaking. So why am I leading with Aja? Because frankly, of all the baddies who got what they had coming to them, Aja seems to deserve at least a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. We only ever knew the Protean Knight as the protector of the big bad, Octavia au Lune. Aja had a reputation for viciousness, and it’s likely she’s done a lot of really dark things to earn that reputation. The above said, there are always two sides of every story and we never really got to learn Aja’s. Of all of the villains, she’s one of the few whose perspective I’m genuinely curious about. Beyond that, she was a fierce and loyal warrior and it took three men to take her down. I’d like to believe that there was more to her than we ever got to see.
At the very least, she was so hardcore-terrifying that I’m kind of sad she’s not around anymore.
Julian au Bellona
It’s hard to say that Julian was a lovable character. We barely knew him and he didn’t exactly leave us with the impression that he might’ve gone on to be a great man, had he survived the passage. But he did seem to have the makings of a good, genuinely decent man. Certainly not the kind of man who would thrive at the Institute. Julian’s death was heartbreaking because when push came to face-smashing shove, he never had a shot against Darrow. But his death was undoubtedly symbolic of where good men stand within the brutality of society. Also, his death broke Cassius’ heart. So there’s that.
Quinn was pretty and could run fast. Sorry, but those are the two identifying traits that stood out most about her. Of course she was beloved by Darrow, Sevro and the Howlers, which earns her a spot on this list, but I feel like most of what we know about Quinn is from the perspective of her friends. Still, there’s undoubtedly value in that. For example, she was one of the people Sevro believed would’ve been on Darrow’s side, had she learned the truth about him. So she gets credit for that, in addition to her active role as a Howler during and after the Institute. Quinn fell mercy to the Jackal’s viciousness (after experiencing a bit of Aja’s) and her death was a major blow to Sevro and Roque (and Darrow, but let’s face it, he tends to recover quickly from these things). Had she lived, I like to believe she would’ve been a fierce warrior for the Sons, but we’ll never know.
Roque au Fabii
I want to feel more heartbroken over the poet’s death than I am, but I tend to lean more toward Victra’s way of thinking than I do Darrow’s. He betrayed his closest friends “for Gold” and then actively fought against them up until his death. We might be able to give him a pass on his actions contributing to the deaths of Lorn and Fitchner, as he wasn’t close with either of them. But he left Victra and Darrow to be brutally tortured for months and they were supposed to be his close friends. What’s worse is that, given the opportunity to do it all differently, I’m not convinced that he’d change a thing, right down to the way he went out.
But I digress. This is supposed to be about heartbreaking deaths, right?
There was a point when Roque and Darrow were as close as brothers. That broken friendship is massive, not only in the way it played out, but in what was lost. I could try to argue that Roque was a good man, but I’m clearly not in the right mindset for that right now. It may be more fair to say that — like many Golds — Roque was a product of the Society and of a privileged upbringing that likely warped his perspective on what really mattered. In the end, he lost it all and died with pretty much nothing, which is genuinely sad.
Lorn au Arcos
On the surface, I don’t think I could say that I ever came to love Lorn. Don’t get me wrong, old Stoneside was an awesome character who certainly left his mark on the story in a number of ways. Still, it’s hard to feel ok with how he went out at the end of Golden Son. Lorn deserved to die in an epic razor battle, not be cut down without so much as a whisper of a fight. It’s also probably worth pointing out that he was pulled out of retirement and forced back into the fight. He deserved better than to be killed by Lilith and the Jackal during that whole bloodbath.
Before Eo, there was Bryn, a red who lived and died for more. In her case, she died trying to protect her son. That alone warrants her a spot on this list. It isn’t until Golden Son that we learn the truth about Sevro, that his mother was a Red and secretly married to Fitchner before she was caught and killed. The full story of her death is fleshed out (and fairly altered) in the Sons of Ares comics, in which we learn that both she and Sevro were captured, and in the end, Bryn surrendered herself after tossing Sevro to safety. Her death was a major catalyst to Fitchner rising up as Ares. Once again (or once before) proving that nothing sparks revolution better than heartbreak and grief.
Tactus au Rath
Like Roque, Tactus was truly a product of his upbringing, which — from what we know — involved a fair amount of abuse from his brothers. It is for that reason that his death was so heartbreaking. On the surface, he seemed destined to be unlikable, often sarcastic and brash. And then there were moments when his humanity seeped through and it was clear there was more to him than just the attitude.
