In spite of, or perhaps because of, his massive popularity, there is a legitimate argument to be made for the death of fan-favorite character Daryl Dixon on AMC's The Walking Dead.
First off: This is an intellectual exercise and a commentary on the series itself, not a statement of preference or an attack on the show, the character or actor Norman Reedus.
That said, the recent hysteria following the death of Emily Kinney's Beth Greene on AMC's The Walking Dead has provoked a very particular response from a lot of fans: "If people are doing this for Beth, what would they do if Daryl or Rick died?"
It's a fair question, and one that the creators have to be asking themselves, possibly while twirling their mustaches or rubbing their palms together.
First of all, most fan theories expect that, sooner or later, everyone will die on The Walking Dead. One of the most popular theories is that the final episode of the TV series or issue of the comic will slaughter most of the familiar group of survivors, forcing Carl Grimes out on the road, alone and with no idea what to do next, as his father was when the series began.
That notion -- that no one is safe and that it's just a matter of time before all of the characters, no matter how beloved, are taken away -- is at the heart of what makes the series appealing to many viewers. The Walking Dead is inherently unpredictable, because it's difficult to point to anyone and say that they're "obviously" safe.
In fact, it's not uncommon to see members of the ComicBook.com message board community or users on our Facebook page commenting in ways that others passionately disagree with. Recently, a commenter was dead-set on the idea that Glenn and Maggie were "safe" characters becuase of all the trouble that had been put into reuniting them last year. Of course, readers of the comic books know that the couple don't get a happily ever after.
Rick Grimes has, in the comic books, avoided near death or apparent death enough times that some fans have stopped believing he'll ever truly die, while others think it's just a matter of time. Judith, who seems safe on TV by virtue of being a baby, died almost immediately following her birth in the comics, in a gruesome and shocking fashion that instantly shattered the series' status quo.
Daryl, meanwhile, is a wild card.
As we discussed with actress Sonequa Martin-Green recently, a number of popular characters on the TV series were created for the show and their mere presence alters the course of the stories told in the comics. Daryl Dixon, Beth Greene and Sasha are all among the characters who have never appeared on the printed page but without them, the first half of The Walking Dead's fifth season would have unfolded differently.
"I do feel like a wild card, which I really embrace," Martin-Green told us. "My character is totally not in the comic. A lot of people feel like I'm a spin on Tyreese's daughter in the comic, but that's not the case. Totally brand-new, and I really appreciate it because I get to know her script to script to script and I do feel like there are no bounds in a sense with Sasha."
She added, "The great thing about the show is that it has its own identity from the comics and as you said, a lot of the favorites are radically different. Daryl's not in the comic at all. But I love that because even if you are into the comic, you can still look forward to surprises -- to things being different, to new storylines, and whatnot. And I really like it because they could do anything in a sense."
The problem with Daryl's wild popularity is that the sense of "no bounds" she discusses don't exist for Reedus' character. It's oftem perceived that there are fairly rigidly-defined boundaries for Daryl in spite of his not appearing in the comic, because there's a vocal "If Daryl dies, we riot" contingent online.
Series creator Robert Kirkman, meanwhile, seems to take that as a challenge, and likes to poke those fans with comments to the effect that they're going to get Daryl killed by acting like he should be immortal.
"I get a lot of hate mail every time I kill anybody in the comic, which always aggravates me becuase it's like, 'It's been a hundred issues! Don't know how this is by now? What are you doing?'" Kirkman said at San Diego Comic Con International in 2013. "But specifically about the Daryl thing--that fan reaction is going to get him killed. I feel like it's a dare. Like, 'Oh, really? You're gonna riot? We'll see...we'll see. No one is safe."
That's all well and good, of course, but it really has been quite some time since the last truly surprising death, or the last character died who fans didn't see coming a mile away. Part of that is the ever-growing popularity of the show; now, there are sites that follow not just the shooting schedule and locations, but the social media activity of actors as well in the hopes of predicting an accurate time and place of death. These spoiler-hounds were right on the money with Beth.
It's more than that, though; the most exciting element of Season Five so far was when Carol turned into Rambo and took down Terminus single-handed. And yes, that would have been badass regardless of context but arguably part of the reason it was so fist-pump-worth is that it subverted established expectations that The Walking Dead will kill a major character for every season and midseason premiere and finale. For the same reason it felt somewhat forced to kill off Glenn in The Walking Dead #100, hitting those finales, premieres and sweeps week dates with a big death can feel a bit artificial.
So anytime the fans think they know what's coming on a series like The Walking Dead, it can't hurt to prove them wrong...or at least try. And right now? Nobody believes Kirkman is serious when he says Daryl is fair game.
There is a certain segment of the audience who either think or hope that Daryl will take Glenn's memorable death scene from the comics, killed by Negan's baseball bad Lucille. It's plausible enough; he's a major character and arguably Rick's most trusted confidant, and of course the "eenie, meanie, miney, moe" game that Negan played to determine his victim would be thrown by the presence of TV characters who weren't there in the comics.