The Walking Dead is known for its violence. It thrives on violence. As a comically disfigured mercenary would say, “life is an endless series of train-wrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness.” Unfortunately for Rick and the gang, Hyundai paid a pretty penny to present this to us with limited commercial interruption.
And that basically sums up life after the walker apocalypse for our scrappy band of survivors. They do not get periods of happiness; only brief words from our sponsors between tragedies. Which leads us to the real point of the show: Watching these characters and how they react to and change because of all the shit they have seen and experienced.
This post contains spoilers! Consider yourself warned!
That being said, one of the key points of the show is that the survivors, and not the walkers, are the real “Walking Dead.” The true point of the story is not the walkers and how they kill or exist or like fire lakes, but rather how people react to the threat. Since the first season, about two to three years (on the far end) have passed since the walkers took over. Most people (besides the Alexandrians because they were delicate little flowers) have proven their grit and ability to survive. The rest? Walkers. Despite being a show with zombies, it really isn’t about the zombies. At this point, they are force of nature: Something to be careful with, but not the true threat. No, we have learned season and season again that the real threats to the survivors are other survivors and themselves.
But that’s a discussion for another day. We’re here to talk about violence and death. Late last week and earlier this week, Mr. Bricken expressed his concern about the need for the show to show such a gruesome death – of a kid no less – and whether it was needed, or simply used for shock value. I’m not trying to rain on his review or opinions (I look forward to them every week!) Rather, I disagree with him. As you do. What do you think this is, some place where people can shout obscenities at each other simply because they disagree, with no threat of consequence? Be real. This is the INTERNET, not some schoolyard.
But I digress. Again (It appears I would be the type to leave a duffle bag in a taxi…) As I touched on earlier, the real point of the show is to watch our favorite characters and see them evolve and see how they react to shitty situations. The violence is no different. The gruesome deaths aren’t being used to shock us because ZOMBIES, but are used so we can see how those deaths affect Rick and everyone else. Sam’s death by forehead bite (ow) is no different.
Let’s take a step back. In the first season, Jim was bitten, and we really hardly knew him. We heard a quick story about his family and how he had to watch them get eaten and that’s how he escaped. Jim was bitten, and wanted to be left to die on his own. So the gang mercifully tied him to a tree and went on their merry way. Although we did not see him die, his inevitable death showed us and Rick especially how much the world had changed. Rick was arguably still attached to his pre-coma life, up until then. He had been reacting, but this was the start of him coming to terms with the new world.
Even more prominent in the first season was Carol’s husband, fuckface. I mean Ed. Prior to the outbreak, Carol was a continuous domestic violence victim, which only seemed to increase after the rules of society went by the wayside. When Ed realized how intense walkers could be, Carol was freed. Not just from his reign of terror, but to be her true self. She was a giant step closer to the badass we all know and love.
And then, the CDC. Mr. Scientist man was ready to check out, and offered to take anyone else (consent be damned!) with him. The characters had to make a tough choice. Give in to the easy way out (I’m looking at you Jacqui) or continue on surviving in the new world. Again, much like Jim, the characters came away from the experience a little hung over, and a lot more prepared for the choices they would inevitably have to make.
Jumping to the second season, there were three major deaths that affected these characters: Sofia, Shane, and Dale. Sofia put Carol on the path to complete badassness and taking of no namesness. Dale was the last real voice of reason, and his death took away hope for Daryl (something that was compounded with Sofia’s death), made Andrea question herself, and solidified Shane’s views of the world. And Shane. Shane was the ghost of apocalypse future, showing what Rick could be if he stopped feeling (other than feeling Lori IFYOUKNOWWHATIMEAN). All Rick had to do was suck it up and make the hard choices, and he could be like Shane. Shane’s death was the first instance of Rick having to make the hard choice, and he hasn’t turned back since.
In the third season, Lori dying was the death that put Carl on the fast track to Shaneville. After euthanizing his mom, Carl was no longer a kid. He was now making the hard choice, right there with all the other adults (except for Andrea she just couldn’t even.) Carl straight merc’d that kid who wouldn’t put his gun down, right in front of Herschel. (Side note: I maintain that Carl was right to shoot that kid. Carl clearly ordered him to put his gun down; the kid handed his gun towards Carl and told him to take it. That kid was going to try something, and Carl wasn’t about to take any chances. GOOD DEADPOOL.)
Lori’s death didn’t just affect Carl. Rick went off the deep end, and almost lost his humanity. He began pig farming and doing other stuff, and things to pass the time. He was on the brink, and almost lost his grip on the world. It took the Governor’s second attack to snap him back to reality.
T-Dog’s death even meant something for someone. T-Dog sacrificed himself so Carol would live. Carol was on the way to being a badass already, but T-Dog’s death made her realize that taking chances was foolish, and in my view, directly lead to her killing and burning those two sick people.
And Herschel. In Season 4, Herschel was the first of the Greene’s to go, and spaghetti Tuesdays are still missed by all. Hershel’s beheading solidified Maggie and Glenn’s relationship, and made Rick fully embrace the Rictatorship. Rick was back in control, and wouldn’t make the mistake of giving people the benefit of the doubt for some time.
The fifth season had some heavy deaths, including Tyreese and Bob, both of which put Sasha down her own dark path. Hell, it wasn’t any specific people who died, but the completely insane and brutal way the Termites killed and drained people before cooking them was enough to make Rick decide that those people didn’t deserve to live.
And here we are, back all caught up with a lot of very gruesome deaths that had different effects on our lovely band of survivors. They would not be the survivors they are today without all of those deaths. Sam’s death wasn’t just for shock value (holy shit was it shocking – it was the first time a kid was killed on screen in this show) but to have an effect on certain characters: Jessie, Ron, and Rick.
Jessie previously killed the Wolf in her home in front of Sam, and had seen Rick kill her husband after Porch Dick killed Deanna’s husband. Her youngest was eaten alive right in front of her, and she froze. That was the effect. All the training, all the past experiences with walkers and death, and seeing her son die sucked it all out of her. She literally couldn’t even. That led to her being eaten, right in front of Rick and Ron. Rick started having flashbacks of Jessie and started acting the same way he did when he learned Lori died, until he realized that she was still holding on to Carl and wouldn’t let go. Rick was more seasoned, and knew what he needed to do, and cut off her arm to free his son.
And Ron. Jessie and Sam’s death put him over the edge. He already hated Rick for killing his dad and hated Carl for stealing his girl, and now had nothing to lose. He was ready to kill Rick right there, you know, until Michonne “saved” the day.
Think about it: Even this episode, when Carol killed the Wolf, Denise took his speech to heart and nutted up, saving Carl’s life. Carl’s near death got Rick all riled up, and he took an axe and went to work. Everyone else saw what Rick was doing and followed suit. Hell, even Eugene and Gabriel stepped up to the plate. It was glorious.
So I disagree with the idea that Sam’s death was gratuitous or simply used as a shock factor for the audience. Most of the deaths in this series have had some tangible impact on other characters, and this is no different. This is the point of the entire show: How people react and adapt to shitty situations, whether they be walkers or weather or humans or death.