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'The Walking Dead:' A death too far?

Zombies in a scene from "The Walking Dead."

Zombies in a scene from "The Walking Dead." Credit: Scott Garfield

"The Walking Dead" had a "midseason" finale last night -- the show returns Feb. 12 -- and as mid-season finales are wont, ended with a shocker. But was this one necessary? A death that changed the tenor of the series and maybe gutted its heart, too -- or what there is of "heart" here? Here is where we post the obligatory "spoiler alert," but head to the jump for a bit more....




And here's the bit more: You don't kill the little girl. It's an article of faith the whole world over in popular entertainment -- little girls don't die.

Death is for adults, certainly teens in any John Carpenter or Wes Craven movie -- and occasionally boys, but only occasionally. Little girls, never. Or "almost" never -- must append the "almost" because I'm sure a notable example will eventually come to mind.

There's a reason for this: Not merely the sanctity of childhood, which TV now and then even has some sense of regard for; or the sanctity of plain decency -- and that putting a bullet in the head of little girl, even if she is undead, would seem to be a blatant violation of that.

[OK, aforementioned spoiler: Sophia, upon whose recovery the first half of the second season revolved, was in fact a walker, and dispatched by Rick Grimes in the closing seconds.]

But more to point: In the context of a TV series, particularly this TV series, children represent the future, hope, and a sense that even though it is not immediately apparent, this journey will end up in a place that to some degree will be cathartic. (And TV series, believe it or not, do end.) If Sophia dies, as she did, then why not Carl, or Rick, Shane, Lori, Dale, Glenn, anyone of them? If Sophia dies, as she did, then there really is no real reason to get emotionally invested in any character, because that character could and almost certainly will die at any moment to jack whatever cliff-hanging dramatic imperative the series might need.

Even Lori and her unborn baby? Yeah, them, too.

Was the death of Sophia just a gimmick to drop jaws -- viewers' jaws -- without really servicing any broader meaning or story line? Maybe -- after all, why didn't Hershell ( Scott Wilson) let everyone know that a little girl was in his barn? Clearly that would have been a matter of interest since the entire first half of this season was devoted to actually searching for her?  Creator Robert Kirkman addresses this question in the Hollywood Reporter Monday morning, but his answer doesn't feel convincing.

It all gets down to what "The Walking Dead" is "about," to use a fully loaded word. It's "about" a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world beset by a mysterious disease that has killed most of the human population and revived it into some sort of ungodly ravenous army -- an "Us versus Them" tale that should at some point come to a conclusion that will provide a deeper and hopefully more satisfying conclusion to what, until now, is effectively just another slasher story.

But with Sophia gone, and gone so brutally, that no longer feels possible. I hope Kirkman knows what he's doing. I wonder though.

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