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'Walking Dead' showrunner on the prominence of black character deaths last season

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Gene Page/AMC

Season 5 of The Walking Dead was perhaps the show’s strongest ever. It began with action-packed mayhem at Terminus and ended with Rick putting down Pete in an almost equally bloody finale. But in between, the show was on the receiving end of some hits from critics who took the drama to task for killing off three main African-American male characters: Bob (Lawrence Gilliard), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), and Noah (Tyler James Williams).

This is not the first time the show has come under fire for killing off black characters. Back in season 3, there were grumblings after some African-American prisoners met a quick demise, along with IronE Singleton’s T-Dog. But as showrunner Scott M. Gimple tells us, often the doomed characters in season 5 were not even black to begin with, but ended up African-American after producers zeroed in on a specific actor.

Gimple referenced this when we asked him about the criticism regarding the number of black male characters who died in season 5. “You know, I was aware of who was going to die last year,” says Gimple. “Even before last year for some of those characters. And at the beginning of the year, some of those characters weren’t cast. It was always about casting the best person. It’s very difficult.”

To illustrate his point, Gimple mentioned one specific character who was white in the comic, but not on the TV adaptation, and another character who could have been any ethnicity. “Bob wasn’t a black character in the comics, but I wouldn’t wanna miss out on Lawrence Gillard,” says Gimple. “And Noah, when we were casting him, Tyler was the best actor. I loved what he did and what he brought to the show. All sorts of people came in, from all sorts of different backgrounds and ethnicities. It’s tough because I also want to be sensitive to how people feel. Two of those characters were destined to die, and they could’ve been cast in any direction, and I just cast the best people — or at least the people I just felt were best and I loved what they did with the role. It’s weird to imagine not using them. But I did know those characters were dying, and I did cast those people.”

MORE WALKING DEAD: ‘The Walking Dead’ creator Robert Kirkman on the biggest differences between season 6 and the comic | ‘The Walking Dead’ star Danai Gurira on why season 6 is ‘powerful and beautiful at the same time’ | ‘The Walking Dead’ star Lauren Cohan says season 6 is ‘suffocating’ | ‘The Walking Dead’: Steven Yeun says characters are ‘completely broken’ in season 6 | ‘The Walking Dead’: Secrets of season 5 revealed | There’s a secret ‘Walking Dead’ note buried out there somewhere | Will we ever see winter on ‘The Walking Dead’?

Showing real-life diversity has always been important to producers. As Gimple says, “It’s about representing the world that’s there.” And while he points to the fact that he wanted to give the job of playing these characters to the best actors, he also is sensitive to those who take issue with the high body count.

“In this case it really was about the best actor for the gig,” says Gimple. “I would’ve loved people to have seen Lawrence’s auditions — which were totally fake sides — and he was amazing. Tyler’s audition was amazing. It’s a very, very difficult issue, and I honor anybody who felt hurt. It’s very tricky. I would’ve hated to have not seen those actors on the show, because they were fantastic and are part of the family now. It’s tough.”

Fans can expect plenty of characters — of all ethnicities — to die on season 6 when it premieres on Oct. 11.

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