Walking Dead’s Glen Mazzara On The Necessity Of Killing Off Good Characters (By Glen Mazzara,
Hollywood Reporter, 10 October 2013)
As far as I can tell, the first time a
beloved television character was killed in a tragic way was on March 18, 1975.
I still remember that awful news: "Lt. Col. Henry Blake's plane was shot
down over the Sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors." Radar
O'Reilly delivered that message to the crowded operating room of the 4077th
M*A*S*H. It was met with stunned silence. Nothing could be done. Like Hawkeye
and the others, we were forced to examine Henry's life in that light. Is that
really the end of his story?'Breaking
Bad' Fans Place Walter White Obit in Albuquerque Paper7Hollywood's
20 Masters of Horror: The Twisted Talents Raising the Most HellSince then, there
have been many shocking character deaths that continue to haunt us years later.
Edith Bunker. Dr. Mark Greene. Bobby Simone. Joyce Summers. Curtis
"Lemonhead" Lemansky. Stringer Bell. Ned Stark. Lane Pryce. Everyone
at the Red Wedding.
Deciding to kill
off a character is never easy. Writers rooms endlessly debate the pros and cons
of each death. The first question usually is, "Is this going to feel like
we're just doing it to do it?" Each writer weighs in: "We're losing a
great character." "We're changing the dynamic of the show."
"What if it doesn't work?" "We can't go back."Characters like Breaking Bad's Walter
White have to die because that's the fitting conclusion to the larger tale.
Killing off a character in the middle of a series' run is a trickier matter. In
my experience, it needs to generate story. It must open up more possibilities
and gain opportunities that don't currently exist. It has to be right for the
show in the long run. If a show kills off a major character just to add some
juice to a particular episode, it'll feel like a cheap stunt.
I find that the
debates over whether to kill off a character take weeks, if not months. Every
alternative is explored. When the showrunner expresses his or her vision and
gains consensus among the creative team, the writers go off and write the
material. Once that's in the best possible shape, the actor needs to be
informed.Telling someone they are going
to be out of work is hard. Telling them it's because they've done a good job
getting people to care deeply about their character is hard to rationalize.
Telling them it's best for the show can be insulting. Trust me, those calls
Most actors are
completely surprised at the news they're being killed off. It's as if they're
in that M*A*S*H operating room, listening in stunned silence to the news
of their own death. Most just ask a few questions then hang up. They usually
call back five minutes later with many more questions. I imagine how a patient
feels when their doctor delivers bad news. I tell them they need to be involved
in the process and that their notes are welcomed. A lot of their work has been
stripped away, and they must now begin arcing out a performance that gives
their characters a sense of closure and that will hit audiences hard. That's a
tremendous amount of work to just throw at someone. And, oh yeah, we don't know
what'll happen to your career next, but you'll be OK.
Actors work so
hard to land meaningful roles. They contribute their blood, sweat and tears to
help a show succeed. It can seem capricious when they're killed off. It affects
them on a profoundly personal level. It's frightening. Many TV shows claim to
be a family. Killing off a character is asking that actor to leave their family
and start over somewhere else.Many
actors immediately try to persuade you to change your mind. If the material's
as good as it can be, you probably won't. But it's your job to talk them
through it. To listen.Nearly all actors
I've worked with deliver their best work when they film their character's
death. Their dedication and professionalism is inspiring.A few actors have lashed out angrily. They
went out kicking and screaming. They took it personally, as if I was killing
them and not their character. They'll never agree that it was best for the
show.And then it airs.
If the episode is
successful and people are profoundly moved, it's a testament to the writers,
directors, crew and cast. People crying at home means everyone did their job
well. You've made a real emotional connection with your audience. You've left
them with something. You've made an impact.A strong death scene will provoke strong emotions, one of which may be
anger. Many viewers in 1975 wrote to CBS -- where M*A*S*H aired until
its 1983 conclusion -- furious that a sitcom episode ended with such a tragic
announcement. These days, we writers get blasted with angry, hateful tweets.Whatever.I tell stories. Not all of them have happy endings. Not everyone makes
it home. Remember Henry Blake.
