‘The Walking Dead’ And Why We Grieve TV Characters’ Deaths
Spoiler Alert: This post covers the November 30 midseason finale of “The Walking Dead.”
For fans of TV series “The Walking Dead,” the midseason finale usually means one thing: Sh*t is about to get real.
It’s worth noting that the series’ plotline trajectory could easily be graphed with highs, lows and many plateaus.
The show is known for lulls, which make it seem like nothing happens except subtle character development mixed with explosions of zombie innards and then, BAM, someone is killed off or tortured or disembodied.
“The Walking Dead” likes to gently pull its viewers into a state of serenity just before an ambush.
The November 30 episode was no exception to this rule. Beloved character Beth, played by Emily Kinney, met an unexpected death during a showdown with Officer Dawn Lerner, played by Christine Woods.
The tragic scene possessed even more ammo when we witnessed the emotional reaction of Daryl Dixon, who is undoubtedly a favorite character among fans.
The dynamic that was developing between Daryl and Beth was altogether intriguing and some viewers even speculated that the two would enter a romantic relationship, despite their age differences. Hey, it’s the apocalypse, right?
Of course, the real one-two punch of Beth’s demise was the devastation of her sister, Maggie, which we saw in the episode’s closing scene.
We know Maggie as a character who is continually strong in the face of tragedy, after having already lost so many family members. Watching her break down is simply gut-wrenching.
In the post-episode talk-back series, “Talking Dead”, writer and producer Robert Kirkman went into more detail about the difficult decision process that goes into killing off a character.
Kirkman explained that the death of a character doesn’t just remove that character from the plot, but it also takes the actor out of their television family. He described it as a process that is not to be taken lightly.
He further explained that the death of a beloved character is, of course, tragic, but it is also interesting and paves the way for further development of characters left behind.
As viewers and fans of the show, it’s easy to agree with that sentiment.
When a hated character dies, the viewers can all experience that victory together. We high-five one another while watching; we cheer on the assassin. The death of the governor was a great example of this, back in season four.
When a hated character dies, the aftermath includes a calm settling from the survivors. The question becomes, “What’s next?” and “Who will be the next villain?” In a show like “The Walking Dead,” we know there is always another chapter of evil.
However, when a cherished character dies, the experience of both the viewers and the remaining cast members is completely different.
As the audience, we experience our own natural sadness that comes with saying goodbye to a beloved character, but we also see that grief through the eyes of the other characters on the show.
With Beth, we are allowed to note the bitter irony of her death, remembering her desire to commit suicide a few seasons earlier. We’ve also been a part of her growth since then, having watched as she transformed from a naïve girl to a caring, strong and, at times, maternal young woman.
In addition to all this, we get to share the other characters’ reactions. We will see, in future episodes, how Maggie handles the loss of her baby sister. We have yet to know how this will affect her own strength and what it might do to her other relationships.
Daryl is a fan favorite because of his resilience and his fierce loyalty. We know, having seen the developing companionship between Daryl and Beth, that this will be almost as hard on him as it will be on Maggie.
Ultimately, this roller coaster of emotions is part of why we love this series. We appreciate the catharsis that comes with tragedy because we’ve been a part of these characters’ stories since the beginning.
We allow ourselves to cry while watching our favorite characters die because it makes us feel like we’re part of something greater than ourselves.