Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies

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Last week I read the second book in a series I’d become very excited about, only to be horribly disappointed by the end.  My favorite character died, suddenly and somewhat ignominiously, considering what the character had been able to accomplish up to that point.  Logically, I could understand why the author decided to kill him off, but emotionally it just didn’t work for me.  Another book is coming out in a few months, but right now, I couldn’t care any less about reading it, because with the loss of that character, there’s nothing in that world for me.   It’s not necessarily the author’s fault, either.  The story he was telling required that character to be gone in order that the protagonist continue on his own journey.  It was the way the character died that left me unsatisfied and cold. 

If there’s one truth to the human condition, it’s that everyone, whether sooner or later, will pass from this life.  If we get our vaccinations, eat healthy food and look both ways before crossing the street, we have a reasonably good chance of living into our eighties or later.  But eventually we will end.  The same is true of characters in books, although their precautions are overshadowed by the needs of the plot.   Somewhere in the story, someone is going to die at the author’s hand. 

Let’s talk about who to kill.  It’s important to choose the doomed character with a reasonable amount of forethought.  Most books have a stable of unnamed characters running around in the background, and you always have the simple option of choosing one of those folks to meet his or her death.  My own novel, Mad Kestrel, has an actual cast of about 75 people, although only a tiny percentage of them have names or dialogue.  The majority are pirates on the ship and townsfolk on the islands, all doing their jobs and not getting much in the way of Kestrel, McAvery and everyone else.  I could easily choose to kill one or more of those people, but I usually won’t.  Who’d miss them?  Their deaths would have no measurable impact on the main characters.  The only reason a member of the background cast should die would be to inform the main characters that something dreadful is going on.  Finding a woman with her throat slit in a dark alley is a decent clue, but after the initial shock wears off, the main characters won’t be grieving over that person.  Think about how you feel when you hear a news broadcast about someone in a neighboring town who was murdered.  You’re sorry for a while, but in the end, it has only the most minor effect on your own life.   In your novel, if you’re hoping to drive the story with an emotionally upsetting death, killing someone who doesn’t even have a name can come off looking like you were loathe to be brave and kill someone who matters more to the story. 

Yeah, you heard me…be brave.  Kill someone who matters.  It may not please every reader (as evidenced by what I said two paragraphs back) but it’s right.  You want to cause an emotional reaction in your reader.   Kill a character the reader has come to know and you’ll achieve that rush of grief.  I love a book that makes me cry, and it’s almost always because the author killed off someone I loved.  You’ll know you’re succeeding if writing the scene breaks your heart.  There’s a scene in Kestrel’s Dance in which a character many of my readers like quite a lot is murdered in front of everyone.  As I wrote it, I kept having to stop for more tissue.  It was painful to write, and the suffering I felt communicated into Kestrel’s own reactions on the page.  I’m very proud of the scene (and I hope you’ll all get to cry over it yourselves before long.)  The dead man’s murder is a catalyst for the entire final third of the book, and while I hated to lose the character, I knew he had to go.  It was the right time in the story.   George R R Martin is a master of knowing who to kill when.  No one is safe in his world.  Not to give anything away, but one of the strongest and most noble characters in A Game of Thrones is executed, even though the reader knows it’s wrong,  I remember reading that chapter, whispering “No, no” to myself the closer the event came, and still not wanting to believe it when the man died.  That was years ago, and it’s still as fresh to me today. 

Of course, no character matters as much as the protagonist.  Generally one doesn’t kill off the main character before the end of the book, if at all.  For one thing, it pretty much ends the series.  Not always, as the urban fantasy readers are probably well aware by now thanks to a very gifted writer of a very famous series (don’t give it away in case there’s anyone who hasn’t gotten that far along!)  For another, editors don’t tend to love the idea.  Then again, write it beautifully and you might change the editor’s mind.  If you’re writing the last book of a series, or a stand-alone novel, you do have the option of killing your protagonist.  It’s a courageous choice, and done properly, can leave your reader weeping and clutching the book to her chest with one hand while she wipes her eyes with the tissue in the other hand. 

Next time, we’ll talk about the how of it all.  For now,  feel free to discuss deaths in fiction that worked or didn’t.   I know that sets us up for the danger of spoilers, folks, so be prepared for that if you decide to participate in the comments.

