How to kill a character the right way – Walking Dead Eps 15 **** SPOILERS****
CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILER FOR WALKING DEAD EPs 15 – BE WARNED
Now, if there’s a show out there that kills a lot of characters, then that’s The Walking Dead. Surprisingly, sometimes it even brings those characters back. You might cheer if you’re part of the Supernatural fandom where when people die they return rejuvenated and “re-hymenated” (yes, that actually happen), but if you’re a Walking Dead fan you know better than to expect a happy ending. However, despite claims from the most vocal fans of the show about rioting if character A, B or C dies, none of that happened. And you know why? Because AMC knows how to kill their characters the right way.
Here’s a “short” list of people that have met their (supposedly untimely) demise on the show so far and as you read the list try to remember how many “riots” you’ve witnessed on their behalf or, if we’re viewing riot from an entirely statistical point of view, how much of a drop in ratings the show had. I’ll even tell you the answer: none. The list is shorter than it should, mostly because I’ll be choosing the ones that have actually had a decent run in the show.
1. Dale Horvath
2. Shane Walsh
4. Sophia Peletier
5. Lori Grimes
6. Axel (he gets an honourable mention cause I liked him)
and last but not least, the one man that probably should’ve deserved his own private riot: Merle Dixon.
Since he’s the most recent of The Walking Dead’s process of elimination, (it does sound a bit like a reality show, doesn’t it, except people right now are voted out of the Jail rather than out of the house) we’ll focus on the story of his death and the lack of subsequent popular rebellions in the streets.
Now, if any of you plan to write a show, make it big, have fantastic actors playing the parts and then kill them off one by one, this is how you should do it.
Step 1. Find a really great actor to play the part. If possible, hire someone to play his brother/cousin or something similar so you could use their relationship as a plot device
Step 2. Have the character be completely unredeemable. (at least in theory)
Step 3. Give the character a few redeemable characteristics, make sure they are so subtle that people will have to watch an episode at least twice to notice the little seeds you’ve planted. If at the time it’s impossible, place character in a situation that would make people sympathise, regardless of his earlier actions.
Step 4. Take the character out of the equation for a while (at least a season, but if you’re not sure on your ability to get a second season, do it for two or three episodes)
Step 5. Bring the character back and have him disturb the status quo of whatever group or situation you have established.
Step 6. Turn the character around, peel off his layers to reveal the nicer interior, but keep it hidden, except from a select group of people in your script. Make sure you rub it in the audience’s face though, you’ll need them for later.
Step 7. Give the character an amazing storyline. Make sure you’ll explore hidden depths, that you’ll build up in 45 minutes what you’ve failed to do for however long your show’s run had been, but do it expertly.
Step 8. Kill character.
Step 8.1 Bonus points if you manage to kill him again and use the one person that truly cares and loves them to do the deed.
Step 9. Pat yourself on the back and hope this list is actually going to work, or else…you know…you might get a riot on your hands.
That Sorrowful Life was the end of Michael Rooker’s journey on the Walking Dead and I have to say, out of all the deaths so far, his was the one that I regretted the most, but the one I also think was handled the most beautifully. Sure, all the other characters were important, but I liked that he wasn’t simple, that he wasn’t either right or wrong, black or white, he reminded me of a painter’s palette, all colours mixed in a dizzying array, warmth and coldness, good and evil, all rolled into one neat leather jacket. I’m not defending him, he was in most cases an ass, loud, racist, brash, selfish and the list can go on, but the few redeeming qualities that he had to begin with were perfectly exploited by both the writers and the actor that brought him to life during each episode. There are some things that you just can’t script, little gestures that make your character your own and put him in the direction you want, and Rooker achieved that with Merle. How many posts about this episode and his death as a character exist already? How many were brought up minutes after The Walking Dead ended? If that’s not a testimony of his presence in the show leaving a lasting impression than I don’t know what is.
And while I feel there might have been a million other things that could’ve been said about Merle Dixon, a thousand new plots and storylines for him, I think his departure had a positive aspect as well. Other than leaving in his glory, as a hero rather than the asshole villain that we’ve all hated at the start, it also reminded us all that no one is safe, that everyone, including those we consider the absolute heroes of the story can die and there’s nothing beautiful or glorious about it, even if you go out with a bang. It’s dirty and messy and it stirs up things that we don’t want to think about, but we’re forced to anyway. All in all, Michael Rooker and Merle will be missed, not only by the members of the cast or by the characters in the show, but also by the fans that have rooted for them both since they started in on the show, bringing to life one of the most intriguing and compelling characters The Walking Dead has brought on our screen.
A moment of silence for our man, Merle. Peace out!