The Walking Dead, Scott Gimple and Robert Kirkman have gotten the formula for success right, with the comic creator killing his darlings on the television show at opportune times. The voluntary sacrifice of Beth Greene, who does not exist in the comic verse of the dead, managed to skyrocket the mid season finale rating through the AMC roof. According to TV by the Numbers from zap2it, the viewing figures for Sunday’s episode reached 14.8 million. This particular feat is not unusual for the television show that is apparently the number one series in the country, even beating out Sunday Night Football a staggering five times this year.
These figures show that the target demographic of 18-49 are firmly addicted to the show. Death seems to be the mitigating factor here. Season four featured the father of Beth getting decapitated by The Governor at the prison assault. The one eyed villain himself was later dispatched with extreme prejudice to a shocked fan base. Both the patriarchal Greene and The Governor were popular with fans of the show and their deaths proved that the Network, show runner Gimple and Kirkman would hold no character sacrosanct in this verse and that when it comes to the grim reaper, no one is safe, presumably not even fan favorite Daryl Dixon. Although it should be pointed out that both dead men also perish in the comic.
Beth’s latest friend Daryl, the man that tearfully shot Dawn Lerner in the head, (Played by Norman Reedus who has a huge fan base that could be called fanatical at best) is another of those characters who exists in the television series but not in the comic. It should be pointed out that neither did the late “partially eaten” Bob Stookey and the same can be said of the recently departed Beth. This does not mean, however, that Robert Kirkman is carefully killing his darlings, not at all. In The Walking Dead AMC version of the verse characters in the comic world have been killed off as well.
Granted the circumstances do change a little between the two worlds. Hershel is shot in the head by The Governor in the comics and beheaded in the television show. Dale is another good example of death being varied, in the comic version of the world he survives much longer than the TV Dale. The point is, that although the quote “kill your darlings” – which is a truncated version of the original statement from British author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is “…be prepared to murder your darlings” – may really be about cutting out the drudgery and fancy bits from a writer’s own works, it does apply to characters well.
Joss Whedon is, perhaps, the one writer who literally holds that no matter how popular a character is they are not immortal. Other creators also follow this mandate with the end result that their work has a stamp of reality seldom matched by other creators on television or film. In real life God, or whoever is calling the shots, does not save the hero or make sure that the plucky, quirky sidekick is the sacrificial lamb in the battle of life. The good guys are just as dead as the bad ones, the mediocre or the less visible. The fact that The Walking Dead have taken out two of Rick Grimes’ group who do not exist in the comic world of TWD should not be taken as a sign that the show’s creators are playing favorites.
In The Walking Dead Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimple, along with AMC, are killing their darlings. Kirkman is proving that in his creation, he is more than willing to destroy not just his favorite literary masterpieces, but his favorite characters as well. The phrase, which world famous horror maestro Stephen King uses to mean getting rid of those literary efforts that make the author the most proud, or as the late Elmore Leonard used to say, “if it looks like great writing, get rid of it,” [sic] in this instance seems to mean that if you have a great character who detracts from the main protagonists, get rid of it. A dead Beth has caused a huge outpouring of grief, much more than the death of Bob, sorry fella, and the viewing figures along with the show still trending two days after its airing proves that Kirkman may be right on the money by killing off his more popular characters. It does make one worry a bit for Daryl’s safety in the show.
By Michael Smith