Remember when I said that the cliff-hanger ending to Series1, episode 5 did little for me as a child because, even then, I knew full well that truly major characters like Badger and Fox were never going to be killed off? Well, guess what? They actually did kill off Badger in Series 2. In fairness, he wasn’t really so much of a major character by this point. He’d had an important arc in the winter portion of Series 2, when he was injured and taken in by the Warden, but once the thaw arrived Badger became much more of a side character – the focus switched mainly to Fox’s quarrel with the blue foxes and the adventures of Fox’s son Bold upon leaving White Deer Park, and the writers were clearly struggling to keep Badger relevant in all of this. So a complete and utter exit was the way to go.
Actually, Badger’s death is quite a curious one in that, unlike Mole’s death, it had no precedent in original novels (where, if I recall correctly, Badger made it to the very last page). The series had absolutely no obligation to kill him off, and yet they did so anyway. As noted, I suspect that Badger’s declining relevance in the post-winter narrative was a significant factor, but I’d also speculate that Badger’s death was intended to tie in with one of the dominant themes of Series 2, concerning youth, aging and the gap between the older generations and the young. One of the key narrative questions deals with whether or not the respective offspring of Fox and Scarface will choose to continue the wars of their fathers, or if the new generation represents an opportunity for peace and renewal. While Friendly (who really wasn’t) sides very firmly with his father, Fox runs into conflict with Bold and Charmer, who each have their differing perspectives upon the feud with Scarface and how best to approach it. The altercations between Fox and Bold get so nasty that Bold chooses to disown his father altogether and live outside of White Deer Park. Fox later accuses Charmer of treachery when he learns that she and Scarface's son Ranger are secretly on friendly terms, and observes that “the young don’t seem to honour the Oath as we did.” Badger’s death, however, prompts Fox to reflect upon his own waning youth and his need to learn how to grow old gracefully. In that sense, it’s a much more meditative death than was typical for the series (I’ve acknowledged that, in Series 1 in particular, death was simply a nasty fact of life for the Farthing Wood animals, and they generally didn’t have time to dwell upon it any more deeply than that) and it did enable a nice moment of contemplation between Fox and Vixen.
All the same, I get the impression that the production team rather regretted their decision to kill off Badger come Series 3, because they introduced a new badger character, Hurkel, who was clearly designed to be his replacement (or, at the very least, to enable the series to keep alive its iconic imagery of a badger carrying a mole on its back, as Mossy was seldom far from him). Shadow, a female badger introduced in Series 2 during Bold’s arc, was likewise solidified as part of the main cast in Series 3 in order to fill a few of the roles that were Badger’s in the last couple of novels (such as getting sick after drinking poisoned water). I’ve mentioned earlier that I didn’t much care for Series 3 and I don’t want to labour that point too much, but I found Hurkel to be one of the most thoroughly unappealing characters that the show had to offer and the decision to have Shadow return as a main character reeked of the kind of “they were popular, let’s have lots more of them” mentality that made the third series feel like the product of extensive focus group-led retooling (though Rollo was an even more disastrous example). When Badger died, he left a void in the series that could truly never be filled.
Oh, and as I’ve alluded elsewhere, I suspect that Mole’s death was shifted forward from where it occurs in the books in anticipation of Badger’s death. If Badger had been the first to go then there would have been no way to have included the whole aspect of him mistaking Mossy for his father. Mole’s exit and Mossy’s entrance also fit in nicely with the series' wider themes of birth, death, aging and renewal.
Shortly before Badger’s death, Fox had managed to alienate him by verbally attacking him when Badger had suggested that the two of them were getting past being able to deal with Scarface (the result of misinterpreting a statement made by Vixen). As a result, Badger hasn’t been spending a lot of time with Fox lately. Mossy goes to visit to him in his sett, to find Badger in a somewhat listless state, although he does respond to Mossy and greet him as “Mole”. Mossy seems quite prepared to drop the deception at this point and tries to tell Badger that he’s not really Mole, only to realise that Badger isn’t completely with it. Disturbingly, he’s rambling about being back in Farthing Wood with his long-departed family, which can't be a good sign. As he continues, he seems to forget about Mole altogether and speaks only of his badger ancestors.
Horrified, Mossy hurries to Fox, Vixen and Friendly and informs them that Badger may not have much time left. The four animals head back to Badger who, still recognising Fox, assumes that he’s there to persuade him to leave his home and his family in Farthing Wood, which he refuses to do. Fox attempts to make his peace with Badger before it’s too late and apologies for his recent unkindness. This prompts Badger to deliver some fairly haunting last words: “A fox worried about kindness? I must be in Heaven.” With that, Badger chuckles to himself and finally passes away.
HORROR FACTOR: 5. This death certainly came as a shock to those viewers who had read the books in advance and assumed that Badger would forever be safe, though as Farthing Wood deaths go it was easily one of the most peaceful.
NOBILITY FACTOR: 10. Badger’s time had simply come.
TEAR-JERKER FACTOR: 10. Apologies to all you Bold fans out there, but for my money this is easily the most heart-breaking death of the entire series. They went all-out in assaulting the heartstrings with this one and by jove, they succeeded. I sob my eyes out every time.