WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Diverging from the source material ever so slightly to keep comic readers forever perplexed seems to be The Walking Dead’s modus operandi when it comes to weaving its frustrating narrative. Last night, we saw the two big crutches the show uses to move the plot forward: the death of a character and the never-subtle materialization of heavy-handed foreshadowing. But never before has an episode encapsulated these two storytelling gimmicks into one character.
Tobin, portrayed by Jason Douglas, made his first appearance in the back half of Season 5, where he came off as a harmless resident of the Alexandria Safe-Zone who was quite smitten with the new resident butt-kicker, Carol. While this is a wildly different introduction to Tobin from that of the comic (Carol had been dead for over forty issues by the time he showed up in Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s story), he does have a similar cowardly moment early on in both iterations: Tobin leaves Holly for dead after a walker ambush at a construction site. Thankfully, our dearly departed Abraham saved the day and made Tobin look like a chump, deservingly so.
In the comics, Tobin was not a mainstay in any capacity. During the “No Way Out” story arc, he attempts to redeem himself for his prior cowardice by fighting off an approaching horde to help save the other residents of Alexandria. Tobin is devoured during this endeavor, but his noble sacrifice is enough to close out a satisfying character arc. In fact, it was more than enough for a minor character with very little panel presence. The fact that Tobin was granted a heroic death in the first place is more than what most characters at his level are afforded, after all.
However, over the course of three seasons of the television series, Tobin becomes somewhat of a fixture, appearing periodically as a reliable support character… until the latest episode. The Walking Dead show tries really hard to make most characters’ deaths matter in the grand scheme of things, even if viewers haven’t glommed on to them or even remember they were alive in the first place. Despite being generally likable, Tobin falls into both of the aforementioned categories. Despite his constant presence, Tobin was never a heavy-hitter like Rick, Michonne or Daryl. He’s a character whose name is often forgotten until the script has another character utter it, or he’s just referred to as the guy “Carol is dating or whatever.” In the show, Tobin is a character who is only defined by other characters.
But last night, Tobin’s death was utilized for a much larger storytelling sin: Tobin was a proof of concept. In a previous episode, Negan made the dubious claim that covering your weapons in zombie gore would make them more effective in combat. If a survivor gets wounded by these weapons, they would become infected and die even if the wound would normally not be fatal. Well, it turns out Negan’s ridiculous claim worked despite the show’s long history of proving that it absolutely would not (consistency is decidedly not The Walking Dead’s M.O.).
While it’s nice to see Tobin fleshed out a bit more, the manner in which his character’s demise was handled was quite jarring. There’s no solid arc here — the show simply needed a character to die from one of these “infected weapons” to prove Negan’s methods were effective, and to raise the already insanely high stakes for every single character. The show used Tobin as a storytelling device, and not much else.
While his death was presented as a big deal (and in terms of confirming the show’s new zombie infection rules, it absolutely was), Tobin deserved better than to die from being cut by a tainted knife. And while the show tried to make us care about Tobin’s death due to his connection to Carol (who is arguably the best character on the show), a sacrifice in the name of love or redemption would have gone a long way. Actions define characters, not happenstance.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Josh McDermitt as Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.
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