One of the dynamics of mainstream television is that audiences almost invariably demand a relatively stable cast of characters who are likeable and/or in some way sympathetic. Before THE WALKING DEAD had ever aired a single episode, I was curious how commercial television would adapt a property in which the central characters are sometimes quirky in ways that would be considered quite unsafe for a mainstream audience, are often driven to do some pretty terrible things, and tend to regularly die under pretty horrible circumstances. TWD is, in general, a story where a lot of really horrible things happen on a regular basis, things a middle American audience would find quite unpleasant. If one wants a series to be liked, all of this is considered very dangerous territory to explore. It would take a show with a lot of guts to risk alienating an audience by putting such material before it.
Alas, for a show that so often showcases guts, TWD proved to be
utterly lacking in this more metaphorical species of innard. It's a
subject I covered in my first article on the series, and one I've covered repeatedly in my subsequent work.
In bringing TWD to television, gone was the sheepish, reserved
beauty Carol who became creepily attached to people, suggested a
three-way marriage with Rick and Lori, and, unable to find the love she
so craved, eventually committed suicide in a particularly grisly
fashion. Gone was the 20-something Andrea's relationship with a Dale
four decades her senior. Gone was the boyfriend-snatching Michonne, who
often had conversations and even arguments with voices in her head. Gone
was the mercilessly sadistic Governor, who fed the living to zombies
then watched them devoured with a satisfied smirk and who sexually
tortured Michonne for days.
The sanitization of the original material has been relentless.
When the writers wanted to make their Big Theme for season 4 the
question of whether the characters could come back from the awful things
this zombified world had forced them to do to survive, they ran into
the problem that, due to the sanitization of the material throughout
TWD's run, none of the characters had ever been made to do anything
particularly awful. So Carol was reinvented as a dedicated survivalist.
Not as a new and hopefully interesting evolution of the character but
merely to give her some thin rationale for, in the service of that Big
Theme, committing two utterly senseless murders in the name of "survival." Earlier this season,
TWD adapted the comic's cannibal storyline "Fear the Hunters." This was
a tale that showcased how hardcore the group had become. "They're fucking with the wrong people," said Rick, in a line tv TWD also
sanitized. In the original story, Rick and co. turned the tables on the
cannibals and dealt them some of the roughest imaginable justice, slowly
torturing them to death in exactly the way the cannibals had tortured their victims. On tv, Rick and co. just capture the cannibals and kill them on the spot.
The area in which this attenuation of the original material reached its zenith is in tv TWD's treatment of the fates of its cast. Comic TWD has no mercy when it comes to its central characters;
even your favorites can be and regularly are maimed and killed in
horrible ways. Death strikes without warning. Boom! Someone who was
alive a panel before is toast a panel later. The creators of tv TWD love
to make the extravagant claim that on their show no one is safe, but
the truth is that the brutal, unforgiving, often nihilistic landscape of the comic is a place to which they've never gone and never will. They talk the talk as a tease to those who don't know any better then hunker down (cower?) behind the safe conventional wisdom that a
middle-American audience won't stand for that sort of thing. When it
comes to casualties among its central cast, there are two general
species, redshirted non-entities who are kept around in the background
solely as cannon-fodder (Jaqui, Jimmy, Patricia, T-Dog, Axel, Oscar,
etc.) and major characters who, before they're killed, have, over an
extended period, been so relentlessly demonized that viewers are happy
to see them go (Shane, Lori, Andrea, etc.). The death of Hershel last
season was an exception to this, and one would like to take it as a sign
of some little bit of progress toward a less safe TWD, but the old
pattern reasserted itself almost immediately and has continued.
One way in which Hershel's death was unfortunately unexceptional
is in the telegraphing of the event. In a display of rigid devotion to
one of the most tired clichés of modern mass entertainment, all
significant deaths on TWD are telegraphed from a mile away. When someone
who has previously been just a supporting character is suddenly thrust
into the spotlight of an episode and given lots to do, he's pretty much
guaranteed to be bagged and tagged almost immediately. Amy, who,
previously, had barely been a presence, suddenly has a lengthy,
heartfelt conversation with her sister Andrea; by the end of the ep,
she's been bitten by a zombie and killed. T-Dog, who, for the longest,
had barely even been given any dialogue, suddenly comes to the fore to
weigh in on the treatment of the former inmates at the prison; by the
end, he's Zombie Chow. Hershel is suddenly made the star of an episode
as he battles zombies and tries to heal the sick while locked in the
prison; in his next full ep, he's decapitated. The same with Bob. The
same with Sophia. The same into infinity. Supporting characters are by
their very nature less central to the story, and redshirts tend to be
nothing but a familiar face. Without some hook, the deaths of such
characters can be meaningless, a thing about which no one has any reason
to care, and that's a problem for a show like TWD that wants to pose as
edgy and courageous on such matters, and, maybe more importantly, wants to use character deaths
as a shock tactic to sell the show. Suddenly thrusting supporting
characters to center-stage just before their deaths is one of the limp
ways TWD has attempted to address this.
That brings us to the upcoming midseason finale and the fact that the writers have, in recent weeks, telegraphed the deaths of both Beth and Carol. With "Slabtown," Beth, an almost non-existent background character, was given her own storyline and made the star of the show for an entire ep. With "Consumed," Carol was thrust to the center of an episode and presented as a character who has run her course. Both (particularly Beth) are obvious targets by the series' usual m.o., and TWD message boards are filled with speculation about which will bite the dust--it's by far the single most popular topic now.
Here's a different kind of topic: Wouldn't it be great to have a
TWD where that level of passionate discussion was stirred by the great
twists a viewer couldn't see coming or the difficult issues the show raised or thoughts it provoked or by anything at all other than speculation as to which character would be killed next? A TWD concerned
with telling a great story, instead of one so terrified of alienating
its audience that it takes the safe road every time?
 As I've covered here into infinity, if it's one thing tv TWD
despises above everything else, it's survivalist sentiment, which it
consistently presents in contexts intended to make it look entirely
inappropriate, cruel, inhuman and unnecessary. Part of the same
 The cannibalistic behavior of the Terminusians is meant to mirror the behavior of the zombies, but their turning to cannibalism in the world of tv TWD didn't make any real sense--the sanitization of the series has meant the characters have never had any serious problem finding food and live in a world where it's relatively plentiful.
 Another odd pattern with TWD is that: as soon as a new black guy arrives, the old one
is killed off. T-Dog yielded to Oscar who yielded to Tyreese. Bob
arrived off camera between seasons and is the only substantial exception
to this rule, but as soon as Gabriel was introduced, Bob was history. The fresh arrival of Noah as a potential regular should
have Tyreese and Gabriel feeling rather nervous just now.
 Another, a particularly ludicrous tactic, was introduced by Glen
Mazzara as head of the writing staff then as showrunner: posthumous characterization. Jaqui,
a non-entity, was blown to bits with the CDC; a few eps later, in
season 2, she's suddenly someone Lori considered such a good friend that
Lori is spurred to painful existential musings at her memory. It's
discovered that Sophia, a character who, prior to the ep in which she disappeared, probably hadn't gotten 3 lines in the entire run, is dead; Glenn offers up ridiculous comments
about how much she meant to them. T-Dog dies; Glenn is again given the
assignment of telling how, after the zombie apocalypse began, T-Dog went
around in a bus to check on old people from his church. Oscar is killed
at Woodbury; Axel tells us what a great guy he was when they were
serving time together. It's always characters trying ot make an audience feel for the dead person by talk, talk, talking about them as a substitute for having made viewers care about them when they were alive.