If any comic book was most infamous for its death scenes, it would be The Walking Dead, but writer Robert Kirkman has a reason for the high volume of character deaths. While the franchise continues to be a staple of pop culture and is considered a classic to this day in large part due to its masterful storytelling and complex characters, audiences best remember it for its utterly shocking character deaths. At every turn of every panel, it truly felt like any character could die at any moment.
Characters primed as the main protagonists of the series like Rick Grimes and Shane (the latter of whom dies in just the sixth issue) are ranked among the most surprising deaths that the comics had to offer. Meanwhile, beloved characters like Glenn bit the dust in the most brutal of ways. It’s a tricky task for a writer to let his readers believe that anyone could meet their demise at any moment.
Robert Kirkman does so with ease throughout The Walking Dead, but gives his readers insight into his writing technique in The Walking Dead: Deluxe #51 by Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, and Dave McCaig. The issue features an interview with CBR, where Kirkman explains that he kills characters in situations where it seems unlikely that they would survive it, rather than because their time is up narratively. As he explained:
For the most part, most people die because that’s what would realistically happen. I recently killed off a big chunk of characters, not to shock people or shake the book up…but because a situation had arisen in the book where it would loigically, be very hard to survive.
That would explain why certain characters seem to die out of nowhere, as even Kirkman wouldn’t expect it until he writes the scenario and determines a character isn’t likely to survive it. When the stakes are at their highest and death seems inevitable, that’s when Robert Kirkman kills them off.
There’s A Method To The Walking Dead’s Madness
On paper, this is such a simple concept, but in a realm where anything is possible as long as the writer allows it, it’s almost admirable to see how Robert Kirkman plays so strictly by the rules of logic. It puts moments like the prison massacre into a new perspective. In a moment like that, Kirkman kills a bunch of people with little sentimentality for those who fall in the midst of battle, simply because this is naturally a situation where a lot of people would die.
Kirkman allows himself to write in terms of realism as much as character. Though it may lead to some unresolved plot lines and character arcs, it is actually is perfect for a world where there usually aren’t happy endings waiting for these characters. This bleak outlook speaks to the core of The Walking Dead as a whole, a world that never explains how the zombie outbreak happened, mostly because it’s so unlikely anyone would be able to find out, which isn’t unlike a recent real-life outbreak that can’t be traced back to a real explanation. His approach may not pave the way to the most satisfying of moments, but neither does real life in general.
Robert Kirkman always took a bleak approach to write The Walking Dead, but it’s nonetheless a realistic one.
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