In nine seasons, AMC's The Walking Dead has had no shortage of characters fans had come to love, only to lose years later. The Walking Dead has killed off numerous characters, and has developed a reputation for its willingness to have beloved figures die without warning. One of the first fan-favorite characters to meet an unexpected end was Jeffrey DeMunn's Dale Horvath in the show's second season. Interestingly, Dale's death was not a creative decision, but a choice made by the actor himself.
Introduced in the pilot episode, Dale was a key member of the main group until his untimely death. In season 2, episode 11, "Judge, Jury, Executioner", a careless act by Carl causes Dale to be bit by a zombie while on patrol, and Dale's stomach is ripped open. After Herschel (Scott Wilson) explains that Dale cannot be saved, Rick decides to shoot him, but is unable to go through with it, prompting Daryl (Norman Reedus) to put Dale out of his misery. Dale's death had a deep effect on many of the characters, especially Andrea, Glenn, and Carl, who felt guilty about what happened.
At the time, Dale was the most important character that The Walking Dead had killed off, so why did it happen? According to DeMunn, Dale's death was a decision he made as a response to the firing of The Walking Dead co-creator Frank Darabont. Darabont, the person responsible for turning Robert Kirkman's graphic novel series into a successful TV series, was fired during the production of season 2, reportedly because AMC wanted to increase the episode count by shortening the budget of the show, which Darabont envisioned as being epic in scale. A large legal battle occurred after Darabont's firing from The Walking Dead, and is still going on today.
DeMunn, who had worked with Darabont in the past on numerous projects, seemed to take Darabont's side in the fiasco. DeMunn explained his Walking Dead exit by saying that he was "furious" over the network's treatment of Darabont. Later, he decided to quit the show and told AMC, "Kill me. I don't want to do this anymore." Dale's death was sort of an immediate consequence to Darabont's removal from the series.
Dale's death wasn't just a shock to fans, since it was a change from The Walking Dead comics, but it also had a major affect on the characters. However, the show and the cast has transformed so much in the last seven years that there are only a few left who would even remember Dale. Dale's impact may no longer be felt on the series, but the reason behind his death, Darabont's firing from The Walking Dead, is an issue that has yet to reach resolution.