Major spoilers for The Magicians Season 4 finale follow below.
Seriously, if you haven’t seen the episode, turn away.
If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve seen The Magicians Season 4 finale. I also assume you are either still a puddle of tears or are reading this through very glossy eyes. The Syfy series that has consistently bucked convention and archetype in favor of exciting, ambitious storytelling finally topped itself, bucking the greatest convention of all: it killed off its hero.
As Quentin (Jason Ralph), Penny-23 (Arjun Gupta), and Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) ventured into the mirror world to throw the two monsters who have terrorized our characters all season into “the seam,” they were confronted by librarian Everett (Brian Markinson), who wanted the monsters for himself so he could become a god. Everett broke the doorway to the seam, but in a feat of bravery, Quentin performed a minor mending spell (his specialty) to fix the door and throw the final monster into the abyss. The one problem: spells thrown in the mirror world have a way of backfiring, and as he told Penny-23 and Alice to run, Quentin took the brunt of the spell on himself, impaled by a kaleidoscope of magical fireworks. Next thing we know, he’s in the Underworld with Penny-40, dead as a doornail.
Now, given that The Magicians involves magic and multiple characters have died only to be brought back, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Quentin Coldwater isn’t gone forever. Unfortunately, the show’s executive producers John McNamara, Sera Gamble, and Henry Alonso Myers released a joint statement confirming that they went into Season 4 with the understanding that Jason Ralph would be exiting the show. In short, Quentin is dead and gone forever:
“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 statement continues in devastating fashion, highlighting the show’s willingness to face tough questions about life and death:
“When we first met Quentin Coldwater, he was in a mental hospital, contending with painful questions of life and death. 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.”
As a massive fan of the show, and of Ralph’s somehow still underrated performance, I am devastated. The manner in which Quentin leaves the series—sacrificing himself, but then acknowledging his mental health struggles and questioning his motives in the Underworld—is an act of emotional terrorism, yes, but also so fucking true to the spirit of the series that you can’t help but applaud the bravery of all involved to end it like this.
Quentin Coldwater has long been the protagonist of The Magicians. He’s the main character in Lev Grossman’s tremendous book trilogy, and he’s been the anchor of the series as the world’s most devoted fan of the in-universe book series Fillory and Further. But as the show has progressed, showrunners Sera Gamble and John McNamara have shown an eagerness to expand the horizons of traditional fantasy storytelling. The “chosen one” narrative was dismissed as bogus. Quentin is ambitious and passionate and capable to be sure, but so is Margo. So is Julia. So is Penny. So is Fen, for goodness’ sakes.
More than any other season, this fourth season has highlighted the strengths of The Magicians as an ensemble series, with the episode “The Side Effect” devoted entirely to spotlighting the importance and agency of the show’s supporting characters. They’re people too, and they can be just as complex and heroic as Quentin Coldwater or Alice Quinn.
That underlying message was prevalent throughout this finale, and while it’s going to be extremely hard to watch this show without Quentin—sweet, naïve, cool-as-hell Quentin—it comes as no small consolation that The Magicians has a stacked ensemble. While it’s impossible to fill the void left by Ralph, or by killing off your protagonist, I have great faith in The Magicians writers that Season 5 will be no less joyful, weird, painful, and most importantly honest.
For now, though, it’s only right to feel mournful. To grieve. And who knows, perhaps Ralph comes back in a guest star or cameo capacity somewhere down the line—we did see him going through a door, so who’s to say where he’s off to?
But for all intents and purposes, as confirmed by all involved with the show, Quentin Coldwater is gone.