Character Deaths That Forever Changed the Course of ‘The Walking Dead’

Fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ know all too well that no character is safe in the post-apocalyptic world dominated by zombies, known as ‘walkers.’

Throughout its eleven seasons, the show has seen numerous key characters meet their untimely demise. While every death affects the narrative and characters, some have been pivotal in changing the direction of the series.

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Shane Walsh

As fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ will undoubtedly recall, Shane Walsh was one of the initial central figures in the show’s earlier seasons. Portrayed by Jon Bernthal, Shane was the former best friend and police partner of Rick Grimes, the show’s main protagonist.

When the series begins, it’s Shane who stands at the helm, leading the group of survivors in Rick’s absence. Believing that Rick has died in the hospital during the outbreak, Shane finds comfort in Lori, Rick’s wife, igniting a love triangle that significantly drives the narrative tension in the first two seasons.

But it was Shane’s descent into madness that made him an unforgettable character. With Rick’s return and reassumption of leadership, Shane grows increasingly resentful and erratic. He becomes obsessed with the idea that he’s a better leader and protector for Lori and Carl, Rick’s son. This culminates in Shane luring Rick into the woods in an attempt to kill him and take his place.

But, Rick, sensing Shane’s intention, strikes first, stabbing his former friend in a heartbreaking scene that marks a significant turning point in his character development. Shane’s death is a clear reminder of the harsh realities of this post-apocalyptic world – even close friendships don’t guarantee survival.

It is also Rick’s first major kill of a living person in the series, revealing the lengths he will go to protect his family and showing how the world’s new, brutal rules are affecting him. From this point onwards, Rick’s character evolves from the hopeful, peace-seeking leader to a more ruthless, survival-focused individual.

After Shane’s death, he reanimates as a walker, signifying the revelation that all the survivors are infected and will turn upon death, even if they aren’t bitten. This revelation is another turning point in the series, adding a new layer of complexity and despair to the survivors’ plight.

So, even though Shane’s time on the show was limited to the first two seasons, his impact was far-reaching. His character progression, from a loyal friend and deputy to a dangerous adversary, highlighted the extent to which the harsh realities of their world could twist even the most steadfast characters.

His death not only signaled a significant shift in Rick’s character but also altered the understanding of the walker infection, making his character’s arc one of the most influential in ‘The Walking Dead.’

Lori Grimes

Lori Grimes, portrayed by Sarah Wayne Callies, is another central character whose life and death had profound effects on ‘The Walking Dead’ series. Lori is the wife of Rick Grimes, the series’ main protagonist, and mother to their son, Carl.

At the beginning of the series, Lori, believing her husband Rick is dead, finds herself forming a romantic relationship with Rick’s best friend, Shane Walsh. However, things get complicated when Rick unexpectedly returns from his supposed demise. This love triangle creates a lot of tension and forms a significant subplot in the series’ early seasons.

Lori is a complex character who often polarizes fans. Some admire her for her dedication to her family and her efforts to maintain some sense of normalcy and humanity in a chaotic world. Others criticize her for her decision-making and her role in the tension between Rick and Shane.

Still, it is Lori’s tragic end that truly highlights her importance to the series. In season 3, during an emergency C-section without any medical help, Lori gives birth to her daughter, Judith, but sadly, she does not survive the procedure. This scene is one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the entire series.

Lori’s last words to her son, Carl, where she tells him to beat this world, are heartbreakingly profound. She implores him not to let the brutal world they live in change him or harden his heart, which resonates throughout the rest of the series.

Lori’s death drastically impacts both Rick and Carl. Rick, driven by grief and guilt, spirals into hallucinations and emotional instability, almost jeopardizing his leadership. For Carl, who had to make the heartbreaking decision to prevent his mother from reanimating, the trauma accelerates his transition from an innocent child to a hardened survivor.

Therefore, while Lori Grimes might not have survived past the show’s third season, her presence and subsequent death had a lasting impact. It served as a catalyst for character development, notably for Rick and Carl, and set a somber tone for the struggles yet to come in ‘The Walking Dead.’

Hershel Greene

Hershel Greene, played by the late Scott Wilson, was a pivotal character who brought wisdom, compassion, and stability to ‘The Walking Dead.’ Introduced in the series’ second season, Hershel is the fatherly figure who helps ground the show and its characters amidst the constant chaos and violence.

