The Walking Dead is no stranger to killing off members of the cast. Aside from Game of Thrones, no other show on television can compete with its annual brutality and gore. Yet in recent seasons, The Walking Dead has diverted from killing the biggest characters on its cast, instead opting for lesser developed characters to die in their places.
Thankfully, the series is gearing up to raise the stakes. Negan (to be played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), arguably the most sadistic villain in the comics that the show is based on, will make an appearance this season. In all likelihood, he will be appearing in the season finale, akin to his game-changing introduction in the comics. (Plus, he's only penned to show up in the finale on IMDb, though that's far from concrete evidence.)
To the uninitiated, Negan will bring a darker element and a tangible threat to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the group — one not felt since we saw the Governor (David Morrissey) in season three. The turning point will likely start with a brutal death of a beloved character. However, there are legitimate reasons to believe that this character will be Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) — much to the dismay of his adoring, intense fanbase.
(Editor's note: Spoilers for the comic books and the TV series ahead.)
In the comics, Negan makes an example out of Glenn (Steven Yeun) — picked from random out of Rick's group — and brutally clubs him to death with his barbed wire-laced baseball bat, "Lucille." It's a chilling scene that has a lasting impact on the group. For one, it drastically affects Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) storyline, as she recovers from the death of her husband.
However, the show has already laid out compelling reasons for Negan to instead target this rage at Daryl. After a brief encounter with Negan's lackeys alongside Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Daryl blows up the group with a rocket launcher from the back of their truck, calling them "a bunch of assholes."
There appears to be a car in the background of the shot where Daryl blows up the crew, though it could just as easily be attributed to a minor production gaffe. However, if someone else were to witness the event, or if the member of the crew Daryl took out at the back of the truck somehow survived, Negan would know who's responsible for killing his men. (Killing some of his lackeys is why he goes to Rick for a public execution of a group member, Glenn, in the comics).
Furthermore, the show has repeatedly teased Glenn's death without actually following through with it. In the first half of season six, he was seemingly eaten alive by horde of zombies — though it's later revealed to be a clever camera trick.
Even in the midseason premiere, the show again tosses up Glenn as potential zombie bait before Daryl, Sasha and Abraham come in to rescue him and the rest of the gang in Alexandria with their newly acquired stash of weapons. Glenn's mortality has become a frequently repeated — and frustrating — trope. Killing him would actually be expected at this point.
Moreover, the show has kept iconic deaths from the comics before, instead swapping out the characters to which the event happens. Most notably, in season four, the Governor beheads Hershel (Scott Wilson) with Michonne's (Danai Gurira) katana — though that scene in the comics happens to Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), who dies in the following season.
The latest episode also introduces someone who could be the newest member of the group: Jesus. He takes a similar persona to that of Michonne and Daryl, a loner who is very capable of holding his own in the zombified world. However, he adds another "lone wolf" character to a show that now has several, as Morgan (Lennie James) certainly qualifies as one too.
In seasons past, characters with similar characteristics were soon killed off (think Dale dying shortly after Hershel showed up, taking over the "old man with strong moral compass" role). It would make little sense for Jesus to be introduced only to die shortly after, especially since his character is still alive in the comics.
Tracing characters back to their comic origins is another reason Daryl's life span on the show is an ongoing concern. He isn't based on a comic book character — rather he and his brother, Merle (Michael Rooker), were created specifically for the show. As such, there are no inherent callbacks to the source with his actions. The showrunners can do whatever they want.
The show has also already made subtle, artistic hints that a Daryl death could be at the hands of a biker (like Negan), when Daryl crashes next to a zombified biker in the sixth episode of season six. It's not out-of-reach for AMC to do such a thing — they did just that with drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) on Breaking Bad with the use of a pink teddy bear, foreshadowing the way in which he would die later in the series.
It might not be what Daryl's fans are hoping for. The phrase, "If Daryl dies, we riot," has become so popular that it's available on merchandise.
If nothing else, the season six finale — and Negan's potential entrance — should prove to be a very disturbing end. According to the actors, it'll be a lot, even by the show's incredibly gruesome standards.
"I felt sick to my stomach when I read the [finale] script," Andrew Lincoln told Entertainment Weekly. "It was the first day in the whole six years of working on The Walking Dead that I was late for work because I woke up in the middle of the night and I couldn't get back to sleep. I was so angry and frustrated and I felt sick. And that was just after reading it."
The Walking Dead's comic book creator and TV series executive producer Robert Kirkman has already said that Negan's appearance will be an "atomic bomb" that's dropped on the show. The best way to demonstrate this may be killing off its most beloved character.