Warning: Major spoilers for the latest episode of "The Walking Dead" lurk ahead!
Death is par for the course on "The Walking Dead," but that knowledge wasn't enough to prepare for the shocking death of fan-favorite character Dale. Veteran actor Jeffrey DeMunn made his final appearance on the AMC survival horror series on Sunday night, and as is custom for the show, his exit was a gruesome one: While strolling along the quiet fields of Hershel's farm, Dale was mortally injured by a roaming zombie and, ultimately, euthanized by a bullet to the head from antihero Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus).
"Dale's death comes at a time where he's very much needed," executive producer Robert Kirkman told MTV News about the shocking decision to kill DeMunn's character. "[Rick and the gang] are trying to make this decision on what to do with Randall. The farm is becoming increasingly dangerous. There is still tension between Rick and Shane, despite the fact that it appears that they've put much of their differences behind them for now. They need that moral compass [in Dale], and it's been taken away."
Losing Dale will have massive repercussions on the rest of the "Walking Dead" cast, Kirkman promised. Chief among those feeling the sting will be Carl (Chandler Riggs), who was partially responsible for Dale's death. Earlier in the episode, Carl wandered into the forest by himself and taunted a seemingly immobile zombie — the very same zombie that ripped Dale's guts out.
"It's interesting to see Carl doing kid stuff: going out on his own, trying to prove he's strong enough to kill a zombie, proving that he's deserving of carrying a gun," Kirkman said. "He instigated this whole situation. We're going to deal with his emotions and what comes from him causing Dale's death to a certain extent. That's definitely one of the big repercussions where Dale's death affects these characters."
Once again, Dale's death proves that the "Walking Dead" TV series is more than willing to deviate from the "Walking Dead" comic books. In Kirkman's comics, Dale survives dozens and dozens of issues before finally succumbing to a fatal zombie bite. Seeing the popular character leave the show so soon is bound to be a shock for longtime fans then — but that wasn't the only kind of shock value Kirkman and company were aiming for.
"One of the things we wanted to do is show how dangerous these zombies actually are," Kirkman said. "We were sitting around the writers' room early on in the planning of season two, and we thought, you know, there aren't a lot of zombies actually succeeding in what they're trying to do. They eat people here and there, but we've never really had a zombie actually take down one of our main characters — at least not for a while, not since the first season. We wanted to remind people how dangerous these creatures are. It also threw a wrench in everyone's plans to take Dale off the table, so those two ideas merged into one until we eventually came to offing this character."
Fans aren't just losing Dale, of course: they're also losing DeMunn, one of the finest actors "The Walking Dead" has to offer. Taking an actor of such high caliber off the playing field is not something the "Dead" team treated lightly, Kirkman said.
"It's a tremendous loss," he admitted. "It's difficult. It's difficult for the cast, because they've become pretty much a family hanging out in rural Georgia. They keep each other company. It's definitely a big deal [losing Jeffrey]; it sucks for everybody. Jeffrey in particular brought a serious sense of gravitas to the role and definitely legitimized this show by gracing us with his presence. We were lucky to get an actor of his caliber. He added a lot to the show, and his presence is definitely going to be missed.
"But," Kirkman added, "this is 'The Walking Dead.' It would be inaccurate to portray this show as anything other than completely dangerous, and in order to do that, you have to lose characters from time to time."
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