Death is a constant fact of life for the characters of The Walking Dead – but especially on season-finale episodes. In season 1, Jacqui elected to die in the CDC explosion; in season 2, Shane died twice in the penultimate episode before the zombies overran Hershel’s farm in the finale; and last season, Andrea was the season-ender’s biggest casualty. With the final episode of season 4 set for this Sunday, none of the characters who’ve reached or will soon reach the promised oasis known as Terminus should start making long-term future plans. Dead producer Robert Kirkman has already warned us that the finale is going to be shocking, and EW’s Dalton Ross has already mentioned his leading candidates for dead-man-walking.
So clearly, someone is going to die. The big question is, will it be someone we just met this season, or will it be someone from the core pack – perhaps even someone we’ve known since season 1? Darren Franich and Jeff Labrecque spitballed the possibilities, made totally irrelevant references, and completely exposed their ignorance of gambling culture. Humor them.
DARREN FRANICH: Pretend you’re in Vegas. You’ve got a fat wad of cash burning up your pocket. You’re too smart for blackjack. You don’t understand baccarat, because nobody does. And you don’t want to bet on horse races, because you’re still not over the cancelation of Luck. So you decide to put some money on the hottest game in town: Who will die on the season finale of Walking Dead? Because somebody’s gotta die, right? Last week’s episode, half the cast arrived in Terminus. Rick/Michonne/Carl and Carol/Tyreese/Judith can’t be far behind. But Daryl and the “Claim” gang are coming, too – and hell’s coming with him. What’s the easy-money bet here, Jeff? Who’s this season’s Andrea?
JEFF LABRECQUE: What’s so great about this season is that really, it could be anyone. Last year, all the smart money – and character karma – was on Andrea to finally get the hook. This year, though, the field is wide open. I’d say the only person “safe” is Judith. Two children were killed off two episodes ago, but the producers wouldn’t kill a baby… would they? (Though a zombie baby would be the greatest slash most-horrible thing since the original V alien baby.) No. No. They can’t kill a baby. They just can’t.
So let’s just agree to take Judith off the table — because we should pretend to have a soul. Everyone else, however, is fair game, and the show’s writers have had some fun this season planting foreboding clues for several essential characters. In fact, I’m admiring in advance the writers’ nerve if they kill off Glenn or Maggie after spending the entire second half of the season keeping them apart until last week’s reunion. It would be a cold-hearted move to tear them apart so quickly, but man, that would be so Walking Dead. I was leaning towards Glenn taking the bullet (or the bite or whatever), perhaps in some altruistic life-saving act – but then I saw Maggie purposely and emphatically burn up Glenn’s only photo of her and say that he would never need it again because they’ll always be together. Jeez, Maggie, that’s like the Walking Dead equivalent of “Dead Meat” Thompson postponing the opportunity to sign his life insurance policy before taking getting in his fighter jet in the Hot Shots! movie. Sorry, Darren: It’s all downhill after the first Hot Shots! reference.
DARREN: I see your Hot Shots! reference and raise you a golden-age Simpsons reference: Maggie and Glenn just bought a boat, named it the Live-4-Ever, and now they’re gonna sail around the world like they always wanted. Killing off half of Dead’s power couple would be the most heart-wrenching move right now, which means it is entirely possible. But I also think that, if it happens, Glenn’s the one going down. Because we gotta be logical here, Jeff: Glenn is a really swell guy, but Maggie is one step and one totally badass trademark weapon away from becoming Walking Dead’s official Kickass Action Heroine. Step One: Kill off Glenn. Step Two: Reveal that Maggie is pregnant. Step Three: Give her some knife gloves.
But there’s another Day One Dead cast member who could be poised to bite the bullet (or get bitten by the bullet, as it were). To me, the strongest through line of season 4 has been the rise and fall of Carol. Way back in the season premiere, she was an important figure in the Prison community, preaching a gospel of Eternal Defense to the next generation. Since then, she’s been forced to make wrenching decisions – killing her diseased friends in a failed attempt to stop the plague, trying and failing to build a new life for Lizzie and Mika, ultimately having to kill the former after the former killed the latter. Tyreese granted her something like absolution a couple episodes ago – but that could just be setting us up for one final sad twist in Carol’s story. If Terminus really is a new sanctuary for our gang, then Carol strikes me as a kind of metaphorical Moses: After all her struggles, she won’t get to see the promised land. Oh yeah, Jeff, I’m bringing out the Old Testament references.
JEFF: Well, as viewers of South Park and Family Guy have been saying for years, “Hot Shots! did it first!”
