It’s no secret that AMC’s The Walking Dead doesn’t hesitate to kill characters. In the show’s six-season history, dozens of characters have met their untimely deaths, some from an unfortunate zombie bite, others at the hands of fellow survivors. In short, The Walking Dead isn’t known for happy endings and long lives; it is a show that is watched with the knowledge that your favorite character could very likely meet their end. But even with death playing a prominent role on the show, why does it seem as if you already know which characters are automatically safe and which ones are, unfortunately, on the “die” list?
The predictability of which characters will die and which ones will survive has become such a prominent thing within the fandom that fans oftentimes joke about a character’s fate. Characters like Daryl and Rick are viewed as ones that will never die. They will live forever, and are somehow capable of making it out of any situation, no matter how dire it may seem. They are, for all intents and purposes, invincible. But other characters, characters that represent minorities on the show and other categories, don’t receive the same treatment. It is as if these characters are viewed as disposable, and it has been an issue with the show since the first season, something that has only intensified as the series goes on.
The most recent example in the show’s history comes with the death of Denise, an open lesbian who had only recently entered into a relationship with Tara, who has previously suffered the death of a girlfriend. The Walking Dead’s LGBT representation is slim, and only a select handful of characters are considered LGBT (Aaron, Eric, Tara, and Denise…also formerly Alisha), only one of whom is considered a main character, and Denise’s death only lowers the number. How did she die? A stray arrow to the head that was, as Dwight confirms, intended for Daryl. This death is reserved for Abraham in the comics, a straight, white, prominent male. To make matters worse, her death seems to serve no other purpose than furthering the manpain of fan-favorite Daryl Dixon, who, whenever he forms a bond with a female character, seems to die right before his eyes.
But The Walking Dead’s issue with character deaths isn’t just reserved to LGBT characters. The consistency with which other categories of characters die is alarming. Take, for example, the characters on the show that have been known to suffer from mental illnesses. First, there was Lizzie, a child who suffered from a severe mental illness but was unable to receive the help that she needed due to the apocalypse. There was also Beth Greene, who suffered from depression and considered suicide in season two and overcame her depression only to be humiliated for it later, both by Daryl Dixon and more so by Officer Dawn Lerner. Her story arc of overcoming these things and becoming stronger, proving that she wasn’t weak, seemed to serve fruitless as she was ultimately killed at the hands of her abuser. And then there’s Denise, who also falls into this category. She openly admitted to suffering from severe anxiety, even having panic attacks, but just as the other characters in this list, she met her untimely demise.
Then there’s the group of characters that are known to be the moral compasses of the show, the characters that always seem to have hope that things will get better, the ones who see a future for themselves and the others. As soon as a character proves to be a moral compass, fans immediately begin to suspect their impending death. Dale Horvath was the moral compass up until season two, when he died on Hershel’s farm. Hershel then took on the role of moral compass, but he met his end at the hands of the Governor. The next character to rise as a moral compass was Tyreese, but like the others, after achieving this status, his death was looming in the near future. Other characters, such as Beth and Bob, could arguably be considered moral compasses as well.
And what about the countless number of children who have died since the beginning of the series? Sophia Peletier, Patrick, Meghan Chambler, Mika Samuels, Lizzie Samuels, Sam Anderson, and Ron Anderson. Surviving in a zombie apocalypse wouldn’t be easy by any means, and your chances of survival are most likely significantly lower if you are a child, but why is it that all of these children die? Meanwhile, Carl Grimes has survived being shot not once, but two times, and his baby sister is still living. It seems that if you are a child on The Walking Dead, your death is sealed unless you are a Grimes child.
But perhaps the biggest issue that The Walking Dead has regarding character deaths rests with the revolving door of black male characters, an issue that has become a joke within the fandom but presents a much more serious issue. It started, you could say, with Morgan in season one, who disappeared after the pilot episode. T-Dog showed up, taking over the black male lead. When Oscar arrived in season three, T-Dog died. When Oscar is killed shortly after, Tyreese is introduced. It seemed as if The Walking Dead was setting itself up to have only one black male character on the show at a time, but that was quickly dispelled when Bob, Noah, and Father Gabriel were introduced. Unfortunately, both Bob and Noah died, leaving Father Gabriel as the only black male character until Morgan was reintroduced. For a show set in the southern United States, the representation of such a large racial population seems to be lacking.
What does this trend in character deaths mean, though? What kind of message does it send to the audience, whether intentionally or not? To put it simply, if you aren’t a white male who is strong and has no issue with killing, you’re a goner. If you have any semblance of hope, any semblance of right from wrong, any linkage to the person that you were before the outbreak, you’re automatically going to die. If you show any signs of weakness, you’re a liability. If you belong to any of the categories mentioned above, you don’t get a happy ending.
Furthermore, the sheer number of minority deaths, which likewise lowers the diversity on the show, means that sections of the audience aren’t being represented. Glenn Rhee remains the only minority character to have survived all six seasons of The Walking Dead, with Michonne and Sasha the next two minority characters to have survived the longest (three seasons). When was the last time that The Walking Dead was bold enough to kill a prominent (main character) white male? Season four. Hershel Greene’s death. But even then, Hershel was the moral compass, and if you want to live, you never want to be the moral compass. So let’s go back a few more seasons. Season two. Shane Walsh. He could arguably be the last prominent white male character to have died.
I’m not saying that these characters should be untouchable. I’m not saying that just because a character isn’t white, that because a character is LGBT, that because a character is a moral compass they should automatically be safe. Because that would ruin the show. Death is The Walking Dead, and every character can die. But when the same types of characters are constantly receiving deaths while other characters do, in fact, seem untouchable, is that really fair? Does that present a problem? Well, I’ll leave that to be decided by you, the reader.