How ‘The Good Wife’ Handles the Indignity of Sudden Death


This article contains significant plot points from the episode “Dramatics, Your Honor.”

It’s been news for a while that Josh Charles had a different type of contract for his role as Will Gardner on The Good Wife. Last year, he signed on for a fifth season, and with the show’s recent renewal for a sixth, there was plenty of room to wonder what would happen to Will. The show dropped clues about Lockhart/Gardner maybe opening an office in New York, and it seemed possible that Will would head off to the Big Apple. But last night’s episode, “Dramatics, Your Honor,” answered that question with a finality that left fans devastated. Once the emotional reactions are out of the way, it’s clear to see that The Good Wife has done yet another good job of handling a difficult situation– the indignity of sudden death.

The case of Jeffrey Grant (Hunter Parrish) first appeared earlier in the season, where it morphed from a DUI into a murder investigation. Last night, Jeffrey finally makes his way to court with Will battling against prosecutor Finn Polmar (Matthew Goode) to prove his innocence. Jeffrey’s time in general lock-up, where he is frequently assaulted, plus the case’s ambiguity prove too much for him, and he snaps. Jeffrey opens fire on the courtroom. When Lockhart/Gardner investigator Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) pushes through to the scene, she focuses on a lone shoe, surrounded by blood, before finding its owner, mortally wounded Will.

In the hospital, as Kalinda and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) look over Will’s body, Diane comments, “He doesn’t look like himself.” Will’s unexpected death has robbed him of his usual dapper state. He remains missing a shoe; his suit is disheveled, covered in blood; his tie cut to allow medical workers access to the wound in his neck. This is not the Will Gardner the audience is used to seeing, a man very careful in his attire, work space, and home. Will Gardner was an arrogant man who took pride in his appearance and his skills as a lawyer. Seeing Will unkempt and child-like with a single sock exposed reinforces the notion that there is little care in how death finds and leaves us.

The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King worked with director Brooke Kennedy to stage the shooting, and the audience doesn’t see the gunfire, only the moments leading up to the terrible outcome. Will’s unexpected death, like any other, leaves unanswered questions, including “how did it happen?” It may be that Will was trying to protect someone when he was shot. Maybe he was going after his client, the gunman. Maybe Will was the intended victim from the moment the thought first crossed Jeffrey’s mind. In this case, the exact sequence of events is irrelevant. As the Kings point out in their letter to fans, death is irredeemable. Dwelling on the how and the why of an unexpected death does not make it less painful to handle.

When Kalinda contacts Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles) to share the news of Will’s death, Alicia is at a correspondents’ dinner, gritting through a slightly inappropriate comedy routine. It doesn’t seem fair that as Will died, Alicia was surrounded by laughter, which is yet another indignity of sudden death- where the news finds the living. The Good Wife is about Alicia Florrick and how she navigates the transitions in her life, but the relationship between Will and Alicia was an important aspect of the show. Their relationship appeared to be on the mend after crumbling under the stress of Alicia’s professional betrayal, but the loss of Will leaves thoughts of a more satisfying, future reconciliation frozen. All that was unspoken between them will remain that way. Sudden deaths have more casualties than the lives they claim.

During what is now his final season with the show, Josh Charles has given some of his best performances. It’s hard to imagine The Good Wife without Will Gardner, but Robert and Michelle King have proven themselves trustworthy. The Kings have done a tremendous job of re-energizing The Good Wife, pulling it back from the mire of its third season and the dreck of Kalinda’s fourth season storyline with her ex-husband. What’s next for the show and lead character Alicia Florrick surely will be strong enough to hold the audience. It’s also commendable how, in this age of constant spoilers, the plot twist of Will’s death was able to remain a secret and all the more jarring. Will Gardner’s unexpected loss will ripple across the universe of The Good Wife, as surely as any sudden death would have lasting effects in real life.