Submitted by Corodon Fuller
To be perfectly honest, the last month of The Walking Dead has fallen well short of the show’s usual standards. Knowing that the writers plan to hit major plot points from the comics in the second half of this season, it feels like they’ve been killing time until then. They’ve also been killing characters, so now seems like a good time to talk about death.
So far this season has fed a lot of secondary characters to zombies. It even pretended to feed Glenn to zombies. (We were all too smart to fall for that, though.) But the reason Glenn’s (apparent) death was so frustrating and unlikely to stick wasn’t when he (apparently) died so much as how he (apparently) died. Everyone knew he deserved better than a sudden and pointless manual disembowelment.
That brings us to the central point. Death is inevitable on The Walking Dead, but the show is very concerned with how people die and how they meet their ends. Do they get a chance to say goodbye and end life on their own terms, like Deanna did this last episode? Or do they die suddenly and messily, like the numerous Alexandrians this season who couldn’t keep up with the main cast?
The Alexandrians may not be able to protect themselves, but the hardened survivors of the main cast have taken on the responsibility of protecting them. When a red-shirt dies screaming, it represents the ultimate failure by the protectors. This is part of why TWD seems so preoccupied with making its main characters (and the audience) watch the secondary characters’ gruesome deaths. Rosita laid it out in Episode 7: “Dying is simple… The people around you dying, that’s the hard part.”
On the other hand, last episode Deanna also died messily at the hands of zombies, but we didn’t have to watch it and neither did Rick. The show didn’t inflict it on anyone because it wasn’t anyone’s fault—Deanna had put herself in harm’s way to save Rick, and it was her bad luck to get bitten. Later it was her choice to go down fighting. In fact, Deanna may have won the grand prize of The Walking Dead: of all the characters who have come and gone so far, she managed to hold onto the most hope, say her last words in peace, and go out like a hero.
Deanna’s death wasn’t a tragedy, and part of the reason is that she had escaped the trap that Rick is still stuck in: living from crisis to crisis. The challenge that Alexandria presents the survivors how to work to improve the future while dealing with the short-term issues (zombies, cannibals, plagues) that could keep you from having a future at all. Surviving today is one thing, but you also have to consider who you’ll be after you survive, and what you’ll eat.
Some of the survivors have caught on to this faster than Rick has. Michonne has been telling him since they came to Alexandria, if not longer that he needs to stop to take a breath. Two episodes ago we saw Abraham come to the realization himself over a box of cigars. Death may be inevitable, but “things are gonna go on a while before that, and that hadn’t occurred to me before.”
It’s not a guarantee, but the characters who have had the best deaths have tended to be the ones who made their peace with that dilemma. If we’re all the walking dead anyway, that’s, at least, something to aspire to.