About last night’s The Walking Dead premiere … aka how to react when a beloved character is killed off

“I feel so numb.”
“I had to call in sick today I’m so traumatised.”
“I’ll never love or trust anyone again.”
The Twittersphere is up in arms over the fate of a certain character in last night’s The Walking Dead.
Not even TWD producer Gregory Nicotero’s warning about how brutal the season 7 premiere was could prepare us for its shocking events.
It was that disturbing. And hundreds of thousands of tweets about it can’t be wrong.
Which raises the question: what do we do when someone whose adventures we have followed for years – devoting precious hours and binge-marathons to – is suddenly killed off?
There is a certain amount of trauma involved when heroes and heroines we’ve invited into our living rooms – and spent many a rainy day or long afternoon getting to know – disappear from our TV screens.
These characters become more than mere pixels on the screen: they become real in a way. At least, the emotions they evoke are real. And we, in turn, become invested in their fates.
We know from long experience not to get too close to any character from The Walking Dead or Game Of Thrones. Go to one Red or Purple Wedding and you know someone is going to cop a crossbow bolt/knife to the throat/poisoned chalice. Sometimes it’s King Joffrey (yay!). And other times it’s Robb and Catelyn Stark (why, George RR, why?).
Still, the heart wants what the heart wants. We can’t help but hope for the best and love them anyway.
So when they end up at the business end of Negan’s bat we still feel all the feels. (Am I being perverse by loving Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – even if I condemn his monstrous cruelty?)
And it’s not like there’s a club for Survivors Of Unexpected Major Character Deaths or anything.
The only therapy we have is venting with our fellow netizens online.
Yet perhaps such emotions are not such a bad thing. When a major character dies, it just goes to show the stakes involved … that this is serious, people. As serious as real life. To believe that fictional characters never die is perhaps to believe in the prolonging of adolescence: to put off the grim realities of adulthood, to believe that Lassie or Skippy or Flipper or the Lone Ranger always arrive in the nick of time to save the day.
If our appetite for the grittier series and boxsets has proved anything, it is that we as an audience are ready and hungry for more adult drama.
All of the top tier shows – The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones, True Blood – feature major character deaths. And we still love them anyway.
To be fair, the writers usually do their best to soften the emotional blow. After all, they’re emotionally invested in the characters, too.
As a fellow writer, I understand how writers can become attached to their creations. In a way, their lives become our lives. We imagine what they say and do, their words and actions coming to us at all hours of the day. They become our friends and confidantes. Fictional characters can sometimes occupy as much headspace as a treasured friend.
And no one wants to kill a treasured friend.
Personally I think the best way to end a TV show that potentially features the death of major characters is to be ambiguous. For example, I love the much-derided ending of The Sopranos. Now I can go back and watch the whole series again, believing that Tony lives at the end.
Then again, I also like to believe Thelma and Louise and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid survived at the end of their respective movies.
After all, you don’t actually see them die – there’s that little wiggle room in the imagination for other outcomes.
But back to last night’s shocker.
Perhaps George R.R. Martin was right when he wrote “valar morghulis”.
All men must die.
And occasionally major characters must die, too.
And perhaps that’s how it should be in the world of adult drama.

My ebook military thriller The Spartan is out now on Amazon.

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