I jumped in on The Walking Dead sometime during season 3’s airing thanks to Netflix, but after the first few seasons I’ve been consistently watching it off my DVR shortly after it airs every week. I’ll watch this Sunday’s season finale sometime during the following week because WRESTLEMANIA. I’m not in a rush. That’s because my enjoyment of the show has recently waned for a few different reasons, but they all stem from the show’s systemic flaw. Today, we need to bring that issue to light.
Here’s your bullet point of the essay:
The Walking Dead is a show about people dying.
Now, let’s unpack that. Spoilers below, obviously.
It’s Not Like That One Other Series
The first drama you’ll try to use as a comparison to debunk my thesis is Game of Thrones. Sure, that’s a valid thought. Let’s have that discussion. GoT is very guilty of killing off characters. Westeros is a dangerous as fuck land locale, embroiled in wars of political and military might, where the common soldier’s death is merely collateral damage. And yes, they’ve killed off some significant characters. Here’s where the difference lies: we know they’re not touching a few characters until at least the very end. (Especially that one that I’d bet tremendous money on not being dead.) You know the end of the series will have giant climactic battle and that certain Lannisters, Starks, and Targaryens will be there to witness it. Some of them may die in a climatic battle or power struggle, but they’ll be there when it starts.
TWD‘s problem is that I have no idea what it’s building toward. There’s no all-out war coming with the walkers. They’ve shown absolutely no interest in finding a cure since the first season. Since the show is just about “that zombie apocalypse life,” the series could end by fading to black as Rick and friends meander away from a burning Alexandria and I wouldn’t flinch. There is no END. Game of Thrones will have a definitive ending. Characters in that show die to serve the plot towards a conclusion. People die in TWD because that’s what the show is about.
When Smart Characters Do Dumb Things
In this season’s penultimate episode, the characters managed to collectively be as dumb as they’ve ever been. Since the show started, viewers have been treated to a group of zombie-killing machines that recognize life in the zombie apocalypse can change in an instant. Their guard is always up. That wasn’t the case last Sunday, as we watched several long-time survivalists make DUMB decisions. Denise died? Time for Daryl to leave by himself in a grief-fueled rage. Daryl’s leaving? Time for Glenn to take Michonne and Rosita out after him, despite the town bracing for a surely-imminent attack. Oh, and Carol left in the middle of the night because she’s tired of killing (but will kill again anyway)? Rick needs to get crazy and go out after her. And Morgan too, because why not? But hold on, Glenn and Michonne just got caught from behind. But it”s okay! Daryl “Master Tracker” Dixon is following the Saviors and will surely save th- wait, no, he’s just been caught too. And Rosita. Shit.
In ONE episode, we saw seven emotional survivors run out in the world unprepared, just so six of them can wind up captured at some point. Why? Not just because one of them is going to die, but because the show is all about fueling the debate of WHO is going to die. We need clear options to bandy about with each other. And we might be doing that for longer that we think. But we’ll get there. Hold up.
Alexandrians Are Assholes
Since Rick’s last change of heart, he’s been back on the “kill everyone first” thought-train, and almost everyone in Alexandria is on board with it, except for Morgan. (We’ll talk about him in a second.) Their last bloodbath adventure saw them kill dozens of Saviors, some of which were simply killed in their sleep. These deaths were part of an effort to “get them before they get us.” Even if you initially agree with that idea, they only reason it makes sense is because EVERYONE in TWD is a dick or out to kill you. Rick will likely redeem himself eventually. but that won’t undo all the MURDERDEATH he’s been bringing. And I won’t feel all that bad when Negan kills one of Rick’s crew, because frankly, they deserve it. So why am I watching a show and trying to force myself to root for murderous assholes?
The show has been actively trying to make Morgan, the group’s conscience, look bad by allowing dangerous consequences to his opinion that all life is precious. Sorry Morgan, no one is buying the “humanity” bullshit, and I don’t know why. Oh wait, it’s because the writers also think that stance is bullshit.
