SPOILERS through season 6 of The Walking Dead.
The purpose of this blog is not to shout in exasperation when a television show goes thoroughly off the rails, but I’m so frustrated with “The Walking Dead” right now that it’s either this, or beat a motherfucker with another motherfucker.
As I’ve said before, the show owes its enduring appeal in part to the fact that people love to complain about it. When it comes to horror that aims for mass appeal, you need to be able to distance yourself from it. There are exceptions, but a long-running television series based on a long-running comic book series would be exhausting if it weren’t occasionally also just annoying.
Still, there is, “Haha, let’s make a meme out of this dumb exchange between two characters,” and then there is, “This show is reaching greatness – and them abruptly plunging into absurdity.”
I already wrote down some thoughts on how the show’s sixth season rose to new heights before devolving into ridiculousness after the 15th episode aired. That episode was a neat summation of most bad things about TWD: dialogue that acts as filler, characters going batshit insane for the sake of advancing the plot, “emotional” moments that seem like cringe-worthy tryouts for “My So-Called Life,” etc.
I wasn’t ready to freak out until the season six finale aired. And then it aired.
I should note that my father-in-law died between the airings of episode 15 and episode 16 (this story, which I started writing when we were hanging out together, is dedicated to him). Maybe I’m angry and tired right now, or maybe I could have really used a good wrap-up to the season.
Sometimes you’re frustrated with horror because it’s too much to bear. Other times, you’re frustrated with it because what’s meant to be a gut-punch leaves you feeling as though you’re being played for a fool. We’re in the latter category with TWD right now.
There were many insults toward the end of the season (Carol’s meltdown that did not have a proper set-up, Denise dying in the middle of a truly ridiculous speech that came out of nowhere for the character), but Daryl, the man who’s been outsmarted twice, knows the ruthless killers he’s up against, but still goes “I’m the TWD version of the big-breasted girl running up the stairs from the knife-wielding killer” was probably the biggest slap in the face.
It’s fine if horrible shit goes down on a horror show. But if you want it to have emotional impact, you shouldn’t have the viewers thinking, “Some of these morons deserve to die and I don’t know if I care to watch.”
These missteps are difficult to deal with because the editing, the music, the camera angles, and the cinematography have all been so beautiful. You can tell how hard the actors are working – the look on Rick’s face when the group carrying Maggie is surrounded in the finale alone is worth a bunch of awards.
But Rick had a giant flashing sign reading “GONNA GET SCREWED” next to his head for weeks and throughout the finale. It really diminished the impact of Andrew Lincoln’s great acting.
The writing is the weakest link and as a writer I’m hella upset about that.
There is so much texture the show can work with. So much ruined landscape and so many different survivors you can stumble across while traveling through it.
In light of this, making us constantly guess “who’s about to bite it now” is like being forced to watching a zombie version of Survivor. There’s something cheap about it.
I had high hopes at first, when the finale slowly ramped up the dread, but in the end, the staging for the ultimate humiliation was too damn elaborate.
It’s always frustrating how a killer in a horror movie suddenly develops superpowers halfway through. “Whoops, sorry, this isn’t a psycho killer it’s a PSYCHO KILLER WHO’S ALSO BATMAN.”
This is a show that regularly has flesh-eating zombies sneaking up on suddenly-deaf characters, but at the drop of a hat, the mighty Saviors can turn this entire wasted world into a rigged stage set.
Not even Game of Thrones does this. The show with demon smoke-babies and dragons and zombies with glowing blue eyes actually takes its time to show viewers how its important to maximize tactical advantages and out-flank your enemies when you are in a hostile environment.
Survival horror doesn’t have to eschew grand scenes of psychological terror. It just has to make them a tiny bit realistic and relevant.
At this point, we’ve spent way too much time with Rick’s leadership (not even Rick himself) being the main character. It’s frustrating, because at a certain point, you stop caring.
You stick around because of the actual human characters – Daryl and his temper, Morgan and his moral code, Carol and her struggle to care for something other that survival (I hope Carol’s character has not been permanently ruined), Eugene and his hair.
But when you drive the plot forward at the expense of story (plot and story are not the same thing), you sell out your own writing.
By the time Negan finally arrived on the scene, I was like, hurry up and kill someone, Negan. I’ve got sarcastic #panamapapers tweets to write. Hm, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is damn fine even when he’s playing a psycho, isn’t he?… Where was I?…Oh look. Another damn cliffhanger in a series of cliffhangers that have drained the emotional impact out of the season.
The writers, God bless them, made me truly not care who died in the finale. The only thing I care about is the possibility that season 7’s main theme is going to be a drawn out rumination on RICK’S DAMAGED EGO because zomg there’s a bigger badass in the woods.
I feel that we’re being set up for that and I don’t have the patience for it.
There’s something wrong when you realize that Fallout, a post-apocalyptic video game series, has been portraying the post-apocalypse better – and making it more memorable, more detailed, possessing of more depth.
And the flashes of unbridled brilliance on TWD make the current state of things even more annoying than if the show were consistently just meh.
DON’T TEASE ME WITH THAT BRILLIANCE, TWD. MAKE UP YOUR MIND AS TO WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE GOING TO SUCK OR BE AWESOME.
(Should I be doing a mic drop or sobbing in the end ? I don’t even know…)