How The Walking Dead failed

I ask my followers’ indulgence in a (surprise!) long rant on The Walking Dead. I’m not a horror fan, at all, but after years of listening to my brother and sister talk about TWD I did get into it. The “tl;dr” of this whole post is that now I’m getting out of it.

Here we go.

Last night was the season premiere of The Walking Dead. Six months ago, on April 2 (it should have been April 1), the show produced the worst excuse for a cliffhanger in television history, as far as I’m aware. The episode was an hour and a half long, and consisted mainly of a large group of the show’s main characters driving about in an RV. Which was actually okay – there was suspense in the situation, when first watched. Spoilers had leaked – even to me, not looking for spoilers at the time – that comic book character Negan was finally going to arrive on the scene, and would in short order bash someone’s brains in. So I was prepared for a death.

After over an hour of other stuff, including a good half hour anyway of driving around in that RV, and then a flurry of activity as Our Gang was captured and bullied into kneeling in a line, and – oh, there he is. Black leather, barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, great entrance … except did he just really say “pee-pee city”? How am I supposed to take that seriously? Okay, whatever … I braced myself. And he began to talk. I was keeping an eye on the clock the whole time, trying to gauge how it would fall out … and he kept talking. And talking. And … talking, to the point where I actually said out loud “For God’s sake just shut up and hit someone already.” From the moment he stepped out of the RV (which was a good touch) to the point when he finally took action, it was just under 11 minutes. I mean … kudos to Jeffrey Dean Morgan for delivering such a long monologue, but it’s not a fun experience to be wound up prepared for something and instead be faced with an endless stream of psychopathic bibble-babble. Behold the definition of “bloviate”.

Finally, finally he got underway, with the “eeny meenie miney moe” thing which I have now heard (in commercials) approximately 4,800 times and hope never to hear again, went randomly up and down the line of Our Gang, and – as most everyone who’s been on the internet or knows a Walking Dead fan knows by now – the POV of the camera switched from his, looking down the bat at terrified or angry faces … to the victim’s. Or, rather, the audience’s, as after weeks of hype and an hour and a half of suspense and over ten minutes of speech, Negan bashed in the head of someone whose identity would be left unknown for six months, until the October 23 Season 7 premiere.

Except of course it wasn’t left unknown. Because everyone wanted to know. So people ramped up their efforts to find out who it was, by any means necessary. And they found out that not one but two actors were conspicuously absent from the set, and in fact one of them was shooting a film in Korea during filming of TWD. So – never mind pee-pee city, it’s spoiler city time, and that’s the last time I will ever use the former phrase, ever – the safe money went on both Glenn and Abraham for the victims; the theory I heard was that he would hit Glenn, and Abraham would try to help him and get pulverized himself.

Here might be a good time to talk about why the death of Glenn was such a stupid idea, but I don’t have the heart to bring the words “dumpster” and “Nicholas” into it. Suffice to say that Glenn has been miraculously not killed several times recently, he was the (only) victim of Negan in the comic book in the equivalent scene, and I honestly didn’t expect it. I was afraid of it, but I didn’t really expect it.

Instead of talking about that, I’ll just mention how utterly furious I was with the way that season finale was handled. As a ridiculous trickle of “blood” ran down the screen and the picture and sound went fuzzy, I used language I wouldn’t like my mother to hear, and came as close as I ever will come to throwing something at a television I can’t afford to replace. I wasn’t happy. And as time went by I did not become happier. If one (or two) of those characters had died at minute 85 of the 90-minute season finale, after the twisting of the screw for the previous hour-plus to the point at which the tension was almost unbearable, I would have been devastated. I would have needed an entire box of tissues. And, in a strange way, I would have been satisfied. I would have felt like I was one of the survivors, having just watched a beloved comrade (or two) beaten hideously to death, and would have been left with just a clean fury aimed where it belonged: at Negan.

Instead I was left with a very messy and more real fury aimed at the producers. Talking Dead immediately after the finale asked people to tweet who they thought the victim was, and my response was a wish for it to be the show’s creator Robert Kirkman and/or executive producer Scott Gimple.

I thought the episode was weak; I thought it was stupid; I thought it was a terrible replay of a terrible idea earlier in the season (the dumpster incident, in which the outcome was not revealed for weeks); I thought it very much represented just what it looked like, the show beating the audience to death. It was not a cliffhanger. It was a “neener neener, we’ve got you where we want you and we’re going to torture you like Negan, nah nah nah” – and it felt almost as childish. That’s actually pretty close to how I feel about it: a child’s version of a cliffhanger.

Wikipedia: “A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction”. Shocking revelation. Not “something terrible just happened but we’re not going to tell you”. Not “we’re using stupid tricks to artificially simulate a cliffhanger instead of relying on good writing and plotting to create a real one”.

Shock – not disgust.

The six (six and a half, but who’s counting) months went by, and the only positive aspect to the long wait from the show’s point of view was that my anger cooled, my disgust faded a little, and sometime during the summer I got curious about what people were saying. I went hunting for theories. They weren’t hard to find. There was the “the character point of view used throughout the episode was either Daryl or Michonne, so logically the POV at the end was the same person”, which was narrowed down to “it was Michonne”, which became my favorite theory because, although I didn’t want to see Michonne killed, it was so logical. (Insert scornful noise here.) There’s the “Eugene said goodbye to everyone and made himself a hero so he’s the one” theory. And of course there was the all-but proven “Cudlitz and Yeun haven’t been on set” theory.