Rinse and Repeat
Every season there’s a build to a bad guy, or internal strife as the group talks about how to deal with the bad guy, or fallout from confronting the bad guy. And somewhere in there someone dies. Always. That’s the formula. Set up a new settlement, try to make it work until it doesn’t, some supporting characters die, and move on.
In fact, TWD is so consistent in its stance on not to touch the MAIN characters, I’ve grown to become instantly detached from formerly minor characters that are starting to show too much of an arc. Here are just a few of the countless examples:
– Merle. I mean, he goes from terrible to not so bad to actually kind of alright, but then he gets to be a zombie.
– Andrea. She gets so much screen time in season three, only to be infected in a poorly contrived villain zombie trap.
– Karen. You remember, she was dating Tyrese. Actually had lines and everything. Then POOF, she’s gone in a smothering flash.
– Bob. Yeah, once he stopped being “talk to himself” crazy and started getting it on with Sasha, it was game over. NO HAPPINESS HERE.
– Noah. You thought “we lost Beth, but at least Noah will be around for a while.” HA. NOPE. DIED WHILE ESTABLISHING SOMEONE ELSE’S DUMBASSITUDE.
– Jessie. Oh Jessie. You should have known you can’t have a developing character arc and sidle that close to Rick. THE SHOW WON’T ALLOW IT UNLESS YOUR NAME IS MICHONNE. HAVE FUN WATCHING YOUR YOUNGEST SON DIE WHILE YOU’RE EATEN BY WALKERS.
– Denise. DIED IN A GODDAMN LAME PHARMACY RUN WHILE IN THE MIDDLE OF AN UPLIFTING SPEECH. Also, SHE WAS IN ONE OF THE SHOW’S TWO GAY RELATIONSHIPS WITH A CHARACTER WHOSE ACTRESS IS FUCKING PREGNANT AND WRITTEN OFF THE SHOW AND SO SHE WASN’T AROUND TO PAY OFF THAT EMOTIONAL MOMENT . GOD DAMMIT.
Sorry, I’m getting angry now. You get it though, right? You have to hope that your favorite character gets some time to shine but not TOO MUCH or they’re clearly prepping them for an impact death.
My Stomach Can’t Take It
This note probably applies to lots of viewers, but if I stop watching TWD, this will be the reason why. Every episode is exhausting. Honestly. I have to tensely sit through each scene wondering if this is the scene where _____ dies. NO MAGGIE DON’T GO INTO THE SHOWER WITH GLENN. HE MIGHT KILL YOU. DARYL DON’T OPEN THAT PIECE OF CANDY IT’S OLD AND MIGHT BE PAST ITS EXPIRATION. CARL STOP READING COMICS YOU MIGHT GET A PAPER CUT AND BLEED OUT WHILE A NON-ZOMBIE INFECTION SETS IN. CAROL FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP GOING OUTSIDE ITS SO EFFING DANGEROUS BECAUSE OF THE SUN AND PRICKLY BUSHES AND AWKWARDLY PLACED STEPS.
See? That’s me, ALL THE TIME. The show repeatedly pulls death out of its ass to surprise the shit out of you, so just like Alexandrians, you’re bracing all the time for something terrible to happen. I can’t watch a show like that.
90 Minutes of Aggravation, No Payoff
And the most damning piece of evidence to support my claim? The show’s creative team supposedly feels the same way. In a semi-spoilery leak (whose original origins are hard to determine), we learned how the finale will handle the significant death we all know is on its way. You ready?
TWD will apparently let you wait an entire off-season before revealing who died in the episode. That’s right. Negan will arrive and he will kill someone with Lucille. However, the scene will be shot in such a way (POV, mostly likely) that won’t allow the viewer to know who actually died. That’s how the episode will end, in a fiery fuck you of editing. You can take this with a slight grain of salt, but doesn’t this sound JUST like something TWD would do? Even they know the “next death” is what keeps people talking about the show. This is a ratings grab… for the next season’s opener… of a show that is already one of the highest rated on TV.
With all that in mind, it might be time I step away from The Walking Dead. And as Roland Tembo declares in The Lost World: Jurassic Park: “I believe I’ve spent enough time in the company of death.” Hey, thanks for playing that movie last night, AMC. Enjoy your ratings.