After the first couple of episodes, in addition to potentially become the greatest season of The Walking Dead so far, the confluence of two elements has made the potential ever greater: 1) The Walking Dead has rid itself of most of the most annoying characters, so we’re now mostly invested in the series regulars, and 2) the series seems to have completely broken with the source material. That’s not to say that characters from Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels won’t continue to make appearances, and that some situations in both the novels and the television show may parallel one another, but they are so far afield on the television series that the show has become completely unpredictable.
The unpredictability of the series is great, because now we really don’t know who will live and who will survive until the next season, or even the next episode. It’s added another layer of tension to the series, as we dread the worst: That our favorite character or characters will be snuffed out. There are 11 and a half series regulars on the show now (not including The Governor, who will almost certainly die this season, if only because David Morrissey has other series commitments). It’s also much tougher to choose who should die and who should live, but this is how I would rank them:
12. Beth Greene — Only just elevated to series regular this season, Beth hasn’t really become a major force on the show yet. That’s not to say that she can’t, and in finally taking out a zombie last season, she is showing some potential, and there is an ever-so-slight hint that she could develop a crush on Daryl. But for now, Beth’s role in the show is primarily looking after the baby, providing the occasional emotional support, and showing little feeling when her boyfriend is killed. Beth understands that everyone’s time is limited, and that she should appreciate the time she does have with other characters, instead of mourning the time she doesn’t. That’s kind of how I feel about Beth: She’s OK to have around, but I wont’ be too broken up if she is killed off.
11. Hershel Greene — I feel bad putting father and daughter together at the bottom of this list (although, seeing them go together would be preferable), but the truth is, Hershel hasn’t much to offer the series anymore, except for some sage words from a wise old man. Yes, he farms, and yes, he’s a great elder who provides some occasional guidance (especially to Rick), but he’s not really necessary to the survival of the rest of the crew anymore. I would be very sad to lose Hershel, but the series wouldn’t skip a beat without him.
10. Sasha — Sasha — also elevated to series regular this season — actually displays incredible potential, and she’s already demonstrated some brilliant ass-kicking skills. But we haven’t really emotionally bonded with her yet. That could still come in the future episodes, and she could become a great character. But for now, she’s kind of like the litter sister with a big attitude. She is expendable.
9. Carol Peletier — This is where it starts to hurt. Losing Carol would suck, especially for Daryl, who has developed a tight emotional bond with her (that is perhaps romantic in nature). She’s great around camp, too, schooling the kids in zombie survival tactics. But, I think, protecting the very children she’s teaching to protect themselves could be a fitting end for Carol, maybe even later this season. It would blow, but once she’s built a new generation of zombie fighters, Carol also becomes expendable.
8. Glenn Rhee — Glenn has come a very long way since the early seasons, when he was a weak, cap-wearing pizza boy. He’s moved from tertiary character to fan favorite to a period last season where he was kind of an asshole. But at this point, Glenn’s major role in the series is that of the love interest to Maggie, and while they are an adorable couple, now that they are together, there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room to grow anymore. The relationship could get stale (in fact, it’s already showing some signs of that), and I’m not sure I want Glenn around for three more seasons chivalrously holding his girlfriend back from a fight. LET HER FIGHT.
7. Rick Grimes — If there is one character on the show that has the potential to become the new Lori or the new Andrea, I guess it is Rick. I don’t necessarily agree with those that have found him increasingly annoying, but I do agree that now that he’s stepped out of his leadership role, he’s not as useful to the group anymore. I do think he could be again, and I’m not sure what the show would look like without its lead character, and the grounding force of the series, but I think it could move on, especially if a new leader arises. The show has done about as much with Rick as it can, so it may be to the character’s best interest to let him go before The Walking Dead fanbase turns on him.
6. Carl Grimes — Carl is a much better character than he was early on in this series, and he could probably be a decent leader to the younger generation, but the reason why I placed him this high has less to do with Carl’s value to the series, and more to do with the fact that I don’t think I could stomach seeing Rick lose his son. The psychic break Rick had after losing his wife — who he wasn’t really even close to anymore — was difficult enough. To lose his son? The show can’t contain that much devastation. It’d be six episodes of Ghost Lori consoling Rick while Rick moped around in the woods.
5. Michonne — The top five is when it gets really hard, because all of these characters really are fan favorites. It has been tough going for Michonne, though. Her character hasn’t quite become what we’d hoped she’d be. She kicks more ass than anyone on the show, and for zombie kills, no one else can compete. But up until the last episode, we hadn’t really developed a deep emotional connection to Michonne. She’s part of the group now, but she’s still stand-offish, and she hasn’t really invested herself. She’s a great fighter, and her death would be a huge loss to the show, but it wouldn’t be crippling. Of course, I want to see her take out the Governor first, but after that, her character’s purpose will have been seemingly served.
4. Tyreese — A fairly new character, who is only now entrenching himself within the group, Tyreese is placed this high for a few of reasons: 1) Chad Coleman is an amazing actor who has had the ability to connect with the group (and audience) immediately; 2) the series absolutely cannot kill off another black guy anytime soon without suffering major (and deserved) blowback, and 3) Tyreese is the character most likely to supplant Rick as a new leader of the group. He would be an extremely effective leader, too.
3. Maggie Greene — I won’t lie to you: Part of the reason that Maggie is so high is because she’s super hot, and I would really miss Lauren Cohan’s magazine spreads. But she has also become a really terrific character, moving out from behind the shadow of both her father and, of late, she’s beginning to emerge out of the shadow of her relationship with Glenn. She’s the Linda Hamilton character of this series: She’s tough enough to take out a zombie horde, but she’s tender enough to develop a really strong connection with the audience. She is probably my favorite character right now, and without Glenn attached at her hip, there’s still a lot of room to grow for her.
2. Daryl Dixon — If Daryl Dies, We Riot is not just a cool Internet meme, IT IS THE TRUTH. Daryl is the show’s smart ass; he’s the comic relief; and he’s also the heart of The Walking Dead. The series could survive the loss of almost anyone, but not Daryl. He’s too valuable to the group as a fighter, a protector, and the emotional center. He’s also the poster boy for how a zombie apocalypse can transform a redneck sh*tkicker into a mature leader and a force to be reckoned with. The show would lose half its audience without Daryl.
1. Lil Ass Kicker — Deos the show need Judith? No. Probably not. Does she provide any value to the series, other than giving Beth something to do? No, not really. BUT YOU CANNOT KILL THE BABY. That, in a way, crosses the line. I mean, not even Breaking Bad could go that far: It would be too traumatic, not just for the group, but for the viewers at home. If I knew ahead of time that Judith was going to die, I literally would not watch that episode. I could not accept it, plus Judith is symbol for hope, and the show needs hope.