In Variety‘s postmortem with Greg Nicotero, the EP justifies Tyreese’s death as meaningful to the story: “We don’t kill characters just to kill characters, it all plays into where the story is going. Tyreese’s death and Beth’s death being back-to-back like that, the important thing about it is it really affects our group. You’ll see the result of it over the next several episodes — the loss of these people.”
Sadly, it doesn’t feel meaningful — it feels gratuitous. As viewers who have spent five seasons with the show, we’re already fully immersed in the barbarism of “The Walking Dead’s” world, having lost more central characters than we can count, either for the sake of narrative momentum, character development or (whether the producers are willing to admit it or not) purely to elicit an emotional response in the audience. Sometimes — though most writers are loath to admit it — they just want to twist the knife with a “shocking” death. While Hershel’s death strengthened Maggie and Beth as characters (and made narrative sense, since a man with one leg would’ve been left exceedingly vulnerable out on the road after the destruction of the prison, in addition to slowing the group down), Bob’s recent death felt almost incidental — Gareth’s group would’ve continued to hunt Rick’s gang whether they’d managed to capture Bob or not, and eating poor Bob’s leg didn’t even poison the Termites with infected meat, so his bite was simply an unnecessary reminder for the group not to let their guard down.
Tyreese’s death — coming so soon after Beth’s for our characters, even if it’s been two months in real time — will certainly impact the characters, but at this point, the show seems to be piling misery on top of misery. If Tyreese had survived, would it have somehow made Beth’s death less impactful for our group? Is her loss now somehow more meaningful because another one came right after it? Of course not. Cynically speaking, I’m inclined to believe that the writers thought that viewers would be lulled into a false sense of security in the midseason return, thinking that there was no way we could lose another character so soon after Beth’s death, and thus allowing them to prove that they still have the ability to surprise us and maintain narrative tension by killing one of the group’s strongest fighters.
But my reaction when Noah’s brother pounced out of nowhere and took a chunk out of Tyreese’s arm wasn’t a gasp of shock, it was an eyeroll of frustration. After five seasons of murder and mutilation, the most surprising thing “The Walking Dead” could do would be to allow all of its central characters to survive a whole season. They’re all living on borrowed time in this world — that’s the basic conceit of the series — but the hopelessness of their situation is rapidly becoming suffocating.