I agree that Carol is at risk. Tyreese accepted her horrible confession, but what choice did he have at that time? Without her help, he likely couldn’t keep Judith safe and alive. But you know he’s burning on the inside, and should they return to some sense of relative normalcy if/when they reach Terminus, you have to suspect he might then exact vengeance. In fact, I’d lean towards Carol being killed off if Walking Dead were a novel or if there were any rhyme or reason to this show’s sense of justice. She certainly deserves to die in a way. But I’m not sure Walking Dead operates in that fashion. I can see Carol being an older version of the Maggie you describe. Or, to reference another show, she’s the zombie apocalypse version of Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood from House of Cards. She’ll cut your throat and watch you die.
The nightmare scenario for me is saying goodbye to Daryl. It seems ridiculous that the show would ax its most popular character, but ever since Robert Kirkman told EW’s Dalton Ross to expect a shocking finale, I can’t get over the image of Daryl sleeping in that funeral home’s coffin from a few episodes back. Was that a cruel red herring or morbid foreshadowing?
DARREN: I’m calling it now: Daryl’s never dying on this show. If he does, it’ll be in the series finale in 2020, when the show flashes forward several decades to the palace of Emperor Dixon, Lord of the Western Continent, Unifier of the Living and Killer of the Dead, who finally expires at the age of 108 surrounded by his 15 grandchildren, all of them holding crossbows. But besides the built-in popularity factor – Women want him! Men want to be him! He’s a biker badass who loves babies! – I also think the show is veering in a different direction with Daryl. We’ve seen what happens when he falls in with a good crowd; but what happens to Daryl, a man cursed with eternal little-brother syndrome, when he falls in with the wrong crowd? I’m betting Daryl’s season 5 will look a bit like Carol’s season 4.
We’ve mostly talked about the Walking Dead Varsity Team: Popular characters who’ve been around for awhile. But it’s also possible that the show will clear out its bench. Sasha and Bob have both received way more attention in this sequence of episodes – and typically, when the show starts paying attention to a heretofore minor character, it bodes ill for them. On that note, the show has done a LOT since the prison to provide some deeper insight into Michonne. To me, she’s the real wild card in the death sweepstakes. The character’s a fan favorite from the comics – but I get the vibe that she’s never quite popped the same way for TV viewers, even though Danai Gurira gives top-quality Murder Stare. Her swords are cool… but maybe they’d be just as cool wielded in vengeance by one of her friends? (Pause to imagine: Carl Grimes, the world’s littlest Cowboy Samurai.)
But this is Walking Dead, Jeff, which might as well be subtitled Horrible Twist Theater. One of the first episodes this season started with Beth narrating how happy she was to be in the prison. Since then, the character – who said maybe five words in previous seasons – has taken center stage, taking Daryl on a kind of spiritual awakening. The show hasn’t been explicit about it, but it’s clear to me that there’s something between her and Daryl. Now she’s been kidnapped by mysterious forces. D-Ross already put forward his cannibal theory, which is intriguing, but I sorta hope that Terminus is at least half of what it’s cracked up to be. But I’m making a soft bet on this: If we see Beth in the finale, she probably won’t get out alive. If we don’t see her, my money’s on Glenn. Either way, that would leave Maggie grieving yet another member of her family. Is that too dark, Jeff, or just dark enough?
JEFF: I think Beth makes it to season 5, if only to be part of an awkward love triangle between Daryl and Carl. (She and Carl had a sweet little connection when they were still in the prison. And prison romances are always special.) I like Michonne’s chances too, if only because if she dies, I feel like it’s a total admission of failure on the part of the writers. Like, “We really tried, but we just couldn’t write for Michonne, who’s simply way too cool for us or this show.”
Though I’m contradicting what I just said about a potential love triangle, the one other possibility that’s just crazy and disturbing enough to work is killing Carl. Kirkman has talked about how this finale will push Rick to his absolute limit and the man that emerges is going to shock people. What more can the show do to Rick physically? (Okay, they could chop off his hand.) I think what Rick might be forced to endure, though, is a wound he thinks he already understands – the loss of a child. Judith, it turns out, is alive and will presumably be reunited with her father. What if he gets that blessing, only to lose his son? Carl has matured this season, so much so that he feels like he doesn’t need his shattered father anymore. He sees himself as a man, but that’s not entirely true yet. He’s still prone to being careless and he’s bound to bite off more than he can chew at some point. To be blunt, I also feel like the show could lose Carl from a practical storytelling perspective. His death would make for great TV, but the show would roll on with hardly a bump. Just less whining.
It would be crude to place odds on which character doesn’t survive Sunday’s finale. Soooo… let’s get right to it:
Major character most likely to crave brains: