One of the controversial things about The Walking Dead is that characters die at a shockingly quick rate. Like a really, really quick rate. So quick I can’t even finish my biscuit. Even long-established characters like Glenn, Carl and protagonist Rick Grimes, have been killed or shipped off unto greener zombie free pastures. This can easily result in apathy from the audience when it comes to the fate of their beloved characters. Why should we care about anyone who dies in two episodes? There’s no emotional catharsis from it. But there’s an important reason why they have to do that: because The Walking Dead has a large cast of characters twiddling their thumbs most of the time.
One of the most common elements of a story is its characters. Themes are usually explored by having the actors of the story do things. By making them have wishes, desires, needs and then having them act upon it. The Walking Dead has always had a very large cast. At least 15 bigger characters and dozens of side-characters with their own side-quests in every given season. However, every episode can only have a limited amount of scenes with characters acting in it. When you see some of the main characters doing long heists or scavenging trips, the wind in their hair as they mow down zombies with guns and crossbows never running out of ammo, you can’t really focus on some of the newly introduced characters back at the fort. Leading the place, doing some blacksmithing, forgetting names, engaging in pointless teenage drama, trying to kill each other out of petty jealousy,… The more human elements that the show tries to wa- spend time on to remind you these characters are still human beings.
Because of this we get a large cast of lovable characters who are important enough to the show, but who also only appear in a few scenes every season. Important examples are (*inhales*): The King, Enid, Tara, Jesus, Gregory, Alden, Beth, Axel, Sophia, Noah, Aaron, Spencer and even Maggie in season 8 and 9. Even my favouritest character, Eugene, the staunch warrior of comedy in an otherwise bleak world, often spends his time in the background beating his meat and some random machines until his expertise is required.
Centre of Attention
And in some way this makes sense. As a show The Walking Dead has evolved from a small group of survivors to larger groups of human settlers (numbering 30 to 100 people per community) trying to rebuild society. Add new groups of people, new antagonists with their fair share of defectors and even the occasional small group of survivors joining the new communities and the list of characters can explode exponentionally.
But the main problem is that almost all the characters are introduced, have some screen time while they’re necessary for the plot, explore their limited character arc, go on a trip with Rick and Carl, share some non-infected food, hold hands, stare into each other’s eyes, lean in for the kiss and then get ignored when new characters and new character arcs are introduced to the show. An example of this is Eugene getting more focus re-developing his courage in season 7 and 8 as a member of The Saviors and then only being a constru-mecha-ngineer in season 9. This is why a lot of characters spend their time drinking cups of lovely zombie tea in the background during the story, reminiscing about the good old days when they were relevant to the plot, daring to dream and hope that one day maybe, just maybe, they can get a few of those precious air-time moments again. Only to then die when the plot demands it or when the actor portraying that character gets sick and tired of all those drinks while new acting jobs are available. Like our Tom “Oh-my-god-he-looks-like-a-handsome-Jesus” Payne.
One of the easiest ways to deal with this large group of people is to systematically kill off old characters as they introduce new ones. Not only is it very realistic in a zombie world where we are not the apex predators anymore, but the audience will also gasp for air whenever it happens. Especially if it happens to characters the audience has marked as untouchable, like Glenn in the finale of season 6.
Anarchy! Violence! Excitement!
But of course this trick has its limits. As stated before killing off too many characters in the random way of life’s anarchy results in the audience not giving a ding-a-ling anymore about the characters. To the point that Shiba, the CGI tiger, gets a more emotional sob when it died heroically. So what’s the show to do? My guess would be to try and focus on plotlines requiring many characters all at once. The show has plenty of opportunities to do this, but instead of following my sage advice, even though I’ve written plenty of letters!, it just introduces more side-characters nobody cares about while leaving plenty of already-established characters at home. The first half of season 9 is a perfect example of this, as the plot demanded a large group of people to repair the bridge. But instead of using many older characters the showrunners introduced new Saviors who promptly get killed off throughout the season. While understandable because it’s at the behest of Maggie, it doesn’t allow the show to recycle its characters.
So what does this mean? Well, as I’ve already stated in my previous The Walking Dead article: it doesn’t matter. The show has run its course. This is just one of the many flaws that the show has to deal with and because it follows the comic series (for now… Dun dun duuuuun) this side-effect of many interesting characters being underexplored and only used when necessary will remain a thing. I don’t think the show can do anything about it, at least not with the writers they currently employ. And alas, there is naught that I can do about it…
What? It’s true! I’m not a writer or showrunner of this television program! I’m just a weird Maddy analysing and sending 9,371 letters to AMC in the hopes that one day they’ll listen to me! So far it hasn’t happened, but fear not. I am writing another letter right now!
- When Does the Cycle End? – Discussing the Main Issue With The Walking Dead
- More Than Just Bullies With Guns – Re-imagining the Saviors
- Come At Me Bro – Why I Hate Lyanna Mormont
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the TV-series The Walking Dead and its comic counterpart. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Walking Dead belongs to Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Image Comics and AMC.