It’s hard to say exactly who was killed in The Walking Dead’s season six finale. The show runners purposefully made it an ambiguous ending, giving fans ample time to argue and debate about who’s head just had a violent encounter with villainous Negan and his trusty bat Lucille. And out of the 11 main characters that could have been taken out, what would it mean for the show moving forward?
Since nearly the beginning of the show, fans rallied around the character of Daryl Dixon. His fighting skills and bad attitude made him a rough, lovable character. Daryl’s essentially the Wolverine of The Walking Dead – but, much like the comic iteration of the character, perhaps it’s time for him to meet his end.
Sure, Rick and Michonne are the leads in name, but Daryl’s the one that has “if he dies, we riot” paraphernalia. And his death would do good as far as re-shaking the status quo. It’s also not as if we’re out of badass characters. Michonne, Sasha, and Abraham are all venerable powerhouses, and this whole season’s arc has been about bringing the Alexandrians up to snuff on fighting. And now that he’s no longer under the influence of his less-than-savory brother Merle, he’s not so much of a hardcore anti-hero as much as a curmudgeonly set of muscles and arrows.
And with the absence of his key characteristics from the early seasons, it’s also easy to see he isn’t getting any storylines that are all that important. In the early seasons of The Walking Dead, he had to balance out his love for his brother with his relationship with the group, but he’d gotten past all of that by the end of season 3, when Merle got killed. After that, Daryl had a particularly Wolverine-esqe storyline, as he became a mentor-guardian of Beth after the fall of the prison. But, much like Merle, Beth died, giving Daryl nothing but a quick crying scene and a lack of things to do.
This season, he used a rocket launcher on some Savior bikers, clashed with Dwight and his sickly friends, but who cares? Everyone this season had to deal with Saviors. Maybe if Daryl had made the rocket launcher part of his permanent look, there’d be more chances of revitalizing the character. But there hasn’t been anything to make us think we’ll see that.
However, it’s hard to say what good killing Daryl would actually do. It would certainly re-cement the idea that any lead could be killed, but they could accomplish the same feeling killing a character like Michonne, Glenn, or Maggie. While The Walking Dead certainly isn’t short on viewers, the death of Daryl might be enough to push some viewers away. And while a solution to having a less prevalent character is killing them, it isn’t necessarily the best option. They could easily give Daryl more to do, based off of how he reacts to whoever’s death.
Basically, the overarching problem with recent seasons of The Walking Dead is they’ve abandoned their policy of picking off characters left and right in favor of fan service, notably with the survival of Daryl Dixon. To put it bluntly, there’s nowhere else for that character to go. We’ve seen all the development we’re likely to get for his character, and the only justification for keeping him alive is that he had some sort of survivalist upbringing. Many people may be ready to pick up their torches and pitchforks if Daryl dies, but he’s had his time on the show. His death could herald a new era for the show, and be a much-needed catalyst for kicking the show into second gear – or, as Eugene would put it, “Level 2.” Something’s got to break, and so does someone’s face. If the fans were reacting so poorly to the finale’s cliffhanger, you may as well lean into the anger and take down the biggest fan favorite.