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32 comments to Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies

  • bonesweetbone

    As much as I love J.K. Rowling, I hated the way she handled the deaths of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks. The first time I read through the final book, I almost missed the mention of them having passed. Admittedly, Remus Lupin was my favorite character, but to me it felt like the deaths were an afterthought. I felt vindicated when I read interviews with her after the fact where she admitted she hadn’t initially killed them, but had gone back and done so to mirror Harry’s loss of his parents. Honestly, I think I would have been more okay with it if it had been written differently. Or at least given some screen time.

    While I’m not a huge fan of the Hunger Games trilogy, one of my favorite deaths was Rue’s. I liked it, one, because you knew either she or Katniss had to die and she died in a way that didn’t turn either of them into a monster (which was the fear for me). I also liked how the death was handled, with more time spent focusing on the effect on Katniss than on the death itself. I felt it was an incredibly powerful scene, and I liked how the impact of it leaked into the later books and resonated with multiple characters.

    I do agree with the Writing Excuses podcast cast, though, that there are always worse things to do to a character than kill them or someone close to them. But I think it depends on how you approach either option as to how strong of an impact it will have on the reader.

  • One death that really kind of got me in my early reading days was the death of Flint Fireforge in the Dragonlance Chronicles. And it wasn’t at sword point, he didn’t fall into an abyss, rocks didn’t crush him to death. No, it was a heart attack. Of all the things to push home that these fantasy heroes were just like you and me, the old, grizzled dwarf dies of a heart attack.

    I like to use what my cousin and I dubbed “The Ben Dickson” long ago when we were watching the old anime series, Robotech. It’s the bit where you make your readers get to know this character, make the character amusing, someone they’d want to hang with in social situations. Then, when the reader least suspects it, hit them with a piece of foreshadowing, in the case of Ben Dickson, they’d just come back from a combat and they had some leisure time and sort of a reward for a good job. Ben was juuuust sitting down to enjoy a nice juicy steak when the alarm sounds and they have to scramble once more. Ben looks at the steak, sighs, and says, “now don’t you go anywhere, I’ll be right back!” And the last thing you see in the scene is the steak and you think, oh crap, he’s not coming back. It’s like when the sidekick tells the MC that he’ll have to take him up on the offer of a drink when they come back, he’ll even buy, and then he dies. Or in a chase scene, the friend rubs his left arm and shoulder, flexes his fingers for a moment, and then continues, but falls shortly after they finally catch the bad guy. For some reason, it’s just one of my favorite tropes to use.

    I also enjoy the ol’ switcheroo. Trying to make the reader think a character has died, but then bring him back later for a happy reunion.

  • henderson

    I can see how killing a major character in a story with a single view point because it ends the book or ends the series, unless there is another strong major character that would be able to move the story forward.

    I think killing a major character would be easier in a story with multiple view points. To used George R.R. Martin again, a major character dies near the end of one of his ASOIAF novels, but the story continued to move foward.

    As a writer, I think killing charcters, if it is done right, can really create some interesting possibilities, including new plot points.

    Very intersting topic.

  • Megan B.

    I just hate it when a minor character is suddenly given a lot of attention and development, just so you’ll care when they die at the end of the episode*. Feels cheap to me, like the writers were afraid to kill off a character who’d been important all along.

    *This is something I see in TV more than in books.

  • A death that didn’t work for me… well… there’s the major character (and up to that point ostensible protagonist) mentioned in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The unrelenting violence and grittiness of Martin’s world just… doesn’t work for me.

    Another was the death of Alice in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I wrote about this extensively on my own blog (starting here with my spoiler-free review and continuing with two other posts that analyze the plot in more depth and draw lessons from what I perceive to be the failures). My problems with that death – which were foreshadowed but poorly played in execution – led me to discover the phrase “Diabolus Ex Machina”, which I’ve now convinced myself is just as bad, at the climax of a book, as a “Deus Ex Machina”. I found it problematic that the character had to die mainly as an artifact of the plot and the point the author was trying to make, but ended up dying in a way that just didn’t make any sense to me: she was winning the fight against the villain and then suddenly decides that the only way to win is to sacrifice her life when through the whole villain battle she’d been kicking his trash, and it was pretty overtly one-sided. It was a weak end.

