Killing the Villain: A Daring Plot Device

gareth[First of all, I would like to say that this blog post contains spoilers about the current season of The Walking Dead, so if you are not current, then do not read any further.]

At the end of season 4 of The Walking Dead we were introduced to a new villain: the cold, cannibalistic Gareth.  Gareth is a villain that is both highly intelligent and repulsive in that he eats human flesh, living by the adage: “You are either the butcher or the cattle.”  He has formed a society of cannibals in a train station called “Terminus” and at the end of season 4 had captured our heroes in a train car marked for slaughter.

In Sunday night’s episode [spoiler alert!] we saw Gareth and his men get ambushed by Rick Grimes and his crew in a church and most unexpectedly chopped to bits by the very red-handled machete that Rick promised Gareth he would kill him with.

I must say that I was indeed shocked by the entire event, as I was sure we had been introduced to a villain much like the Governor who would hover around for at least an entire season if not longer, hunting our heroes, playing survival chess with Rick and the gang.  But…nope!  No dice.  Kirkman and the writing team had decided to kill off Gareth by the third episode of the season.

Why?

I have puzzled over this for some time (about three days) and I have come to the conclusion that this could be the most brilliant move a writer could make.  What if we had seen the death of Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars Episode VI?  What if we had watched Voldemort die in book 3 of the Harry Potter series?  What if President Snow would have died in the first book of The Hunger Games?  What the writing team of The Walking Dead have done is to cause the audience to puzzle over what comes next.  It is a fantastic device (killing the villain) because it causes the audience to wonder if there is an even greater threat on the horizon.  Gareth was really bad.  There were moments in the first two episodes where i was sure someone was going to die as a result of Gareth’s evil, but we only lose a peripheral character (sad as it was).  I did not feel that the death of Gareth was anti-climactic (like the death of Palant in the Bones series) but it left me wondering what would come next.

I have thought of creating a villain for my current WIP and then killing him/her off in the first five chapters.  Of course I have another more dangerous villain waiting in the wings, but throwing the reader for a loop like this is worth it.  It causes the reader to wonder and shocks them out of the normal plot rut that most writers fall into.  It’s kind of daring, not to mention unorthodox, but it could be the plot device that causes your novel to be that much more exciting and interesting.

So why not?  Kill that villain, but make sure that you have an even greater antagonist to create conflict for the protagonist.  The death of the villain at the first will lull the protagonist into a false sense of security, and therefore make the upcoming villain that much more dangerous and exciting for the reader to discover.

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2 thoughts on “Killing the Villain: A Daring Plot Device

  1. There was another reason why Gareth was killed: Kirkman was following the story arc from the graphic novels, and had substituted the Terminus people for a group encountered at this point known as The Hunters. The events on the show played out pretty much as they had in the comic/GN, with Rick and Co. dealing out to Gareth as they had done to The Hunters. Since they were at that point in the story–and because they’re bringing in this whole new arc of “What happened to Beth?” for the next few episodes–it was pretty much a given to anyone who’s read the GN that the Termites (as we were calling them) were going out.

    It’s also a given that if you’ve followed the GN you know how the season will end, and that next season we’ll probably see Negan–the character you have pictured at the top of the post–appear. And then you’ll get to see a *real* villain walk on stage.

    This is one of the things I love about adapted work: seeing how close they stick to the original material.

    • All true. I posted that pic of Negan for the super-fans who know who the real villain might be. I love that they are twisting the usual paradigm by killing off the most unexpected characters (i.e. Gareth). It makes us feel like we did when Darrel came out of the forest with that person (who shall not be named) in tow.

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