Killing Off Characters Is A Good Thing For Series Like ‘The Good Wife’

In happier times, Will (Josh Charles) and Alicia (Julianna Margulies). (CBS)

[Spoiler Alert: Only read on if you have watched the last two episodes of “The Good Wife”]

While I’ve been saying since last fall that the current season of CBS’s “The Good Wife,” its fifth, is the best in the entire series, did the show actually top itself recently by killing off one of its main characters?

Actually, yes.

Truth be told, I've always loved when a series is bold enough to kill off one of its regular characters in an unexpected way. Not only is it a great (and often upsetting) surprise for the viewers, it also shakes things up for everyone left in the cast and gives their characters something new and strong to work against as an untimely death can only do.

In the pre-Internet era, series would often kill off minor characters with no warning but major characters were almost always untouchable and, if the actor did want to leave the show, it was often announced early to prepare viewers for their departure. For example, when Jimmy Smits opted to leave “NYPD Blue” in 2004, viewers knew he was leaving before his still-heartbreaking death scene.

Then, as competition grew and grew on the television landscape, series had to increase its level of boldness and shock value in order to stand out among the pack and suddenly we’d see main characters being offed in surprising fashion.

A few recent examples come to mind – Sean Bean’s Ned Stark being beheaded in the first season of “Game Of Thrones” and, more recently, (actually within the same week), “Downton Abbey” driving popular character Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) to his death and ABC’s Scandal” surprisingly killed off Dan Bucatinsky’s James Novak. Sure, Novak wasn’t technically a main character but he’d become an integral part of the drama this season and, in short, nobody saw it coming.

Same with Josh Charles’ Will Gardner, who was unexpectedly gunned down in a courtroom by his client (Hunter Parrish), which was portrayed as a random event when the client felt a desperation during his trial and saw the opportunity to take things into his own hands. Still, shocking it was especially since somehow CBS and Charles were able to keep his choice to exit the series a secret. In fact, fitting with our current era of needing instant gratification and answers, immediately after airing the episode with Will’s death, CBS released a statement from the series creators, Robert and Michelle King, explaining that Charles told them last year he wanted to leave the series and he was convinced to stay mid-way through the current season.

[iframe—The-Rest-of-Season-5/embed 580 476]

Last night’s episode, “The Last Call,” dealt with the aftermath of Will’s death and I can’t remember a series handling death in such a real and accurate fashion as “The Good Wife” did. Everything from Alicia’s (Julianna Margulies) frequent flashbacks to Will’s smiling (or angry) face to her trying to reconstruct why her former lover (who she’d been on the outs with for starting her own firm) had called her minutes before the shooting but was interrupted from explaining the reason for his call in his brief voicemail message. Was he calling to admit his love for her or was it to yell at her for poaching his clients? This was the mystery of the episode and gave Alicia something to focus on and it also more than likely kept her from completely falling apart at the sudden loss.

The best part of the episode? The moment when Alicia returns to her former Lockhart/Gardner offices and sees her former boss Diane (a spot-on Christine Baranski). Despite the work tensions of Alicia’s departure earlier this season, the history of their relationship took precedence and the two women held each other. As in real life, a death often makes everything clearer and can erase (momentarily at least) any tensions that may have developed.

I also found Kalinda’s (Archie Panjabi) reaction to be one of truth as she’d lost a dear friend and wanted answers. Good thing she’s Kalinda because, of course, she was able to confirm before anyone else that the bullet that killed Will did definitely come from that of his client, and not just a random crossfire bullet in the mayhem of the courtroom. (Thankfully, it also gave the show an excuse to bring back Jordana Spiro, who was so good earlier in the series as a cop who ends up in bed with our favorite bi-sexual investigator). And while I was nervous Kalinda, in a moment alone with the shooter, was going to give him his recovered-from-holding belt to hang himself since he so desperately regretted what had transpired, her decision to not give it to him so he could live with what he’d done was more fitting to her character.

Killing off a main character like Will Gardner could've been a jump-the-shark moment for the long-running series but, instead, like every story and character choice "The Good Wife" has made this season, it was spot on and will only fuel the rest of the fifth season and move us diehards into the sixth. Bravo, everyone!

“The Good Wife” airs Sundays at 9pm on CBS.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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