    Deaths that worked? I’ll second Daniel’s mention of Flint Fireforge. That was a poignant moment in the Dragonlance books for me, and a textbook example of how to do it right. Nothing else leaps immediately to mind, though I’m hopeful some others come along to comment and remind me of character deaths that were done well.

  • >>Let’s talk about who to kill.>>
    I nearly did a spit-take with my tea. Loved this!!!! “Kill a character,” is one of my own mantras, but I never put much thought into the … um … the physics of it. The how and who and why have always been visceral not logical. You did great with this post! Thank you.

  • What Faith said all around. I’ve killed characters and didn’t know the death was coming. No forethought at all. But as the story developed it sort of became clear who was going to die. Sometimes I know *that* someone will die, but not sure who it will be. I know all about the weeping thing. I killed someone off in Shadow City and blubbered all the way through. Sigh.

  • Deaths that worked…. The one in David’s Winds of he Forelands series that I still haven’t forgave him for. Yes it was needed to progress character development and plot movement, but…. dang. I kept reading and was not disappointed.

    Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series has several deaths which shock at the time but in the end, it was the only way to go.

    Deaths that failed… GRRM seems to introduce a character just to get you (the reader) invested in them emotionlly just to kill them off. Once or twice I can deal with, but with him, it is almost a game that makes it personally hard to read his books.

    Surpirsed no one has mentioned the red shirts in the Star Trek. Gotta feel bad for those guys when you know what is coming. 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    This is an interesting post, but, wow am I able to come up with a *lot* more deaths examples that *didn’t* work for me than that did and yes, usually it’s because of the way it’s handled.
    -there’s the death of a certain comic character in the movie set after a certain popular but failed SciFi show. That was handled *only* as a gut-punch, and then they tried to play it for poignancy at the end, but its shear gratuitous senselessness canceled that out. For me there was no poignancy, just brokenness.
    -there was the *un*death of the son character at the end of the Spielburg War of the Worlds. I was *not* relieved to see the boy was still alive; I was angry. He *should* have been dead, and making him suddenly alive seemed contrived and cowardly.
    -and *then* there was the murder of a woman by the protagonist of a certain popular UF series. That death caused horrified revulsion, which was sort of the point. But it was *so much* the point, that the basic underpinnings of the plot were *severely* sacrificed to accomplish it and, furthermore, it was accomplished with an unnecessary level of deception. In fact, it wasn’t the murder that made me want to throw up (really). It was the lie leading up to it. It’s one thing to kill someone. It’s another to turn them into their own worst nightmare first (since, BTW, it *could* have been done consensually). And, again, the underlying plot made *no* sense with the last-minute climax, making the sacrifices all around nothing more than cheap. (Apparently I’m still angry about this.)

    So, I suppose, my primary issue is that the death (or undeath) of a character should *never* be the contrivance of a plot. If every secondary character we get to know winds up dead – bad. If the death *obviously* exists *only* for shock value – bad. And if the death exists only to fulfill some plot point in the larger character arc and the local plot of the book is twisted into knots to accomplish it – VERY VERY BAD! (partly, this is because *logic* is extremely important to me…)

    I know there are plenty of deaths that worked perfectly well for me in stories, I just can’t think of them right now.

  • Thanks, Hep, for mentioning the un-death of the son in Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds”. That final scene just totally undermined the whole movie for me. It was a great movie right up to that point. His sudden reapparence negated the point of the son’s foolish headlong barrell into the firefight, and negated the dad’s difficult journey as a father doing everything he can to protect his children but also learning to let go. Those were like the primary themes of the movie, and the gratuitous “Oh, actually, he’s alright” just felt like a backstab.

  • Gypsyharper

    @Bonesweetbone – I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the Remus / Nymphadora deaths either.

    I actually find that GRRM’s deaths do work for me, although I suppose they do lack the emotional punch of a well loved character dying in a series with a smaller cast, because no one is safe. I guess in some ways, even though there are characters I wish he hadn’t killed off, if he hadn’t killed them, it wouldn’t have rung true with the world he’s created. And I honestly don’t know who’s going to still be alive at the end of the series, and I find that I kind of enjoy that uncertainty, which seems a little odd for me. I think part of the reason it works for me is that it isn’t really any one person’s story, and yet I still find many of the individual threads compelling and care about those characters. Of course it’s not for everyone, though.

