Character Development – Weakness by Association

Apologies for last week – I had to travel last Sunday (a rarity) and the weekend flew by much faster than I anticipated.  I had the start of a legit blog post, but nothing close to ready for publication last week so I saved it for this week.

The topic is character development, or more specifically, are character’s weak by their own regard, or can weakness be a thing of association?  In other words…are a group of characters, or even a single character, only as strong as their weakest character.  This idea came to me after watching the season premiere of The Walking Dead that aired a couple weeks ago.

In the episode, Rick’s latest love interest, Jessie, as well as her younger son Sam, are killed by zombies.  Shortly thereafter, her other son Ron was skewered by Michonne because he shot Carl.  My initial reaction is not one I often reserve for character death scenes, but I couldn’t help it – I cheered.  I literally threw my arms up and laughed because a group of worthless characters who contributed next to nothing to the story were now out of the way.

The saddest part, however, is that Jessie could’ve stayed around.  She could’ve been better if not for her pathetically portrayed sons.  This got me thinking – did I support Jessie’s death because of Jessie, or because of her stupid sons to which she was associated?

Married to an alcoholic, abusive jerk, Jessie decides to stick with him in the haven of Alexandria because a) family, and b) in a literally gated community surrounded by zombies, she can’t exactly get away from him.  Both are understandable reasons.  But then her husband gets killed (yay!), which leads to a bit of her development because now she has to defend her family herself.  She juggles between learning to fight and face the zombie-afflicted truth, developing confidence in herself and her relationship with Rick, caring for her youngest son who locked himself in his room because he got a dose of reality, and keeping tabs on her teenage son who is a prick like his father and turns emo over his death.  Its a lot for a single mom, and she never gave up trying even if she did have to align her priorities at times.  In short, she may not have been the most intriguing character, but in of itself she had solid grounds to work off of in terms of growth.  For example – what lengths would she go to defend her sons, or what can she expect of her relationship with Rick?

By contrast, Sam and Ron were weak, weak characters.  Tragic, cliched backstory aside, their misery was projected with such emptiness that it left the characters little ground to develop (unlike their mom).  Sam can’t cope with anything and dies this way, and Ron becomes a jealous prick to Carl for really no reason – to the point he wants Carl dead.  The more Carl tries to find understanding in Ron, the more Ron hates him.  And not in a ‘push him away because its personal’ vibe, but literally hates because he can.  Ron cares only for himself, but not in the ‘survival’ way the other characters do.

In short, Jessie could’ve been a contender, but failed because ultimately her relation to other weak characters brought her down. They killed her, but her death meant so little because her two sons – the characters she should have been closest to – were empty husks.  Whether the writing for this was intentional or not I can’t say, since I understand the realistic gritty tone the show is known for, and death is often unfair and unpredictable.  While I’m of the impression that every character should have some development, the deaths of the ones you sacrifice should in turn contribute to another character’s development – not just’ for the kills’.  Had only her sons died, Jessie could’ve developed even more.  Instead, she went with them, and so did her character.



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