If there’s one thing that sets AMC’s The Walking Dead apart from the competition, it’s the palpable sense of dread that accompanies every episode. Over the course of the last six seasons, the show has developed a reputation for being ruthless; any character can die at any given time. This has become an integral aspect of the show, and – according to series creator Robert Kirkman – essential for the show’s continued success.

During an appearance and Bravo’s Inside The Actors Studio, Kirkman explained the importance of the show regularly killing off characters:
I wrote the comic for like eight years before the show even existed and uh you know I like to say ‘people gots to die,’ because you never want to lose that--what you were talking about--you know if you go too long a period with characters surviving and being safe then you lose that element of ‘oh my god any of these characters could go at any moment.’ That is a tremendously powerful engine that drives this whole thing and it is emotional.

The Walking Dead has always worked best when it runs at a frantic pace and keeps the stakes high. Robert Kirkman seems to recognize this ingredient to success and realizes that nobody can be safe in order for the show to remain popular with fans. The knowledge that anyone can die at any time – even fan favorite Daryl Dixon – keeps the show running at a fever pitch and provides an experience unlike any other show on television with the possible exception of Game of Thrones. While Season 6 has featured an incredibly high body count, none of the dead have included anyone particularly popular from the show’s core group of characters. Robert Kirkman’s words may foreshadow some major deaths to come sometime before the end of Season 6.

Of course, it makes sense that the show plays it somewhat safer than the comic book source material. Killing off live-action characters left and right presents a much bigger logistical challenge for a TV show than a graphic novel because in a book all Kirkman has to do is write that character out of existence. Robert Kirkman’s statement seems incredibly important because it points towards a recognition that the show has kept too many characters safe for too long, and that the death and devastation inherent in the comics may soon become more prominent in the series.

We will just have to wait and see if The Walking Dead keeps true to its spirit and starts dropping more bodies during the second half of Season 6. The series will return to the schedule on AMC on Sunday, February 14 at 9 p.m. ET. Stay tuned for more details.

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