    Also, the series you mentioned, Misty, where the author kills of the MC – assuming I’m thinking of the same series, I thought that was very well done. I cried and cried, but I felt like it was the right thing to do and emotionally satisfying. I like books that make me cry, too, so I’ll be anxious to read yours.

    On the TV side, I think the whole arc leading up to Joyce Summers’ death on Buffy was excellent. And the actual episode just makes me sob every time I see it.

    My deaths that fail example is also TV – sort of along the lines of the point Megan made. This series had spent a week or more on advertisements indicating that they were going to kill off a major character, and the episode itself did a really nice build-up of suspense where I kept thinking it could be anyone at any turn. But in the end, they killed off a relatively minor character, and while I could see where the main characters would care, because they would have a relationship with him beyond what we see on the screen, they hadn’t built him up enough for me to care. So I was left feeling kind of relieved that they didn’t kill off any of my favorite characters, but still kind of emotionally cheated after the build-up.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Ooh Ooh! Gypsey Harper just reminded me of an *excellently* done death in the TV series of Stargate. It happens off-world in basically a pitched battle and they set it up so that you (as well as reporter characters in the show) *think* they’ve killed off one of the main characters. And then it’s actually *worse* when you find out it was actually a supporting character who died. It was so well done because it really underscored the importance of a character you really didn’t even think about most of the time. (*And* her death was perfectly logical, reasonable, and relevant to the world of the Stargate series.)

  • I agree with Bonesweetbone about Lupin and Tonks. I hated that they died off screen.

    One of the best killing off of characters that I’ve read, which left me a sobbing mess in my college common room, but still turning the pages, was in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I won’t say who died, but two characters I had come to love died horribly and at the same time. It was traumatizing for me. It was traumatizing for the MC. It was the catalyst for something.

    Whereas Tonks and Lupin just happened, and not even in a way that really did much for me as a reader. I mean, it saddles Harry with a kid at 17, since he’s the godfather. : /

  • Megan B.

    I had planned to kill off a certain character in my WIP, and by the time I got to that scene I realized he couldn’t die there. Aside from still needing him, I felt like it would have been pointless to the plot. So he lived, got developed a lot more, and became my favorite character 🙂

    And I totally agree about Lupin and Tonks. Their relationship felt flat to me, too, so in a way it was appropriate that they die off-screen with no emotional heft. I liked them both individually, but they turned into cardboard later in the series, imo.

  • Your call to be brave in such matters is a good one that I’m wrestling with right now… Food for thought. Thanks, M.

  • Gypsyharper

    Hepseba – what’s the name of the Stargate episode? I know I’ve seen the whole series, but I can’t bring to mind the episode you’re talking about for some reason.

    Scribe – I love the Kushiel’s Dart series! That death hit me really hard, too.

  • ajp88

    Being the biggest Martin fan boy here, no doubt, I love the constant kidney punches that his deaths provide. Moreover, I love passing on that bittersweet pain to my friends when I convince them to read the series. From the first book’s big gut check, to the third books Ali-like assault on the reader’s psyche (which I love and hate at the same time) to something as simple and sad as an old, dying man saying, “Egg, I dreamed I was old,” they’re full of fantastic deaths. That last one never fails to make me tear up.

    As for television, Charlie on LOST, Snoop on The Wire, and seeing the ASOIAF deaths brought to life on Game of Thrones have all been harrowing.

  • Faith, it’s once again one of those conversations that would make the authorities wonder about us if they only heard a few bits. *grin*

    In college, I remember reading Katherine Kurtz’ Camber of Culdi series. In the last book of the trilogy, my favorite character died trying to warn his family of impending danger. It was horrible and heartbreaking and pointless, but that’s how death works, and it made perfect sense for the story being told. Still makes tears come to my eyes if I think about that scene too much. Which tells me the author did her job very, very well.

  • Gypsyharper–I’ll answer for Hepseba. The Stargate episode she refers to is Heroes Part I & II. And I agree that those shows do an excellent job of killing off a character.

    In my own WIP, this is one of the changes I made from the first draft is who gets killed. Originally a very minor character was killed, but I’ve changed that to be a more important character, someone the reader knows and hopefully likes.

  • I admit to a bit of glee when people read my book Imperative and then say they hate me. It means I did a great job on the death of a character.

