Leibee: ’13 Reasons Why’ is an example for creating characters

Katrina Leibee

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Humans are dynamic beings. It’s fair to assume that we all have different sides to us and we all have good and bad within us. We are more than just one behavior, one opinion or one action. You are only as good as the best thing you have ever done, but you are also more complex than the worst thing you have ever done.


In the second season of “13 Reasons Why,” the show left the world’s least favorite character, Bryce Walker (Justin Prentice), as the horrible, privileged rapist who deserves nothing. In the latest season, they don’t take those traits away from him but merely add to them. They attempt to humanize him, not make us sympathize with him.

All shows and movies should follow the writing strategies in “13 Reasons Why,” showing the reality of humans by making them rounded out instead of one dimensional. It’s an uncomfortable process to see a character as horrible as Walker become more than just his actions, but that is also the reality of people.

Our society likes to define, categorize, label and simplify absolutely everyone and everything because seeing people as one dimensional is easier than attempting to look at the whole picture. That’s how cancel culture trends begin, where celebrities are boiled down to one action or behavior and torn apart because of them.

The reason we are so easily able to label people is simple — often, we don’t register them as human. They’re a celebrity we have never met in real life, a character being portrayed in a show or movie or maybe a person you know that you’ve heard rumors or gossip about. Looking from the outside in, it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking we have someone all figured out, but we almost never do.

“13 Reasons Why” does something interesting with Walker’s character. The audience watches him in each episode as all he does is try to make amends, apologize and be a good person. In the end, he recognizes that he is a horrible person and he doesn’t deserve forgiveness or sympathy.

All shows and movies should follow this character development, no matter how uncomfortable it is for the audience.

It’s an inherently uncomfortable process to watch because it’s entirely illogical to feel for this character at all — but the audience likely still will.

Some might ask, why would they do this to his character? Why would they attempt to make him a better person after all the people he’s hurt? The writers aren’t doing anything unrealistic here; they are showing the complexity of being human.

All the show does is showcase a simple truth of life: people change. While his character is still horrible, his actions are still unforgivable and he still deserves no kindness or sympathy, he is still human and he will still grow as a person, and nobody can change that.

As much as we don’t want him to be, his character is more complex than his actions. In the end, even his most notable victim, Jessica Davis (Alisha Boe), found the slightest bit of acknowledgment that the only thing he ever wanted to do with the rest of his life was be a better person.

I found myself angry that the show would even attempt to make his character a better person. You never want to see him as a human being with the ability to feel remorse because it challenges the logical part of your brain that tells you to hate him.


However, in order to make him a realistic character, they had to make him dynamic. All shows and movies should follow this character development, no matter how uncomfortable it is for the audience.

While this show has come under lots of criticism, and the controversial suicide scene of the first season has been removed, the show still does a better job at character development than any other show or movie.

Media needs to be cognizant in making people human, making their characters more rounded and always making them more than the worst or best thing they have done. They need to do this with all characters, and although “13 Reasons Why” is controversial, it never fails to produce characters that are realistic pictures of the people around us every day.

Katrina Leibee can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @KatrinaLeibee.