TV drama writers are murderers. They have to be: No matter how successful their shows are, at some point, somebody's going to die — and they're going to make that happen. On
But don't think it's easy to kill, even in fiction. Wielding the pen like a sword takes a toll and is never done lightly.
"There's a tremendous amount of regret involved any time you kill someone off," says "Dead" creator Robert Kirkman. "They say 'kill your darlings,' and it's true. I'm bummed out we don't get to work with
Liking an actor just isn't enough to keep him around; once the story has stepped up and indicated a character has reached his useful end, out he or she goes. "I won't keep a character alive just because I like the character, or the actor," says
Not that some writers can't be swayed if they can find another way to tell the story. "The Following's"
In the case of "Downton," however, losing Matthew and Sybil in the same season was foundation-shaking, and not entirely in the writers' hands. Executive producers Gareth Neame and
"As [Findlay] did not want to re-up her contract, we felt it was much stronger rocket fuel for the narrative if we had a death — and indeed that was so," says Neame. Stevens' "decision not to renew his contract put us in a dilemma, however."
"I wanted him to do one episode the following year so we could have had the final episode [of the third season] with them happy, with the baby in the crib and then kill him in the next episode [the fourth season opener], but he wouldn't even do that," says Fellowes. "I couldn't have the whole of the last episode about him dying."
But he didn't leave the door open for a possible return of Matthew. Most writers, in fact, eschew the notion of an ambiguous disappearance or demise. "I believe that death is death," says Williamson. "If you take away that very real stake, the show loses something."
Adds Winter, "I try to avoid that stuff, because people don't believe it. It's a cop-out."
In the end, story prevails over all — and any character can be killed these days on dramas, including leads. "No one is safe," says Kirkman. "Rick is on the chopping block as much as anyone else."
So is "Homeland's" Brody (