'Person Of Interest' Bosses Talk Major Death, Team
Fallout And Reese Unhinged
(By Philiana Ng,
Hollywood Reporter, 20 november 2013)
Major spoilers ahead from Tuesday's episode, "The Crossing."]
farewell to a core member of the team.Tuesday's
episode, "The Crossing," was billed as the second part in a
three-episode trilogy with the warning that one of the main players on the CBS
drama would not be making it out alive. And boy, did they keep that promise,
with Taraji P. Henson's Det. Carter suffering a fatal gunshot in the
midst of Reese's battle against the powerful and corrupt organization, HR.On Wednesday, executive producers Jonathan
Nolan and Greg Plageman talked to The Hollywood
Reporter  about
the decision to kill off a central character, the unscripted Reese/Carter kiss
and the likelihood of Henson returning.
surprised by the reaction to last night's episode?
Greg Plageman: Yeah, we always knew there would be a
certain amount of trauma inflicted on our audience in terms of the loss of one
of our central characters. It's a bargain everyone makes. They all signed up
for the show. We knew where we wanted to go. We wanted to be that kind
of show, and we felt like this is a show that continuously moves forward. The
overall arc of the show is something we were always excited about. In order for
the stakes to feel real on the show and embrace that element of life, there had
to be an element of loss. We seized the opportunity for the show to continually
evolve in different places and for all our characters.
the decision to kill off a character who has been on the show since the very
Nolan: It wasn't a
question of any prompting, so much as our commitment at the beginning to keep
shaking it up. We have no interest -- and I never had any interest -- in
making a conventional TV procedural. There's nothing wrong with the word
"procedural" -- our show is a procedural, or often there is a case of
the week and a self-contained story that people can invest in a beginning,
middle and end. But also, a bigger tectonic mythology that is moving and going
places. When you come up with foes as formidable as those played by Robert
John Burke (Simmons) and Clarke Peters (Quinn) over the course of
three seasons, you don't want them to go down without a fight. We knew from the
beginning that we had to punish ourselves and the audience by losing more and
We looked at the
run of the HR story here and we felt it was time to bring it to the climax, so
I sat down with Taraji earlier in the year and we talked through what we were
cooking up. It was a bittersweet conversation, because we love working with her
and vice versa. It's been a great creative collaboration. As sad as we were to
see her go, I think we were all excited -- Taraji, us and the writers -- to get
into a juicy piece of material, to tell a tragedy. I don't know why humans like
stories that involve death and misfortune; these are the stories that we're
drawn to again and again. Speaking for myself as an audience member, I love
when a show can shock, so we've been building toward this now for the better
part of a year. It's incredibly satisfying to collaborate with an actor toward
this end. It's been a really cool experience.
When was that
first conversation that you had for a character to die?
Nolan: From the beginning. When we cast all of
these roles, we said, "Rent, don't buy in New York," because we
wanted to tell a story with real stakes. In terms of specifics with Taraji, I
sat down with her earlier in the year back in January or February. Or even
longer than that. It's been in the works for a while.
What was the
reasoning behind having Carter be the one to die? Were there other serious
Nolan: Yeah, absolutely, but we felt that
Carter's connection to police corruption from the pilot onward -- this is one
of the themes of our show, the enemy within -- from the very beginning, it was
the story of her realizing that she's surrounded by people that she thought she
knew but she didn't, and the real allies were the two weird vigilantes she's
been chasing. For this story -- HR, police corruption -- it was a natural
boiling point that would put her first and foremost into focus. And frankly, as
writers, we've long said that Carter was the heart of the show, and your
perverse impulse as a writer (laughs) is to do as much damage to the
audience as possible. There's nothing more dastardly than -- if Carter's the
heart of the show -- breaking that heart for the audience in the middle of the
How did you
settle on how Carter died (by Simmons' gunshot)? Were there other alternatives?
