While The Walking Dead‘s ratings were stronger than ever in Season 5, some fans noticed a trend that they didn’t particularly like. The show was bringing some of its best stories to date, with Rick and his team escaping Terminus only to fall in line with the denizens of Alexandria. But between that first and last episode, a few major players bit the dust. And critics have decided to cry foul. Why were all the African-American men being killed off the show? During The Walking Dead Season 5, three black characters got the axe, with Bob (Lawrence Gilliard), Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and Noah (Tyler James Williams) all meeting a very gruesome demise. But show runner Scott M. Gimple has a perfectly good explanation for why this is happening. And it all has to do with casting the show.

The Walking Dead has experienced this exact controversy before. Back in The Walking Dead Season 3, a group of African-American prisons were quickly dispatched. This came the same year that poor IronE Singleton bit down on that big piss buicuit in the sky. That’s just the nature of the story, though, which has been planned out long in advance. The characters in the scripts are not usually assigned a race, unless one of the roles based upon the original comic book demands it. This isn’t a matter of racial profiling. It all comes down to casting the best actor in the role. And well, that role sometimes ends with a pair of dirty chompers coming down on the neck.

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Scott M. Gimple insists that most of the doomed characters, who were always destined to die with pinpoint precision, were not black in the script to begin with. The show just happened to zero in on a specific actor because of their talent. Because they’ve hired more African-Americans in these roles, yes, it sometimes feels like they are dying at a higher rate. The show runner explains.

“You know, I was aware of who was going to die last year. 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.”

The race depicted in the original comic book does not always make the transition to the small screen. Scott M. Gimple points to one character in particular who was changed because of the actor playing the role. He then goes onto point out another character who could have been any ethnicity when first reading through the script. He says the following.

“Bob wasn’t a black character in the comics, but I wouldn’t wanna miss out on Lawrence Gillard. 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.”

From the getgo, the producers and creators behind The Walking Dead have always wanted to show a real-life diversity amongst the survivors of this zombie apocalypse. But making sure everyone is represented is a double-edged sword when death lies in wait around every corner, for every single character. As anyone who watches The Walking Dead knows, anyone can go at any time. Zombies don’t judge a person based on their race, color, creed or religion. Heck, they don’t even care about taste. Scott M. Gimple went onto to say more.

“It’s about representing the world that’s there. In this case it really was about the best actor for the gig. 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.”

The Walking Dead Season 6 is set to debut on October 11. The show still has plenty of African-American characters who are living and breathing. But don’t look for this death backlash to change the producers’ minds about who lives and dies. Everything has all been planned out for many seasons to come. Even the most beloved actors can’t escape a horde of hungry zombies, there skin color be damned!

B. Alan Orange