Nick “Goose” Bradshaw’s (Anthony Edwards) tragic death in Top Gun wasn’t Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s (Tom Cruise) fault, it was Tom “Iceman” Kazansky’s (Val Kilmer) instead. The 1986 action-adventure film directed by Tony Scott was all fun and exciting in its first two acts, but its vibe changed drastically after a tragic accident during a training session claimed Goose’s life. It was a defining moment in the film as it functioned as a turning point for Maverick who always had a devil-may-care attitude when it comes to flying.
Introduced as flying partners, Maverick and Goose’s friendship went beyond their professional careers; they’re also great friends outside of work. Top Gun effectively established this when Goose’s family came to the academy to visit him. Goose’s wife, Carole (Meg Ryan) was particularly fond of Maverick, teasing him about his previous love life in front of his new girlfriend, Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (Kelli McGillis). Even when Goose died, Carole didn’t blame Maverick for what happened. Instead, she gave him words of encouragement to continue flying knowing full well how difficult it would be for him pursuing his dreams as a Naval aviator without his trusted RIO.
This didn’t help Maverick, however, and it might have even made things worse for him thinking that it was his fault that Goose died. While he has cleared by the board of inquiry, Maverick continued to harbor regret with what happened to Goose — so much so that he even considered walking away from the Navy. It’s understandable that he would feel this way considering that he was piloting the plane he and Goose were riding when the latter died, but all things considered, the accident wasn’t his fault — it was Iceman’s .
As the top two trainees from their TOPGUN batch, Maverick and Iceman with their respective RIOs went into the tandem training session motivated to come out as the winner. The exercise put them on the same team against their superiors, but points were earned individually. Both eventually got in the position to shoot LCDR Rick “Jester” Heatherly (Michael Ironside) giving them a shot at securing victory for the trainees. While Iceman got in front of Maverick and Goose, he couldn’t get a clean shot. He was repeatedly asked to move out of the way so Maverick can take over, but he stubbornly stayed, trying desperately to take down Jester and prevent his direct competitor to score points over him. No matter how hard he tried, however, Iceman just couldn’t get a lock on Jester’s plane, forcing him to ultimately break off. Unfortunately, by the time Iceman got out of the way, it was too late; Maverick was too close on his tail, causing him to fly directly through the jet wash. This resulted in his aircraft suffering a flameout of both engines ending in a fatal flat spin. While Maverick was able to safely eject, Goose didn’t; he hit the canopy on his way out with the intense impact causing his death.
Had Iceman given Maverick the opening when he was first asked to, the whole accident would’ve been prevented. Aside from the tragedy caused by his stubbornness, Iceman’s actions also highlighted how individualistic he is — something that Maverick got in trouble for in their previous exercise after abandoning his wingman, Rick “Hollywood” Neven (Whip Hubley) to chase CDR Mike “Viper” Metcalf (Tom Skerritt) on his own. Iceman should’ve been reprimanded for this — at the very least, he should’ve been scolded or had his points reduced, otherwise, he should’ve also been investigated like Maverick. However, that wasn’t the case; not only was he able to get away with it scot-free, he also emerged as the top pilot from their TOPGUN class.
At the end of Top Gun, Maverick seemed to have come to terms with Goose’s death, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Top Gun: Maverick will revisit the tragedy with the introduction of Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). Perhaps this time, the sequel finally acknowledges the role Iceman played in Goose’s demise.