What’s the Meaning of Death?


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If any of you at home have been keeping up with a little show called The Blacklist, you’re probably aware of what went down in the 18th episode of season three. A major character died and, naturally, forums for The Blacklist exploded with discussion.

Denial and shock on one hand, praise and credit on the other. Typical responses to this sort of thing.

However, The Blacklist’s controversy isn’t the only controversy to crop up in the television sphere. A certain AMC post-apocalyptic zombie fest recently had a similarly executed finale that has gained no less of a storm with its fans.

Both series use similar narrative devices to drive controversy, discussion, and ultimately hype, but one has done so exceedingly better than the other.

Warning: Leave now if you don’t want Walking Dead and Blacklist spoilers.

The Blacklist’s twist was about two-thirds though the season and said twist killed off the leading lady of the series, Liz Keen, after a childbirth gone wrong. No one expected it, it was out of character for the series and it inevitably garnered some backlash from fans. However, conversation about Liz’s death has shifted from shock to discussions of brilliance. Love it or hate it, after a scene like that, you’re gonna get a ton of people flocking to the next episode. People want to see the effect that her death has on the show.

In contrast, Walking Dead’s season six finale used a different tactic. For those unaware, season six ends with Negan, a newly introduced villain, killing someone… off screen. Someone who will be revealed in season seven.

Let’s be real here: Season six’s ending is a glorified tease. A vague promise that will (probably) have an underwhelming answer.

The series has been coming under more and more scrutiny for having maddening amounts of filler and plot armoring the main cast, and this ending is perhaps the ultimate form of both. (The anonymity of the death allows them to kill pretty much anyone, thus it could be Daryl or it could be a hapless nobody.)

Besides, we all know they’re not gonna kill Carl, so why bother? That walking manstrosity has plot armor so thick, he could make Tom and Jerry self-conscious. Plus, how will Rick open up fissures of memes without “Corral”?

For the record, there was nothing wrong with the execution of the season six cliffhanger. It’s just the stuff that built up to it (and the fact it wasn’t an episode to episode cliffhanger) that was terrible.

Blacklist_LizThe Blacklist uses the death of Liz to further your investment in the story, even as it takes something away. It makes you wonder how the plot will move forward without. All The Walking Dead is trying to do with your investment is trip you with it.

This isn’t just applicable to these two series. Many other shows have used death effectively. In fact, the wondrous site TV Tropes has an entire page dedicated to explaining death tropes and works that use them. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in death in fiction or wish to bring interesting demises to your own fictitious characters in a meaningful way.

(Images are official publicity material from AMC and NBC. Top image photo credit: Gene Page/AMC.)

TV Talk is a regular television column written by Robert Pulford, Current Staff.

1 Comment

Filed under Entertainment, Viewpoint

One response to “What’s the Meaning of Death?

  1. Ms. K

    A very interesting comparison with thoughtful analysis. This was an enjoyable read!

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