Wash: “This landing is going to be interesting”
Mal: “Define ‘interesting'”
Wash: “Oh god oh god we’re all going to die”
– Firefly television series by Joss Whedon
The death card usually is an indicator that things are going to get interesting, if they aren’t already.
But, as with the Firefly crew, it might not be in the fiery crash sort of way that you were thinking. After all, it’s pretty bad story telling to kill off all of your main characters in the five minutes of a tv episode.
I remember watching totally enjoyable brain candy movie back in the late 80s where a Tarot reader pulls the death card just as The Warlock sneaks up from behind and murders her. Classic trope. That was before I learned to read Tarot much less read professionally. That classic trope has gone from fairly cheesy to downright laughable.
Everyone knows that the death card doesn’t mean actual death. So much so that revealing the actual meaning has become a trope in itself. The best example of that is Lisa Simpson and the Happy Squirrel card. Makes me giggle every time…
For real, I’ve seen the death card more often at bachelorette parties than any other time. It makes sense. With a wedding, you have a whole group of people celebrating a transition and irrevocable change – a big happy one.
Even if that marriage later winds up in the messiest divorce ever, it still happened. It still changed people from who they were before the wedding. The event goes on their permanent record so to speak.
Transition and change as a death image is a common thing in both fact and fiction. To gain a butterfly, you lose a caterpillar. To gain a cupcake, you lose some flour, sugar and eggs. To gain wisdom blissful ignorance must vanish. Life altering change can be as terrifying as death itself even though change is the essence of life.
Change for the better is a grim reaper no one needs to fear.
Cue the cowbell.