Why stories sometimes need a death

the-walking-dead-posterWarning: If you haven’t watched the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, don’t read this blog post yet. . .

Despite the gut-wrenching dystopic setting of AMC’s The Walking Dead, we are big fans at my house. I’ve long since gotten over the sound effects and visual horror of zombies dining and zombies being dispatched and while I still look away plenty of times, the cinematic gore is too over the top for me to think of it as real. The characters on the other hand come across as exceedingly real to me. They are the reason I am a fan of the show. They are ordinary people trying to hold onto their humanity in a hellish environment that wants to rob them of it, and that is a fabulous setting in which to tell a story.

So naturally when a beloved and longstanding character is killed off with no warning of any kind, the storylover in me feels a pang of true grief. A season ago when the kind and gentle Hershel died in The Walking Dead, I actually shouted at the television, “Noooooooo!’ I was not mentally prepared for the death of this character, whose persona consistently reminded the other characters who they had been before the world turned upside down. There was no network scuttlebutt of the actor who played Hershel wanting out of the show (ala Sybil and Matthew in Downton Abbey)  and thus forcing the screenwriters to look for creative ways to pen him out of the story.  His sad death was as real as it might have been if our world really was reeling from a zombie apocalypse. There were no contrivances here.

You can imagine then, my response to Beth’s unexpected death last night. I yelled. I got mad. I got sad. I wanted to rewind the story and change it so she lives. Isn’t that exactly how a real death is? On the commentary show that followed, The Talking Dead, the actress who plays Beth, Emily Kinney, could barely bring herself to speak about what happened to her character because she still loved portraying her. She hadn’t been wanting a way off the show. The story, according to its writers, requires such deeply emotional twists now and then because it would not be believable that every character always survives every nasty situation in a zombie apocalypse. We would not believe that kind of story. A story you can’t believe isn’t a story you will love.  As a writer myself, I understand that.  A game-changer like what happened last night is an intense action scene that will demand many reaction scenes in the episodes to come.

The writer in me gets that.

The human in me is still sad that sweet Beth, a gentle reminder of who Hershel — her father —  had been, is gone. She felt real to me, as a great character in a great story should…

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Author: Susan

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