How many times have your heard (or seen on screen), the phrase "If Daryl dies, we riot?" This is a phrase many Walking Dead fans shout whenever the idea that Daryl might not be invincible or untouchable is postulated by anyone who writes for or about the show. The truth, however, is that the show would not only survive the death of either Daryl or Rick--if it were done right--but their deaths might actually be essential to the long-term success of the show.
One of the reasons fans cannot imagine [The Walking Dead](series:201193) without Rick and/or Daryl is that those two characters are currently the heart of the show. Rick and Daryl are at the center of the emotional connection many viewers have with the show. For some, the actors who portray the characters are the draw. For others, the leader and the archer are the reason the group has been able to survive as long as they have. No matter the reason for the connection, it is real and it is strong. So how would it be possible for the show to survive if either Daryl or Rick were killed off?
In order for the show to survive the deaths of these two fan-favorite characters, the writers will have to replace Daryl and Rick with characters who engender the same level of emotional connection currently linking the fans to Rick and Daryl. Without that level of connection, the show will suffer what could be an insurmountable blow to its audience's hearts. The show will have to introduce the new characters long enough before the deaths for fans to begin to know and love them without feeling rushed by the writers. When writers attempt to rush the emotion, fans can tell.
The writer and director of Into Darkness made the mistake of rushing audiences and fans to an emotional connection. The story from Wrath of Khan was one of high emotion the first time it was told because the audience was emotionally invested in the characters after years of the Star Trek series and the first film. Into Darkness wanted audiences to feel the same type of connection to the rebooted Star Trek universe but didn't give them time to become emotionally invested in the new Kirk or Spock. Rather than the gut-wrenching ending from the Wrath of Khan, which left me in tears the first time I saw it, viewers of Into Darkness were left flat by the dubious death of Kirk. I remember thinking, "They won't kill off Kirk yet. And even if they do, so what? I like Chris Pine, but I just don't love the new Kirk enough for it to end my enjoyment of the reboot."
The Walking Dead relies heavily on the audience being emotionally invested in the characters. Each time we have lost a character (until Season Four), they were replaced fairly quickly with someone else who could fill the emotional void. Hershel took Dale's place. Michonne has stepped into the void left by Andrea's defection and death. Fans are given another character to love, someone to root for or against, someone to connect with in some way, each time a major death occurs. If the show is to survive the death of either Daryl or Rick, the writers must give fans enough time to fall in love with whomever will replace the fallen character.
Audiences will eventually understand that Rick and Daryl must die in order to allow other characters to grow and develop within the group dynamic. Daryl and Rick currently fulfill very specific and very important positions within the group. They are, respectively, enforcer and leader. If any of the other characters are to mature enough to take over those positions without leaving to form their own group, the positions will have to be permanently vacated before the remaining group members and audiences will fully buy into the replacements.
For example, the time will come when Carl no longer wants to live in the shadow of his father. He will want, as all children want, to surpass his father and replace him in the affections of those who follow Rick. For that to happen, Rick will have to die and not by Carl's hand. If Rick remains alive, Carl's character will eventually stagnate, locked into the permanent position of child.
Beyond any philosophical reasons for the demise of Daryl and Rick, the fact is that in order to maintain a solid sense of realism on the show, Daryl and Rick will have to die eventually. The world of The Walking Dead is dangerous and vicious. Suspension of disbelief will only go so far for Daryl and Rick always being lucky enough to escape the horror of that world. At some point, death must catch up with them. They are, after all, only men, and not superheroes. Whether Death comes garbed as a walker, an evil human being, an illness or an injury, He must come for these characters eventually.
We have seen this nod to realism several times in past seasons. The most memorable for me will always be Hershel's death. Here was a character who had survived a walker bite, the subsequent amputation of his leg, and the deadly virus which nearly wiped out the entire prison population in the beginning of Season Four. When the Governor took Hershel, audiences knew that, no matter what they might prefer, Hershel's luck had run out. Realistically, he couldn't survive another brush with death. Not in that world. And so the writers killed him because it was good for the story and the show.
That desire on the part of the writers to be true to a sense of realism and the necessity of moving the story forward tells us that eventually, Daryl and Rick must die. Perhaps their deaths will be a motivating act, much like Hershel's was, that will unite a fractured group. Perhaps the group will need a rallying cry to continue their quest and only the death of the forerunners will make it happen. Or maybe vengeance and revenge will be the motivation needed to destroy some other influence outside the group. Whatever the reason for taking either Daryl or Rick from us, I'm certain the writers will ensure the fans have a believable storyline and are able to join the characters who are left behind in mourning and moving forward.
As a fan of both Norman Reedus and Andrew Lincoln, I wouldn't abandon the show just because either Daryl or Rick were killed off. Only a complete lack of connection to the remaining characters or a de-evolution of the story line into something trite or overdone could make me walk away from the show. So long as it moves the story forward to a logical, believable end, I would encourage the writers to allow no sacred cows. According to Robert Kirkman, no one is safe in The Walking Dead, and as an avid fan of the show, I will hold him to that standard.