Who will live and who will die? Throughout The Walking Dead, that’s always been a perpetual question. Whether it’s by walkers, other survivors, or random acts of bad luck, death is always around the corner. Sometimes it’s been surprising, other times not. Negan’s arrival has now made death a guarantee.
We’re only a short time from the start of the new season of The Walking Dead. Sunday night’s premiere is coming off of one of the most watched, and arguably most controversial, cliffhangers in recent tv history. Go anywhere even remotely near any type of media and the hype is real, with the biggest question being: who does Negan kill? My question in response to that: does it even matter?
There will be spoilers, both in speculation as well as what’s happened in the comics from here on out. You’ve been warned.
“You do not mess with the new world order…”
In issue #100 of the comics, Negan’s arrival was heralded by him killing Glenn. It was shocking, brutal, and set the stakes for what was coming next. Now that the television series has arrived at the same point in the story, all speculation was on if the show would mirror the comics or go its own path. While it has followed the major beats of the source material, it has gone its own way in many ways.
Certain characters such as Daryl, Carol, and Morgan are either expanded from minor characters in the comics or brand new altogether. Some side plots or character beats have been reworked or even ignored. That looseness was a bit jarring, especially in the beginning of the series. Now, though, that show has used that and found its own voice.
With those differences, the show has been able to both balance the inevitable with the unknown. The writers knew they had to have someone killed with Negan’s arrival. It had to match the horror of the comics and give the characters the lesson in reality that they did not know who they were messing with. Practically all the major characters were on the chopping block and speculation was rampant leading into the season finale. Yet despite an awe-inspiring villainous entrance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, the series chose not to show who was killed. Instead, it ended on the controversial cliffhanger I mentioned above.
“The day will come when you won’t be…”
Fan reaction was FIERCE. Social media and fansites went ballistic, with some serious anger being directed to the writers and creators. Over time, though, cooler heads prevailed. Regardless of why the creators went with that decision, I would argue that it ultimately worked out the way they wanted it. Hype and excitement are back to astronomical levels. People who derided the finale are excited again for the premiere. And the question still stands: who will die?
I answer the question again with my own: does it matter? To me, it’s rhetorical. The answer is ultimately no. Now, before you get angry and tell me why X, Y, or Z is the most important character and HOW DARE YOU, SIR, let me head you off. I agree with you. There are characters I don’t want to see die just like you.
All the characters that are lined up for Negan’s bat have been given backstories, character development, and come into their own as fully realized individuals. Therein lies the ultimate manipulation, because all the characters involved have their fans. Yet whoever ends up dying will serve two very specific purposes. Within the show, that death will serve as a shocking, sobering reminder about Negan and that the main characters are not untouchable. For the audience, it will serve as a shocking reminder that anyone can die and serve as a hashtag to get the show even more social media presence. These things will happen, regardless which character is picked.
“Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…”
Now you can still argue about how devastating a loss so-and-so will be or say if this person dies we riot. C’mon now. Vegas odds have been in place for all the characters involved for months. Every action by the actors and crew has been analyzed to the nth degree to give away any hints of what will happen. This isn’t the teasing or coy hints leading to the end of Season 6. Before, we knew there would be a death. Since they left it on a cliffhanger, we are now demanding it.
It’ll be edge-of-the-seat, “peeking through your fingers” tension right up to the moment to be sure. But when that bat swings down, we’ll finally have our catharsis. There will be shock. We will rant or rave all over our social media. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. We each already have our choices for who we want to die so that the other characters we really like will live.
I’ll pose a question for thought: how would you react if no one ended up dying? Obviously, characters would at some point, this is The Walking Dead we’re talking about. I mean for this specific episode. Would you feel relieved, or cheated? It would be an interesting twist, but an ultimately unsatisfying one. The show is its own beast, but it has to serve the greater narrative that’s already in place from the comics. A death has been called for, and it doesn’t matter which character is chosen, the plot will move forward as it always was planned. We are not horrified witnesses anymore, we are now spectators in the colosseum. Now let’s get ready for the bloody show.