I’ve been offline most of today, but upon returning late Saturday night was saddened to hear of the unexpected death of actor Scott Wilson at age 76. Most folks today know him as Herschel from seasons 2-4 of The Walking Dead, the kindly farmer and sage of the ensemble, often the conscience during the toughest of times when he wasn’t dealing with critical injuries, grieving the loss of teammates and family, or suffering the cruelty of the Governor. Barely an hour before his passing, news had broken at this weekend’s New York Comic Con that he would be returning this coming season for a flashback, most likely in connection with Andrew Lincoln’s farewell episodes and hopefully not as his surprise twin brother Murschel.
Before TWD broadened his fan base, Wilson had made his mark on classic films in his youth, often playing men with a shakier moral compass than Herschel’s. He had a small but memorable role in the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, in which Sidney Poitier has to calm down his antsy Southern good-ol’-boy locked up for murder.
But far more of a showcase for him was In Cold Blood, the chilling black-and-white adaptation of Truman Capote’s historical novel. As I described it previously on MCC:
In the film as a younger man, Wilson played the complete opposite of Herschel, a cold-blooded killer who charms the ladies and swindles the salesmen while he and Robert Blake enjoy life on the lam after brutally murdering an innocent Kansas family. Wilson’s chilling performance was more disturbing to me than most of the “walker” kills on his last TV gig.
For anyone who watched TWD first, the sight of him younger, slicker, and 1000 times more evil was disturbing and tough to process. Although we saw him briefly at Wizard World Chicago 2015, I didn’t take the opportunity to meet him until Motor City Comic Con 2017. In our brief encounter he was humble, a bit soft-spoken, and all too kind to any and all who stepped forward to say hi and delight him with compliments while they still had the chance.
As of this writing the news is barely a couple hours old, so details about his passing are scant, but not as important as the legacy he left behind, both in those 1960s grim reminders of the evil than men do and more recently in the noble sacrifices made by that friendly fightin’ farmer.