WHEN SUPERFANS ATTACK
‘The Walking Dead’ Fans Demand: Bring Back Beth!
Losing your shit over a TV death is a time-honored American tradition. Enter hordes of Walking Dead disciples who don’t think a shot to the head is enough to permanently kill Beth.
Beth Greene is dead. Like, super dead. Literally deader than the zombies The Walking Dead is named after. In the show’s fifth midseason finale, which aired two Sundays ago, the fan favorite got shot through the head after stabbing a cop with a pair of scissors. Blood and brains sprayed everywhere. Characters mourned. But a group of livid fans—over 45,000 of them, actually—are still lobbying to “Bring Beth Back!”
A change.org petition, started by a young woman identified only as Amanda T., aims to reverse Beth’s “disgusting, unsatisfying” demise—or at least get AMC and the show’s producers to listen.
“Her death was far too soon and the writers threw away the potential of a perfectly good character. Her story wasn’t over,” the petition laments. It lists reasons the farm girl should have survived: she was a “symbol of hope” for self-harmers, who watched her overcome her own suicidal tendencies; her death was just another way “to further a man’s (Daryl’s) storyline.” The circumstances of Beth’s death are irreversible, the petition acknowledges, “but this is television. Anything is possible.”
Another nineteen hundred people on Facebook have also united under the slogan “Beth Greene Deserved Better” to wage a similar campaign. They’re mailing boxes upon boxes of plastic spoons inscribed with Beth quotes to The Walking Dead’s production offices in Atlanta, an ode to a moment in Season 4 when the character found a souvenir spoon from Washington D.C.
“The spoon was a tool for foreshadowing,” the Facebook page explains. “Beth Greene was meant to join her family on their quest to find safety…that hope was destroyed when writers changed their minds and Beth’s destiny.” (Beth’s sister and her friends embarked on an ill-fated mission to Washington, D.C. this past season.)
Melodramatic? Yes. Emily Kinney herself, the actress who played Beth, emphasized in a post-midseason finale interview, “You guys, it’s just pretend! I’m still here!” But fans still feel the death was a last-minute decision made for shock value rather than to serve the story.
“[Walking Dead showrunner] Scott Gimple was like our nerd idol,” says Angela M., a 38-year-old Illinoisan who helps run the Facebook page (she requested for her last name to remain unpublished). “We had him on this pedestal and he just came tumbling off. Like, this is just horrible writing.”
“We didn’t appreciate that,” she adds. “They should do better for their audience.”
Beth H., a 29-year-old North Dakota-based admin of the group, tried to explain why Beth (the character) struck such a chord among fans. “I think Beth just really spoke to us all because she’s such a real example of what would happen to us if there actually was an apocalypse,” she says. “I mean, we’re not all going to turn into sword-swinging ninjas overnight, you know? She really had to evolve.”
AMC and Walking Dead producers declined to comment on the ongoing fan efforts, but in a post-midseason finale interview with The Daily Beast, Gimple said he knew fans would be heartbroken at Beth’s death. “I absolutely don’t mean to cause them pain at all…I know that as characters continue to die, there will be groups of people who’ll be very hurt that that was their favorite character,” he said. “But it’s going to happen. I feel awful about it, but it’s part of the story we’re telling.”
Though Walking Dead fans are singularly passionate about the apocalypse and its survivors, they’re hardly the first who’ve raged, blogged, campaigned, or threatened to riot (or, gasp, cancel their cable subscriptions) in the name of love (of deceased fictional characters). Losing your shit over actors playing dead is a time-honored American tradition. There are the OG deaths that caused nationwide outrage, like M*A*S*H’s infamous farewell to Colonel Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson). After he bid teary goodbyes to his fellow characters and happily flew back to the U.S., a surprise coda scene, revealed that Blake’s plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan. The move shocked audiences, who inundated CBS with angry letters. Stevenson, who had opted to leave the show after signing a contract with NBC in 1975, watched his career slowly fizzle out in the aftermath.
Then, of course, there’s Dallas, M*A*S*H’s CBS comrade in terrible decision-making. It killed off series regular Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) in 1985, then reintroduced him a year later by pulling the ol’ “it was all a dream” trick. 300 million viewers in 98 countries had watched Ewing get run over by a car in an effort to save his ex-wife, Pam (Victoria Principal). At the time, Duffy declared, “Bobby is gone and can never come back. I appreciate my public and would never fool them.” One measly year later, Pam woke to find a naked Ewing grinning at her in the shower. It was weird.
Today, the most common threat aimed at producers after a favorite character gets killed off is, “I’m never watching your show again.” This largely turns out to be untrue; ratings tend to stay the same (even Dallas survived for another five years), so producers still rely on the death of main characters as a solid way to jolt audiences.
An exception, perhaps, could be Downton Abbey, which weathered a number of ratings lows this past season in the U.K., though it’s still delivering the kind of numbers lesser shows could only dream of. Two seasons ago, the show killed off its main romantic interest, Matthew Crawley, in an ugly car accident. Fans felt cheated by the abrupt end of a marriage seasons in the making (to Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery). Some vented on social media, while others chose more Dowager Countess-approved mourning methods, like sending Dockery actual bereavement cards. As for Dan Stevens, who brought on Matthew’s death through his insistence on leaving the show ASAP because who knows why, his most recent gig is playing Sir Lancelot in the latest Night at the Museum. Worth it!
But perhaps no one has weathered more hatred for baffling story decisions than Lost showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. Even three years post-series finale, Cuse sounds practically traumatized by the fan response to the death of Charlie, the squishy-hearted heroin addict played by Dominic Monaghan. “People were really angry,” Cuse told the New York Times last year. “They proceeded to blast the heck out of Damon and me for this woefully misguided decision. We thought people would be shocked, but we were unprepared for that level of anger.”
And then, of course, there’s Game of Thrones, perhaps the only big contemporary series with a mortality rate to rival The Walking Dead’s. The Red Wedding (and the Purple one), Ned’s beheading, and the grisly death of dozens more characters prompted social media freakouts—and at least one petition—but largely, fans get over it, probably because the deaths were already prescribed by the books the show is based on. (The Walking Dead is also based on a series of comic books, but the show often remixes plotlines and characters so that anyone could be the next to die.)
I could go on. The point is that starting a mini-movement in the name of Beth Greene is only slightly weirder than mailing an actress condolence cards after the death of her fictional husband. In the case of at least one dead character, Family Guy’s Brian the dog, starting a change.org petition actually worked. Brian was brought back after 128,497 people insisted the show’s “witty and sophisticated” element be revived. That probably won’t work in Beth’s case, but it’s definitely won’t stop superfans from trying.