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Joss Whedon undoubtedly has one of the most fervent followings in the world, but the truth is that sometimes he makes it really hard to be a fan. Throughout his career, Whedon has made a regular habit of killing off characters that his audience loves, such as Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fred in Angel, Wash in Serenity, and Penny in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. As a result, when he was given the reins of The Avengers sequel last year many fans took a deep breath, instantly fearing that the writer/director would use the sequel to kill off their favorite superhero or supporting character. But can we really expect some kind of major death in 2015's The Age of Ultron?

Following up on comments that Whedon made back in February at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, where he promised "death, death and more death" in the upcoming sequel, Entertainment Weekly asked the director point blank if we will really be seeing the life of a fan-favorite character come to an end. Unsurprisingly, the filmmaker decided to play coy with his response. First responding, "Um... maybe?" Whedon explained to the magazine that killing off characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a tough sell simply because it means potentially killing the future of a solo movie franchise. Said Whedon,
"I’d have to have a really good reason, a really great sequence for [Marvel executives] to go, ‘We’ll cut off a potential franchise, that’s fine!’ They know, as any good studio does, that without some stakes, some real danger, how involved can we get? We don’t just rule it out across the board, but neither is the mission statement ‘Who can we kill?’ We try to build the story organically and go, ‘How hard can we make it on these people?’"

The truth of the matter is that while Whedon does have a reputation for killing off some of his best creations, he actually does do it for the best reasons. As he explained during his panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, not only does every death serve a larger purpose in terms of story and character arcs, each life that he takes allows him to save characters without it seeming cheap or phoney. It's a trade off that has caused a lot of heartbreak over the years, but few modern filmmakers do it better.

Superhero movies also allow Whedon a certain amount of leeway simply because comic book history is littered with characters coming back from the dead. And it's already started to happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only will we see the resurrection of Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes in next year's Captain America: The Winter Solider, Whedon has already brought back to life the one major character that he killed off in the first Avengers movie: Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson (who will be the lead character on the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series). So even if the writer/director decides to kill someone off in The Avengers: Age of Ultron it's possible that they could one day return.

If Whedon does end up killing off a major character in the film, the big question is who. Non-franchise leading characters like Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury are probably the easiest to point to, but that doesn't necessarily put a target on their back. It's true that Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans have contracts that extend beyond the Avengers sequel, but if Captain America 3 and Thor 3 don't end up being part of the Phase Three plans that means that they could potentially be put to sleep for a little while. And while Robert Downey Jr. is signed on for The Avengers 3 that doesn't mean his fate is sealed. Really the only character that seems safe is Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, and that's only because he's damn near impossible to kill.

If Whedon does end up killing one of the Avengers in The Age of Ultron, who do you think it will be? Answer our poll and tell us what you think in the comments below.

Which character do you think could be killed off in The Avengers: The Age of Ultron?