The first three seasons of The Walking Dead developed an unfortunate trend of killing off male African-American characters just as a new one would emerge, an issue many were quick to reprise when Season 5 killed off three more leading men of color. Now, in advance of Season 6, Dead showrunner Scott Gimple addresses the “tricky” controversy, noting the actual actors have no bearing on their character’s fate.

You’re warned of spoilers through The Walking Dead Season 5 from here on out, but Lawrence Gilliard Jr.s role as Bob Stookey came to a meaty end early on in Season 5, as the character (originally an older white man in the books) lost a leg, and ultimately his life (the fate of a different older white man in the books). Bob’s end was followed in the midseason premiere by Chad Coleman’s Tyreese (both introduced, and killed earlier in the books) and ultimately the grotesque end of Tyler James Williams’ Noah, an original AMC creation.

Heading into Season 6, showrunner Scott Gimple spoke to Entertainment Weekly to address accusations of racism, insistent that casting the right actors came before any considerations of race, or intentions for the character:

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.

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.

Gimple also pointed to “representing the world that’s there” in regard to the series’ overall diversity, before acknowledging those offended by the apparent pattern:

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.

Elsewhere of The Walking Dead Season 6, we know that Straight Outta Compton star Corey Hawkins has joined the series in the comic role of Alexandria runner Heath, alongside new additions Xander Berkeley, Ethan Embry, Merrit Wever and an on-set mystery man. AMC has also released clips and a few photos, amid previews of a fleshed-out comic backstory, while we’ve broken down the Season 6 trailer and previewed exactly how disgusting walkers will look, and all before digital FX.

Not only that, but Season 6 will also host installments of a half-hour special set on an airplane, a character of which will go on to a role in Fear The Walking Dead Season 2. Season 6 has also upped three Alexandria residents to series regular, though that’s certainly no guarantee of their survival.

We’ll see more of The Walking Dead Season 6 on the road to October, so check out the trailers again below, and stay tuned for the latest from cast and crew.

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