Writers on Star Trek: Next Generation were smitten with the idea of killing of Will Riker.
Jonathan Frakes almost lost his character on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not really, but still, kinda. The idea that Rene Echevarria and Jeri Taylor wanted to do was to introduce Thomas Riker, an exact duplicate of Will Riker, and then kill off Will. Buzzwords like “rejuvenated” and “energetic” are not good enough to convince an entire audience to accept a beloved character’s death, even if there are only subtle changes.
In the book The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross, the plan was to use Thomas going forward but the plan was scrapped in both seasons six and seven. Ultimately the ideas were shot down by executive producer Michael Piller, and Star Trek’s big boss Rick Berman for different reasons. In Piller’s case, he felt it was just wrong to kill off such a beloved and widely heralded character. In Berman’s case, it was pointing out that the move would affect the movie franchise which was not far off from being made.
The idea would’ve been just a bad one. While sometimes a show can be pepped up by replacing or remodifying a character, changing one so beloved like William Riker is show-suicide. Fans would’ve been furious and may have abandoned the show in droves. He was also not a character that was by any means dry or listless. He was very much the metaphorical gunslinger of the show and wasn’t one to lack any type of dynamic.
It would’ve been a risky and unneeded move. Especially since Thomas showed to be relatively forgettable, having been sent to a Cardassian work camp in Deep Space 9 after just one episode.
The idea of killing off a character and replacing him with an exact duplicate did happen in a Star Trek: Voyager episode “Deadlock”. The season two episode saw two Voyagers exist at once due to a spatial rift. Kim on the first Voyager dies, and the second Voyager is being bombarded by aliens, forcing that version of Kathryn Janeway to self-destruct the ship, but not before sending her Kim over to the first ship. While Kim was popular, the series was also in its second season and by no means had established anyone as popular as Will, so killing Kim off and replacing him with an alternate-Kim wasn’t a problem.
Except for the fact that this is an idea that’s never revisited again in the series.
Let’s just be thankful that we got seven seasons, four films and a spin-off featuring the real William Riker.