Television

The Death of Wallace

The Wire writer George Pelecanos on demythologizing deaths on the street.

Bodie holding a gun, seen inside a TV screen.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by HBO.

This interview is part of a series about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Dan Kois: Wallace’s death in Season 1 of The Wire remains really, really hard to watch, all these years later. We the viewers aren’t cheering for the death or rooting the soldiers on, and every character in the scene is clearly miserable. As it was one of the first deaths of a primary character on the series, did you make a conscious decision to portray that killing in a certain way?

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George Pelecanos (screenwriter): That first thing I ask myself when writing a scene is, who are these characters? All of them were boys. They had grown up together. Wallace was an innocent victim, but in a sense, so were Bodie and Poot. In the straight world, if you’re offered a promotion and you turn it down, that is the end of your ascent in the company. It is the same in the underworld. Bodie and Poot didn’t have a choice, so they murdered their friend, but I wasn’t going to portray it as easy. I knew it would be excruciating for all of them, and I drew out the scene to its breaking point. It helped that we had some terrific actors. The mood on set that day was not light.

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Omar’s death was much debated at the time for its seeming randomness. I remember thinking the way that death was written seemed like a kind of response to the way some fans glamorized characters’ death scenes. How conscious were you of those scenes as showcase moments for the show? What was it like writing and producing grim, violent scenes that you knew would be so eagerly anticipated, dissected, even celebrated? 

In the room we talked quite a bit about demythologizing Omar via his death. As in everything we did, we asked ourselves, what would be the reality? Omar was a legend on the street, but in the larger world, the traditional world of money and true power, he wasn’t even a blip on the radar screen. When his death hits the newsroom, one of the reporters thoughtlessly tosses the paper in a basket. If it makes the morning edition at all, it will be an anonymous paragraph. That was a nice touch.

Read more about the 50 greatest fictional deaths of all time, including picks from Pelecanos, David Simon, Stephen King, Hilary Mantel, and more.

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