Monday, April 1, 2013

Redeemable Characters and TWD - Kathryn Knight

As a fan of all things paranormal, The Walking Dead has been a must-watch show for me since its inception.  Most television shows fail to keep my attention for the long term, but the combination of the interesting characters and the post-apocalyptic world in TWD has kept me watching.  In the final episodes of Season 3, we lost several main characters.  The recent character deaths of Merle and Andrea got me thinking about character redemption.  Neither of these characters were well-liked by viewers.  They both made horrible decisions and embodied many flaws.  Not surprisingly, I didn't feel much concern for either of their welfare for most of the show.  I was surprised when I actually cared about one of their deaths.  And it was the death of the "worse" character.

Actor Michael Rooker
plays Merle Dixon
Merle Dixon had a horrible childhood: his mother died in a fire, and his father subjected both Merle and his younger brother Daryl to neglect and severe abuse.  Merle tried to help raise Daryl when he wasn't spending time in juvie, but when the show opens, it's obvious the events of Merle's life have turned him into a hot-headed, cruel, and aggressive man.  He puts the group at risk, uses racial slurs, and gets into a physical altercation with another group member. 

When we see him again in Season 3, he's been taken in by the enemy band of survivors.  He does more horrible things, although now he's acting at the behest of the evil "Governor".  In his defense, however, it appears evident to me as a viewer that this group has "accepted" Merle and allowed him somewhat of a leadership role.  He's trying to be an important part of the Woodbury community, and he has no love for the original group that left him stranded and defenseless on a rooftop.

But when Daryl sticks by Merle when he's barred from re-joining the original group, Merle starts to go through a slight change.  Eventually he feels enough love for his little brother Daryl to try one more time to be accepted by the people Daryl has come to care about.  Merle begins making amends to the people he has hurt and strives to be useful.

In his final episode, Merle has been selected to deliver Michonne back to the Governor, to be presumably tortured and killed by him.  But at the last minute, he has a change of heart.  He sets his prisoner free and devises a plan to instead ambush the Governor's group.  Merle sacrifices himself, dying at the hands of the Governor, but saved Michonne and delivered a devastating blow to the Woodbury forces.  I was shocked at how sad I was at Merle's death--I felt he had been redeemed.

Andrea, on the other hand, had a happy family life by all accounts before the Zombie Apocalypse.  She does have to watch her sister die, and consequently must kill her when she reanimates as a zombie.  During Season 2, Andrea tries to become more of a soldier and zombie-killer.  But when she is separated from the group, it is the stranger Michonne who finds her, saves her, and protects her for 8 months.  Andrea repays this kindness by turning her back on Michonne the minute she's offered a warm bed in Woodbury and an opportunity to romance the Governor.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, Andrea continues to believe the Governor to be a sane and good person.

Laurie Holden as Andrea
From there on in, Andrea makes bad decision after bad decision.  She knows from personal experience that her original band of survivors was comprised of kind, fair, and honest people as a whole...but she instead believes the lies the Governor tells her.  Even once her eyes are finally opened, she never uses her newly-acquired survival skills to take action against the Governor, which allows him to continue to kill innocent people.  This scenario plays out several times, even after Andrea starts to understand how psychotic the Governor is.  And in the end, the Governor turns on Andrea and sets her death in motion. 

Andrea died bravely by her own hand, as she knew she would come back as a zombie if she didn't.  She spared her friends that at least.  But I wasn't remotely sad to see her die--I had stopped caring about her character long ago.

Of course there are a number of things at play other than the character arc in the script: the acting of both the character in question and the supporting cast, the viewer's preferences, etc.  But I'm impressed with how the writers were able to garner concern and admiration for Merle in his last episode, from me and the other fans of the show I chat with.  As I writer myself, I'm trying to analyze the moments I began to change my mind about him, as well as the moments I began to stop caring at all about Andrea.

Because romance novels have happy endings by definition, I don't kill off many characters.  But they are often in danger, and I want readers to care about their safety and pull for their survival.  Realistic characters need flaws, but readers and viewers want to see characters learn from mistakes and grow throughout the story.  Merle did this, and redeemed himself in the end, in my opinion.  Andrea repeated the same mistakes over and over again, learned nothing, and I was ultimately glad to see her go. 

A character's redemption is a powerful thing.  Viewers are passionate about Merle's brother's character Daryl, so much so I've heard people threaten to stop watching if anything should happen to him.  I admit I love him too, and he's featured in my related "Bad Boys with Good Hearts" blog post (my most popular post to date!).  Characters that inspire this kind of loyalty are exactly the type writers should strive to create.  I've had several readers ask me to continue Max and Claire's story in a sequel to Gull Harbor.  I'm so thrilled people enjoyed their romance and adventure, and perhaps someday I'll come back to them.  Right now, I have 2 WIPs that need my attention. 

On the other hand, I will have a free hour on Sunday nights for the next 6 months until The Walking Dead returns...

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