    For me The Sword of Thrones got a bit much after a while. Deaths were clearly important but the books became unrelenting in the constant death. Of course, even someone new to the story could tell by the actor that an important character was going to die (avoiding spoilers doesn’t lead to clear writing).

  • quillet

    This is a great article! I remember killing off a character in an early manuscript just because my sister thought all books are better if *someone* dies (we were teenagers). But the death was contrived and didn’t work at all. Lesson learned: don’t kill just for the sake of it. …Er, that sounds like advice for psychopaths! I mean, it has to be needed by the story and meaningful, not just a shock tactic.

    And I second Stephen’s feelings about the unrelenting violent and grittiness of G.R.R. Martin’s world. Doesn’t work for me either.

    Spoilers below:
    Deaths that worked for me were Boromir and Théoden in The Lord of the Rings. Also the men of the night watch who died in Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch: I still think of them sometimes when I see lilacs. And J.K. Rowling had at least one that definitely worked for me: I cried like a baby when they buried poor Dobby. :*(

  • Razziecat

    Argh, how did I almost miss this post??

    Going back *coughmanycough* years, the fictional death that hit me hardest was that of Rhys Thuryn in one of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books. He was one of my favorite characters, and I literally put that book down for three days before I could bear to finish the story. When I had the chance to meet Ms. Kurtz at a con, I asked her why she killed him off that way, and she smiled and said, “Because that’s the way it happened.” 🙁 Really should have seen that coming…

    Now I’m struggling with my own WIP because I have to kill off a character I’ve become quite fond of. It’s important to the story, and I’m hoping it will have that “clutch the book to your chest and reach for tissues” effect, but oh, it’s going to hurt!

  • I remember reading a Guy Gavriel Kay book (I’m pretty sure) which had a princess held captive and this guy is spending most of the book trying to get to her. She starts getting suicidal but I was pretty sure the hero would save her. He arrived to find her hanging by her neck dead. Most of the book was about the woman in captivity and the hero trying to reach her and then she’s dead with about a quarter of a book to go and a sequel. I stopped and didn’t bother reading any more of his work. It just annoyed me that I’d spent so long and so much effort reading about this situation to have it yanked from under me.

    Good death: in The Tawny Man trilogy by Robin Hobb, Fitz (the main character) has a psychic bond with a wolf (from the first trilogy with these characters) who dies. You know it’s coming because these books are set 10 years after the first and dogs / wolves just don’t live that long. But He saves him and you think Robin took the easy way out, but then you find out he just bought him a little time and the wolf dies later on in a really nice and touching way. I felt sad and happy at the same time. It was good. My wife still tears up thinking about it. (I don’t I’m too much of a Man)

  • I always, always hated certain books for the way they handled deaths, but I loved Brian Jacques. In every book he kills off a beloved character, and I would cry and cry, and then read the book again. I think what made it good was that it never felt cheap or cruel. He never killed off a character ‘to teach the children a lesson about death.’ His characters were at war. Goodbeasts die in war. But if they die nobly and heroically, you can cry and mourn, but not feel bitter about it.

    In the Honor Harrington books, the kill count is often immense, though mostly minor characters, but even the deaths of the minor characters has a strong impact because the MC is the one making the decisions that gets them killed. Their deaths are her responsibility. Sometimes, even when a ship is destroyed, people can survive in their vacsuits, but in The Honor of the Queen, one set of survivors ended up suffering far more from surviving than they would have if they had just died. It was brutally ugly, and far worse than any simple murder. But it was utterly realistic, and I could only feel ill and ache for the real people who had suffered similarly.

  • Misty, I’m so sorry – I was a day early in my post! I didn’t mean to run you over, but I can see from all the comments that I didn’t end up doing that. Still, I apologize. I owe you a drink at Dragon*Con.

  • Razzie, I cried for so long over Rhys. It was as if a real friend had died and left me.

  • Lucienne, it’s perfectly okay! I’d be delighted to share a drink with you at con. 🙂

  • Killing off characters is often incredibly bittersweet for me, and like A.J. I am wrestling with the notion of being brave. One of the literary deaths that has stayed with me is that of Dianora at the end of Tigana. Utterly heartbreaking, and yet such a perfect ending to her arc. Great post, Misty.

