It’s not me. It’s not you. It’s both of us. I have changed, and so have you, The Walking Dead.
It’s been six (mostly) good years, and now into a seventh. We’ve had our ups and downs, and that’s to be expected. The honeymoon phase doesn’t get that name because it lasts forever. But things between us have grown hopelessly tired and stale. We now have trust issues, where they didn’t exist before. I often think you do things just to get a rise out of me. And too many times I’ve felt that you are manipulating me for no other reason than that you can.
So the time has come to say good bye. We will remain friends. I do wish you well. But from this week forward, I’m taking my Sunday nights/Monday mornings on DVR back. We are finished.
It’s not all Negan’s fault of course. The problems that I have with the show started long before he was introduced in Season 6, and before he upended the entire series in the opening episode of Season 7. And to be clear, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the kind of actor that makes me watch a show. He made Magic City. And even after I felt that Extant lost its way, his presence in Season 2 was enough to keep me going. It’s just that Negan feels, well, cartoonish. Evil in a very straight forward two-dimensional evil way that’s just one step shy of twisting the end of his evil mustache while cackling out an evil laugh.
The Walking Dead has benefited from some great villains over the years, with David Morrissey as The Governor as my personal favorite. He was evil, but damaged. You could see the man that he had been prior to the zombie plague, which gave him depth in a Colonel Kurtz Apocalypse Now kind of way. A combination of the trauma of the moment and leadership thrust upon him in which he was unprepared opened the door for his lurking psychosis to come spilling out.
Negan, on the other hand, has none of that. Maybe it is in the source material, and maybe the show will eventual get there. But… that brings me to…
It is becoming impossible to remain invested in particular storylines because the show takes four and five weeks off before returning to them. I had some problems with the season premiere, from both it being very Negan focused (as I just detailed) and the way it depicted his gruesome brutality, which felt almost celebratory (which I’ll get into more coming up.) But I enjoyed episode two, which featured Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) meeting Ezekiel (Khary Payton). But that story, involving two of the group’s most interesting and popular characters, was all the way back in October, and it hasn’t been returned to since.
So perhaps Negan’s character will become more three-dimensional in its appeal to me. But as often as these story lines get featured, that might not happen until the middle of Season 8.
There was a crispness to the plots in earlier seasons and one of the things that was most compelling for me was how these unique people, with varying skills and different responses to the crumbling world around them, worked together to rebuild their version of a society. Sure, it was a bit repetitive – Rick’s group builds a life, confronts an enemy, moves on… builds a life, confronts an enemy, moves on… etc. The main arcs were predictable, but they were also predictably fun.
What we have now, however, takes these characters that we’ve bleed with since 2010, and turns them from important cogs in civilization’s last wheel of hope into minor ancillary characters with minimized importance. Not only have we forgotten about whatever peril they might be in by the time the show returns to them a month or so down the road, we’re no longer as moved as by their ultimate fate.
Zombie Death Count
It’s horror, it’s zombies, it’s the end of the world, and it’s violent. No problems with that. And there have been a number of times where the death of zombies, or the death of the remaining humans, has been clever, relevant, and realistic. But as the show has progressed, so has the body count.
Remember back when McDonalds featured a “customers served” tally on the sign under the golden arches? Back in the 1980s it was actually a moving number, going from 60 billion, to 70 billion, and so on, finally hitting 99 billion in 1994. Since then new restaurants just brag with a generic “billions and billions served.” In recent seasons The Walking Dead feels as though it’s chasing its own “billions killed” tally, with more focus on the numbers of dead (they even do a tribute segment to that week’s fallen zombies on the after show, Talking Dead) than how those dead advance the show.
It’s becoming like when a really great dramatic film takes 20 minutes to insert a car chase. It’s a thing. And it’s a thing that a lot of people like. But is it a thing that really needs to be there? We get it. Life in a zombie apocalypse is perilous. Having a quarry filled with a thousand zombies that need to be shot or stabbed in the head is no longer needed to illuminate that reality. At a certain point it just becomes too much.
And that is exactly how I would describe the end of the Season 7 premiere. Too much.
First of all, why save Glenn (Steven Yeun) in Season 6, in a very manipulative way that treats your audience like unsophisticated rubes, just to be gratuitous in the way you kill him a short time later? And why also take out Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), another very popular character? Yeah, yeah, yeah – source material. I understand that’s what was written, so that’s must what happen. But only to a point. This is a very different medium, with an entirely new set of expectations from an audience that is far more diverse than of those that read the comics. Adjust.
I like that there are no sacred cows. Anything can happen, and to any character. That kind of unpredictability has always been a strength of the show. But that episode, and those two deaths, felt as though the show was treating the audience as beaten down subservients – not unlike how Daryl has been treated by the Saviors since episode 3.
Until We Meet Again
I’m not a zombie or comic book guy, but I truly did enjoy my time with The Walking Dead. The characters were rich and deep, I’ve always found end of the world scenarios a entertaining and sustainable theme, and there is no question that creator Robert Kirkman is a genius who will instantly draw my attention to future projects. And I imagine that when I hear that The Walking Dead is wrapping up its very successful series run some time in the future, a little part of me will be sad. And I’ll probably tune in to see how it all comes to an end.