Hint: Very few of them go the “Killing me softly with his song” route. So it goes:
by Jennifer Vineyard
We all saw Rick Grimes exit The Walking Dead after being impaled by a rebar, blown up by dynamite, and then whisked away by a helicopter for a future in Walking Dead movies. So, how does the show muddle on without its hero? How do a show’s writers plan for a big change like that? We consulted some of our favorite genre TV writers and showrunners — Phil Klemmer of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Erin Levy of Counterpart, Sera Gamble and John McNamara of SYFY’s The Magicians — about the art and science of killing off (and writing off) characters.
How does it feel to kill your darlings? Why do it?
Gamble: Because John [McNamara] and I are working together, we will have different darlings, and we frequently have to kind of push one another to consider killing each other’s darlings. Occasionally, he has to tell me to be more cold-blooded to tell the best story. When I was on Supernatural, [showrunner] Eric Kripe had a rule that nobody should be afraid to kill the characters we loved. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell really deep emotional stories just because you’re being so protective of your entire board of players. Playing it safe is not the name of the game. But nobody ever flippantly decides that they should kill a character on a show.
McNamara: I have more of a prickly exterior, gooey interior when it comes to these things. I’ll suggest we kill someone, and then I’ll see it gathering steam in the room and becoming a thing, and I’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa! The actor just bought a house! We can’t kill him!” Sera and I did a show together called Aquarius, and the body count on that one was insane. Even David Duchovny was like, “The way you guys Grim Reaper your way through this show, I’m probably next, right? I’m probably going to end up with my head on a plate.” But it was no fun killing characters that I had invested a lot of time in….