At the end of Riverdale Season 3, a flash forward scene found Betty (Lili Reinhart), Archie (KJ Apa), and Veronica (Camila Mendes) standing in their underwear around a fire, burning their clothes and — most ominously — Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) iconic beanie. Fans, appropriately, freaked out, thinking that Riverdale was planning on killing off Jughead Jones. And at the time, it seemed pretty clear there were a million ways around Forsythe Pendleton Jones III’s demise. But as of the final shot of this week’s “Halloween”? Well…
Spoilers for Riverdale Season 4, Episode 4 “Chapter Sixty-One: Halloween” past this point.
In the episode, which appropriately takes place on Halloween, Jughead finds himself seemingly buried alive as part a prank perpetrated by his new classmates at private school Stonewall Prep. He’s actually just stuck in a coffin in the middle of the classroom overnight, something his fellow students admit to, while their teacher Mr. Chipping (Sam Witwer) purses his ample lips and swears he had no knowledge of the event.
The next morning, Jughead is talking to Betty on the phone (she dealt with a horror movie scenario of her own thanks to an ominous call coming from inside the house), and muses that if he ever went missing for real, he knows she would be the one to find him.
…and then we flash forward again to the Riverdale coroner’s office. Betty is looking at a body under a sheet, eyes heavy and face drooped. Next to her is Jughead’s father FP Jones (Skeet Ulrich), the town’s sheriff. The coroner removes the sheet, and as Betty and FP react, horrified, it’s revealed to be none other than Jughead — gray, cold and covered in what looks like blood.
So let’s get real here: is Jughead dead on Riverdale? Is Cole Sprouse leaving the show? Is this the end of everything we love and hold dear?
Look, to be clear, it uh… Looks pretty bad. Like, Jon Snow at the end of Game of Thrones Season 5 bad. And unlike on that show, there’s no Red Priestess around to resurrect Jughead, unless they decide to bring in some Chilling Adventures of Sabrina witches from the neighboring town of Greendale. And despite a prominent role in this episode played by name-dropped fellow Archie-verse character Katy Keene, magic (and the Spellmans) isn’t coming to Riverdale any time soon.
There is an easy out though, and it borders magic. There are plenty of ways of making a body seem dead using herbs; and the show has already clearly established the Blossom family as pseudo-witches when it comes to using herbs to make poison and whatnot. It’s entirely possible that Jughead is faking his death, down to having his body taken to the coroner in order to trick someone, or someones.
Though it’s early going, the mysterious VHS tapes being dropped at the doors of Riverdale residents could have something to do with the decision. We find out early on in “Halloween” that the tapes are hours of surveillance footage, taken from across the street of everyone’s houses. No blackmail, nothing weird, just the stoop of the Cooper-Jones residence, the facade of the Pembrooke, etc. It’s a weird enough event that Jughead and Betty’s half-brother Charles Smith (Wyatt Nash), an FBI agent, decides to stay in town to investigate. And it’s surely not going to end with America’s Funniest Front Door Videos; it’ll only spiral from there to actual blackmail, potentially or other similarly terrifying tales of the tape. Could Jughead be faking his death to throw whoever is doing this (the likely suspect right now seems to be Charles himself) off the scent?
Another possibility is whatever is going on at Stonewall Prep. This week we got told a story about the Stonewall Four, a group of students who disappeared without a trace. Jughead doesn’t find any info, and when he’s “buried” as a prank the implication is that the story was a prank, too. But then when he returns to his room, he finds Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley) is missing, for real. Over the course of the rest of the season, Jughead will be investigating someone or something called the Baxter Brothers, who has (or have) ties to his grandfather, Forsythe Pendleton Jones I (Timothy Webber). Could this be the conspiracy that leads Jughead to a cold, cold slab?
There’s a third possibility of course, and it’s that Jughead is actually dead. Would it be insane for Riverdale to kill off one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time, let alone one of their biggest stars (and one half of superstar couple on, and off screen)? Yes, it would. So insane that even in the span of the TV landscape where everyone is trying to grab headlines with shocking twists, this seems unlikely.
Instead, my guess is they’re getting around the clues that fans will parse, the ones that led them to figure out how Jon Snow would return, and why Glenn (Steven Yeun) was still alive on The Walking Dead, when they kept telling us he wasn’t, by showing us Jughead’s dead body. That’s the magic trick, showing us what our eyes can plainly see, so we can be fooled later on. To borrow a bit from The Prestige, we’re in “The Turn,” where they’ve shown you something extraordinary — something your eyes don’t want to believe — and it won’t be clear what’s happening until the twist later, “The Prestige.” We’re four episodes into the season, and at least four more until we find out what happened at Spring Break (according to showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, everything should be clear by the midseason finale in Episode 9). Plenty of time for twists and turns that can reveal the reports of Jughead’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
And that’s exactly what I’ll keep telling myself while I rock nervously back and forth over here in the corner.
Riverdale airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.
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