That’s the positive aspect as far as the show was concerned – the long delay settled down the part of me that never wanted to be bothered watching an episode of TWD again. The positive thing for me was discovering the podcast “Dead Fans Talking”, which I love and will probably keep listening to even if I never see another episode, because I enjoy the hosts so much. (They read my iTunes review at the end of episode #76, bless their hearts.)

I’ve gone on long enough with this; I need to start to put a period on it. I put the tv on partway through the afternoon; AMC had been showing the whole series all week, so I left it on in the background to remind myself of why I cared. (Last week they showed a series recap, which was entertaining but didn’t quite get me to give half a damn again.) (If you’re still concerned about spoilers, here’s where they start coming in force.)

To reiterate: what should have happened, what would have happened if things had fallen out differently, was that twelve main characters of the show would be lined up in front of a freak with a baseball bat, and he would have given his monologue, and he would have killed Abraham and maybe Glenn, and the season would have ended with me working my way through a box of tissues and hoping for a slow and painful death for the bastard in the leather jacket. Season 7 would have picked up at some point in that bloody scene, plunging the characters and me along with them back into the moment and building on the emotions, and cemented the bond between viewer and protagonists against the bastard in the leather jacket.

What happened instead was a long, slow summer and autumn, punctuated by the rather lacking Fear the Walking Dead, until finally here it was. They did indeed drop the viewer back into the same scene – in fact, apparently immediately after the last one ended.

Who died?

Who knew?

The scene hobbled on, with a very sweaty Rick in the foreground and some script tap dancing around the victim’s identity, and instead of being anxious for the characters I began to go right back to where I ended Season 6: aggravated with the producers and writers. What the hell, people – six and a half months wasn’t long enough to keep people waiting? Nope – let’s go another fifteen minutes or so. (That was the only good thing about the dumpster debacle – at least when they finally revealed what actually happened it was in the first moments of an episode.)

They managed to produce some tension by playing with Rick and the hatchet; I haven’t read the comics but I know that Rick loses a hand at some point, and that was one of the only two parts that held any suspense for me: waiting to see if Negan was going to take Rick’s hand. (He didn’t.)

If I’d been in charge, that would have been how last season ended: Abraham dead on the ground, and maybe Glenn, and Negan dragging Rick off into the RV with the hatchet. It would have been perfect: shock, horror, and oh-my-God-what’s-going-to-happen-to-Rick, and many tissues and in memoria to the dead – – and an actual cliffhanger.

And then finally came the scene – the scene. Abraham. And where I should have been upset and sad, I was only mildly regretful. (Aw, no more word salad; I’ll miss the dingleberries and the Bisquick and the dolphins and whatever other nonsense came out of his mouth. Bitch nuts.) I was actually mainly disappointed: I had really hoped that the show would pull something off, that the producers would have been smart enough to realize that fans and others would be monitoring who was on set and who wasn’t, and have managed to do something that would be a surprise. But no. There was Abraham, headless. Then came the only other moment of suspense in the show, as Daryl lunged forward to try to stop Negan from babbling on and on and waving the dripping bat under people’s noses, and I decided that if Daryl died I wouldn’t riot, but would turn off the tv and go to bed and never bother again – – as with so much else, not because of the death itself (although that would make the show very boring to me) but because it was so pointless.

Instead, of course, it was actually worse. Daryl was dragged back, Negan pointed out that Glenn had been allowed an outburst and he had promised retribution if there was another one, and turned around and clobbered Glenn. And proceeded to beat Glenn to a literal pulp. So there it was: two deaths, exactly the two which had been the strongest rumor, and … I was nauseated, not just because of the brutality of the scene but because of the disappointment with the show.

I didn’t turn it off; I kept watching, and then came the scene in which Negan tries to force Rick to cut his own son’s arm off. If I had cared more by that point it would have been a third moment of suspense: there was no way Rick was going to mutilate Carl, but going back to the earlier tension I thought maybe he’d turn the hatchet on his own left hand. He didn’t; Negan did a God imitation and stepped in to keep Abraham from sacrificing Isaac once he’d proved he was willing to do so.

And that was about it. Conclude with Rick broken, everyone weeping, and Maggie swearing retribution in the most moronic way possible (as they pointed out to her, she could barely stand up; Negan would have had one of his minions knock her out of the way in two seconds or less). I texted my sister: “Well, that was stupid”. Her response: “It was! So pissed”. And I went to bed. I had expected and planned for a long night, because Talking Dead was following the episode with a 90-minute “counseling session”, featuring almost a dozen cast members and a couple of producers and a big audience (in a cemetery, which just strikes me as tacky and I’m spitefully glad they got rained on). I shut it off: there was no way I could sit through ninety minutes of the producers being either smug or defensive (or both, which they’ve managed in the past), and the cast being depressed or stressed or whatever, and Chris Hardwick and whoever else toeing the party line to portray shock and grief.

I almost wish I could say I’ve rage-quit the show. I haven’t. It’s more a sort of shrug-and-eyeroll sort of walking away.

The end result? I’ll be able to get to bed earlier on Sunday nights now.

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2 Responses to How The Walking Dead failed

  1. N. E. White says:

    Folks are really angry about this. I must go watch…

  2. stewartry says:

    I hope you like it better!

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