  • I think we, as readers and as humans, expect characters to die. I remember watching the LoTR movies with a friend who had no fore-knowledge of the plot (yes, those people do/did exist). He had complained over a couple of Fantasy books I’d suggested to him, saying, “no one ever dies.”

    He was excited that Tolkien killed off someone as important as Gandalf.
    And utterly disappointed that Gandalf came back.

    So part of this is audience, too. Keep that in mind when I say that the character deaths in Martin’s ASoIaF ruined that series for me. I appreciated the first couple, but after that the mechanic/tool/device becomes just another m/t/d… just as subject to the misuse-of-overuse as any other mechanic. I grew tired of caring for or identifying with a character only to have that character die a few chapters later. More and more as that happened I felt manipulated. It was like I was at a party, and each death left me one less person there that I knew. Eventually, I didn’t care to get to know anybody. Why would I stay at that party, when there are a dozen others I could go to where I *do* have friends and the host has the civility to save the killing for the end of the party, or at least the neighborly sense to temper their urges, with only a death here or there?

    You know, a *reasonable* amount of murder.

    It reminds me of a story where a famous author (<–help me out if you know this story) wrote a story specifically as a vehicle to get the emotional reaction of killing his main character. When he gave it to his wife to read, she brought it back with tears in her eyes saying that he was being unfair: the fact that he *could* manipulate his reader in that way didn't mean that *should*.

    Character deaths that were handled well…? I second Charlie's death from "Lost." Also Sophia's death on "The Walking Dead." Sticking with tWD, Dale's death was a little less impactful, partly because of the randomness of it and partly because I didn't by his motivation to be *that* far away from the house just over a disagreement, no matter how weighty the argument was that they disagreed over. Still, there was some irony in which walker actually did the deed. It wasn't a poorly handled death, but it wasn't as moving as even Otis' death (killed by Shane at the school so Shane could get away, even after Otis had risked his life and saved Shane), and Otis was just a passing character.

    I know I'm stuck on screen deaths, but another would be George Kirk from the "Star Trek" movie.

    Oh, and one from left field: Ellie, from the movie, "Up."

  • I’ll second David on Dianora. She was a very tragic death. I even felt bad for Brandin even though he was the “big bad”.

  • I’m still burned over Katherine Kurtz killing off Oriel and it’s been many years since I’ve read her Deryni books. *how* she did it bothers me, though I’d figured out by then that Katherine has the soul of a true torturer. Does nothing bother this woman?? (I hasten to add that she’s my favorite author) I’m still not sure that killing him was vital to the plot, but maybe I’m too emotional about it to see the effect. You want to talk about killing and maiming people? Man, I do *not* want to know what research she did!!

  • mokie

    I think Wash (Firefly/Serenity) and Dale (The Walking Dead) are two deaths that work on paper, but fell short in the execution.

    For Serenity, losing a major character to the Reavers was arguably necessary by that point. The movie had established that its monsters were scary by offing a town of extras and a hologram, but it needed to deprive the audience of their certainty that Our Heroes were off-limits and would come out relatively unscathed. That would up the ante when the characters were pinned down, and make River’s move seem more worthy and less “Yes, go out there, little lethal girl.” That it was the comic relief character should have set the tone for scenes to follow (fewer quips! more pants-wetting fear!), and Zoe’s potentially unreliable state of mind should have been bonus tension.

    Where they screwed up, I think, was the timing. Letting the characters and audience hit the ground and catch our breath made the death feel like a cheap shot. Had the blow instead come while they were still in the air, while the viewers were still cheering the ambush, Wash was trying to land the ship and tension was sky-high, it would have made sense within the action.

    For Walking Dead, Dale was that far out because they’d assumed the farm to be safe. His death was, in part, about the group’s naivete coming home to bite them in the ass, not only in that assumption but in letting a man who willfully ignored the reality of the new world (Hershel) set the rules they’d live by. And the show’s creators have explained how it comes just as he’s needed, and how it’ll affect the group, and so on.

    Again, I think they screwed up in their timing. While the whole episode up to that point may have been intended to show how Dale was the group’s conscience, the way it played out made Dale seem like a holier-than-thou nag, and was a bit too obvious in making clear that Dale was the group’s conscience. The only reason to paint that idea in bright neon colors was if he was going to bite it immediately after.

    For Dale, they tried to sell too hard why he mattered, and for Wash, they did it at a point where the death itself didn’t matter.