Nolan: In terms of the episode itself, for the
writers, we had dug in from the beginning in terms of going for maximum impact,
giving the characters a real sense of victory and triumph but also coupling it
to an inevitable sense that triumph never comes without loss. We always talked
about this three-episode arc, one in which, on a more mechanical level, the
audience has seen it all before, so the game you're playing with the audience
is trying to keep it as fresh for them as possible, to keep them at the edge of
their seats. One of the things Greg and I are proudest of this morning is the
fact that the amount of people we're talking to and fan reaction -- being truly
shocked at what happened, but also spending a significant amount of time in
last night's episode believing that Fusco might die, that Reese might die, that
Finch might die, that Bear the dog might die.
Plageman: Like that Jack London story, Bear
will be the last one standing.
came after she shared a nice moment with Reese, where they revealed their true
feelings. Had she not died, had you thought about where their relationship
might have gone?
Plageman: We've always felt the show could go there,
but we always wanted it to be organic, and the most interesting thing that
emerged in last night's episode was that the kiss was not scripted. We never
wrote it in. However you would characterize the relationship between these two
characters up to this point, platonic or something deeper, that was never in
question. It was intended to be a scene in which Reese and Carter both
understood that what they were undertaking was life-harrowing and that this may
or may not be the last time they'd see each other. That was always in there.
What was surprising to us was where they went with it. It wasn't in every take;
there were takes where they didn't do it and there were takes where they did.
When we heard about it on the set, everybody on the show was like, "Oh
no," because we knew we might have to go there. You see it in Carter's
eyes, an element of surprise and natural feedback that she gives in that moment
that it did seem earned. When we took [that scene] out and watched it, we felt
like we missed it. We felt it deepened the level of their relationship in a way
that we felt had we not gone there it would kind of be chicken shit.
What are the
chances that Taraji will be back, perhaps in flashback?
Nolan: Absolutely.It's been a pleasure
to work with Taraji, and selfishly we are going to insist that she come back
and hang out with us again. We'll be itching to get Taraji back into an episode
of our show just as soon as we can. Also, we're excited to see what she does
next. She's a magnificent actor.
Where does the
next episode kick off?
Plageman: Officer Simmons' number comes up, and
it's not a question of if he's going to get it, it's a question of which
character is going to do it. It's a darker chapter, and it's one of the most
powerful. This loss is going to be something that isn't going to be easily
glossed over between our characters, particularly between Reese and Finch and
the understanding of how the Machine works. It's something we want to explore
in this episode and in a few others in terms of what the Machine is capable of.
And in the second half of the season, we have an opportunity to tell a larger
story about the Machine.
losing a core member of the team change how Reese and Co. go about things?
Nolan: Definitely there's some fallout. Half the
fun of writing the arc is writing the episode after, in which the characters
deal with it. If you get them into a comfortable place, you have to shake them
out of that. How do you pick up the pieces and move on from this in this
undertaking Finch has gotten them into, where they fight the inevitable? It's
just a matter of how much they're willing to do and how much they're willing to
sacrifice. They're going to have to find a new way to work with each other
because Reese's concerns over what the f--- [they're] doing here if they can't
even save their closest friend and ally.
play into it at all?
Nolan: It's a good question. Harold Finch has
dealt with this burden from the very first moment when he understood what these
numbers meant. He experienced loss in his friend in Nathan Ingram (Brett
Cullen), and that mantle is transferred to him. Now it becomes a point of
conflict for Finch and Reese, who's his best friend now, how is he dealing with
the fact that he didn't save Detective Carter?
is the catalyst for the rest of the season and beyond?
Nolan: Absolutely. The problem with their enemies
is that they don't sleep on it. They're still a huge threat. Reverberations and
possibly puppies! (Laughs.) Circle of life.