Hershel, a farmer and a veterinarian before the apocalypse, becomes a place of refuge for Rick’s group when they stumble upon his farm. His initial belief that the walkers are merely sick people who can be cured shows his enduring hope and compassion, although this belief is later shattered in a devastating way.

His character serves as the moral compass of the series and his farm becomes a symbol of sanctuary and temporary peace. Despite all he goes through, Hershel maintains his faith in humanity and often advocates for paths of non-violence and reason, which is a stark contrast to the “kill or be killed” mentality that begins to pervade the group.

One of the most significant aspects of Hershel’s character is his relationship with his daughters, particularly Maggie. His fierce protection of his family underscores many of his actions and decisions. Moreover, his wisdom and guidance heavily influence his daughter Maggie, who later steps into leadership roles within the group.

Hershel’s brutal death in the fourth season at the hands of the Governor during the assault on the prison is one of the series’ most shocking and emotionally charged moments. His loss not only deprives the group of their moral anchor but also sparks significant changes in the storyline, leading to the group’s dispersal and subsequent experiences.

Rick Grimes

Rick Grimes, portrayed by Andrew Lincoln, is a cornerstone character in ‘The Walking Dead.’ As the show’s original protagonist, Rick’s character evolves dramatically throughout the series, his transformation reflecting the grim reality of the post-apocalyptic world.

Introduced as a small-town sheriff waking from a coma to find the world overrun by the undead, Rick undergoes one of the most dramatic character arcs on the series. From an idealistic law enforcer to a hardened survivalist, his evolution is a direct reflection of the series’ bleak and brutal world.

Rick’s search for his wife and son in the early episodes sets the stage for his character’s drive and dedication. His reunion with his family, including his best friend Shane, lays the groundwork for some of the series’ most intense emotional and moral conflicts.

Rick’s leadership, initially built on hope and morality, quickly becomes challenged by the harsh realities of the new world. The burdens of leadership take a heavy toll, leading to moments of madness, ruthlessness, and despair. Yet, through it all, Rick never loses his underlying sense of humanity and determination to protect his group.

His relationships with his fellow survivors, particularly his son Carl and later Michonne, as well as his clashes with various antagonists like the Governor and Negan, define much of the series’ narrative. The love, loss, and conflict he experiences shape him into a more pragmatic and hardened leader.

Rick’s “departure” from the series in its ninth season dramatically changes the show’s direction.

After a near-death experience, Rick is secretly taken away by a helicopter to an unknown location, leaving the rest of his group to believe he perished in the explosion.
His departure marks a significant turning point in ‘The Walking Dead,’ leading to a time jump and significant changes in the remaining characters.

Glenn Rhee

Glenn Rhee, portrayed by Steven Yeun, was introduced in ‘The Walking Dead’ as a resourceful young pizza delivery guy who had adapted his skills to the post-apocalyptic world. His knack for getting in and out of dangerous situations quickly made him a valuable asset to the group, but it was Glenn’s heart and morality that truly defined his character.

Glenn was the one who found Rick Grimes stuck inside a tank surrounded by walkers in the first season. He guided Rick to safety, marking the start of a deep friendship that would see them through countless trials. Throughout the series, Glenn maintained a level of optimism and humanity that often contrasted with the growing darkness within some of the group’s other members.

His relationship with Maggie Greene, which began as a flirtatious fling, evolved into one of the show’s most heartfelt love stories. Despite the constant danger, they managed to create a bond that offered viewers a glimmer of hope and normalcy in a world of chaos.

However, Glenn’s unyielding spirit and hopefulness would ultimately lead to one of the most shocking moments in ‘The Walking Dead’ history. In the show’s seventh season premiere, Glenn was brutally killed by the antagonist Negan in a random act of violence meant to instill fear and submission into the group. This scene is considered one of the most tragic and impactful deaths in the series.

Glenn’s death marked a significant turning point for ‘The Walking Dead.’ It brought about drastic character changes, particularly in Maggie, who toughened up and became a leader in her own right, vowing to avenge Glenn’s death.

But Glenn’s legacy extended beyond his death. His unborn child with Maggie, named Hershel in memory of Maggie’s father, represents hope for the future. Moreover, Glenn’s enduring optimism and moral compass continue to guide many characters’ decisions.