He’d betrayed Darrow earlier in Golden Son only to be on the cusp of doing something much worse. But rather than brutally murdering Lorn’s family members, Tactus just wanted to come back to Darrow. Why? I think deep down some part of Tactus believed there was a chance he could be what Darrow saw in him. As hard as it would’ve been to do, he wanted to live up to that. Maybe he would have, had he been given another chance. Alas, Lorn didn’t see it that way and took Tactus out the moment his family was out of danger.
It’s hard to defend Eo’s choices, considering she willingly turned her lashing into a death sentence, knowing she was pregnant. She not only gave up her life but also the future of her family when she sang the forbidden song. But I’m not here to debate her choices. The point is, at her young age, Eo saw more of the big picture than most of the Reds in the mines and she was willing to act on it at the cost of her life. She had a message to deliver and as her final act, she delivered it.
Eo’s death scores heartbreaking points for what it did to Darrow. It was also massively impactful on the lowColors of society at large. Of all of the deaths in the story, Eo’s seems the most necessary. It’s hard to imagine any version of the Red Rising story working as well as it does without her doing what she did. Still, it was the ultimate loss for the life she and Darrow could have had.
Pax au Telemanus
Sweet, gigantic Pax. He was a true protector, right to the end. He had some of the best moments in the first Red Rising book. And we can only wonder what impact he might’ve had later on, had he survived, especially when taking into account what a big (no pun intended) role his family has taken in the story since then. Pax died after literally throwing his body on top of Darrow to protect him. It was a tragically fitting death, especially when we consider the Jackal’s involvement. Pax was all heart, the Jackal had none. Pax was gone, but never forgotten. Not only did Darrow name a ship after him, but Mustang also named her and Darrow’s son for her old friend.
Cassius au Bellona (?)
I still maintain that Cassius is alive, despite what Iron Gold would tell us. No body, not dead, I say. But let’s just entertain the possibility that he really is gone. Because if Cassius actually is dead then he has to rank highly among the most heartbreaking deaths. He went out after a series of razor duels trying to protect the core from a war against the Rim. It would be a fitting exit for the former Morning Knight to fight his way to a bloody death, but I’d argue that Cassius deserved better than that.
Sure, he had a privileged upbringing and demonstrated occasional displays of total douche-baggery. And, ok, fine, he murdered Fitchner, which wasn’t cool. But if you really think about it, he spent a large chunk of the series grieving the deaths of family members. He was also frequently used for other people’s agendas (see: murdered Fitchner). Only in Iron Gold was he really free from all of that, and that was only because he’d put so much distance between himself and the Core, he was practically (and eventually) on the Rim.
I’m convinced that there’s more to the story with Cassius, but if he really is dead, it was a sad and lonely exit for him.
Fitchner au Barca
There are a lot of sides to the Red Rising story, and as the Sons of Ares comics have demonstrated, Fitchner’s is one of them. And not just because he’s Ares, or because his death in Golden Son was such a complete shock. Fitchner was a mostly unseen guiding force behind Darrow in the first book, not to mention Sevro’s father. We never got to see his final moments. Or we haven’t yet, anyway. (It’s possible that nightmare will play out in a future Sons of Ares comic, should that prequel series eventually overlap with the Red Rising timeline). Fitchner’s death was both shocking and a massive loss, as Sevro was left without a father and the Sons were left without a proper leader for a while. We all know how that worked out for the resistance. No offense, Sevro.
No character death in the Red Rising series hits as hard as Ragnar’s. He was the heart of Howlers and of the Sons. Ragnar was also one very large piece of proof to Darrow that things could change, or more importantly, that lowColors could change. He spent most of his life as a slave, but when given the opportunity to be a hero, he took it and never looked back.
Not every beloved, departed character in this series got a true hero’s death. At the very least, Ragnar got to go down swinging, cut down at the hands (and razor) of the infamously vicious Aja. And he did get to reunite with his sister and say goodbye to Darrow before he left for the Vale.
“I will die with my friends. I will give Eo your love. I will make a house for you in the Vale of your fathers. It will be beside my own. Join me there when you die. But I am no builder. So take your time. We will wait.”— Ragnar Volarus, Morning Star
RIP Ragnar. Gone, deeply missed, never forgotten.