I'm one of those people that has a difficult relationship with The Walking Dead, it's like that ex you keep going back to years later even though you're no good for one another. There's a long and complicated history there that's left me relatively confused and conflicted about how I feel about it these days.
I started reading The Walking Dead back in 2004, I never got the individual comics, I got the 6-issue graphic novels. This is actually a trend that I eventually brought with me in regards to television - I don't do that week to week shit, I wait to consume in bulk at my own pace. We'll get to that a bit later though. So in terms of being a fan of The Walking Dead, I'm one of those snooty jackasses that read the comics long before the show was even announced.
I loved this series. In a world of DC and Marvel comics, with their colorful pages and puddle deep narratives, The Walking Dead was a monochromatic zombie-fest that brought with it an intensity that was previously unheard of. Characters died and I was legitimately pissed off. When Glenn was killed, 8 years after I'd started reading about him, I was actually sick.
But by this stage, late 2012, the show's third season had begun and things had been going awry for a long time. I was really excited when the show was first announced, we'd never had a zombie TV series before because zombies were only ever in movies. By the end of the first season, however, I was very conflicted about the show. The old folks home and CDC compound arcs were never in the comic books, who was this Daryl douchebag and why did they spend a whole season at Hershel's farm? I had to sit down and preform some mental gymnastics to try to reconcile what I was watching compared to what I'd been reading for near a decade at this point. The show wasn't The Walking Dead that I knew, it was an alternate reality of The Walking Dead - not the same, but similar.
With that framing in mind, I could watch the show and not flip every table in the room. But then I read an article that sent me into a spiral of hysterical self-destruction. There was a rumor that, because he was so popular in the show, Daryl was going to appear in the comics. I lost my shit and sold off all my Walking Dead comics that very day at a second hand book store. I called it quits, because I sure as hell wasn't going to be putting up with that sort of shit. The comics dictate the show and it's a one way street, the show *never* has an effect on the comics.
I continued to watch a little bit of season 3 with some mates and they were all ranting and raving about how evil the watered-down TV version of the Governor was. I'd just seen what Negan had done to Glenn at this point though, so I wasn't that impressed. Eventually I sort of drifted away from the show, I'd watch the odd episode here and there but I stopped following it. Over the next few years I'd periodically get bored and discover that another season had finished, so I'd *^#GO DOWN TO THE STORE AND PURCHASE A LEGITIMATE COPY(%@ and burn through it in a weekend.
When I stopped watching it weekly, and started watching it all in one go, I realized that it wasn't actually that good. It meandered a lot, the characters made stupid choices to drag out the run time and create false tension, and worst of all it relied upon cliff hangers. You become immune to cliff hangers when you can skip to the next episode straight away. As I watched successive seasons, I realized that the show wasn't popular because it was fantastic quality television, it was popular because all these cliff hangers allowed people to have water cooler talks.
The show has been designed to get people talking about it. People watch an episode and then they're wondering what's going to happen next week and they're hooked for that next episode. They're all talking about it with others at work or at school, then someone else walks by and wants to be included in the conversation, so they go check it out and then they're hooked as well. The show itself is a zombie virus, it infects these brain dead bandwagon riding morons who just want to be part of the cool crowd... and it's not even that good!
Now, you could say that I should just been happy that the show is so popular and be content with the fact that something I love is gaining so much success. But the truth is, I was copping shit from people for liking zombies and the end of the world way before The Walking Dead came to television. Then suddenly when it became the new hit thing to watch, those same posers turned around and said it was the greatest thing ever. And I'm supposed to be cool with that?
People were hysterical when Negan showed up on the show, wondering who was going to die. And because it was the very last episode of the season they had a loooong time to wait to find out who it was. It was designed that way, to get people talking and to create a lot of false hype around the show. I know that sounds obvious, but just think about how much the show relied upon that. When season 7 finally arrived in October of 2016, there was all this shock, horror and revulsion at how brutal the murder of Glenn was, something I'd experienced four goddamn years earlier at this point. After that initial reveal though, the shows viewership plummeted and people were rushing about trying to figure out why.
I'll tell you why, and it wasn't just because the reveal could never match the over-inflated hype that'd been created. What else started in October of 2016? Westworld! It was fresh, it was new and it had cliff hanger reveals all of its own. And all those bandwagon riding zombies migrated from The Walking Dead to Westworld, because that was the cool new thing to be talking about. If you wanted to be part of the conversation, part of the in-crowd, you had to be watching Westworld. People were already watching The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, they didn't have time to religiously follow a third series, so one of them had to go.
And that's the crux of this "Golden Age" of television, it's not about creating good stories, it's about creating social interaction around mediocre stories through a zombie plague-like following. The people who stopped watching The Walking Dead and started watching Westworld were never fans of zombies, or of the post apocalyptic genre, they were just doing what everyone else was doing. They're literally the worst incarnation of those who ride the bandwagon, or the hypetrain, or whatever other euphemism you want to use to describe their sheep-like mentality. When Westworld is a few seasons in and another show is released, they'll jump tracks like they did last time and go where the cool kids are.
The Walking Dead show was never that great, it was designed to be just good enough to watch and to keep people guessing in order to draw a following. Great TV shows these days often get cancelled after their first or second season because they focus on the story instead of drawing a following on social media. In a world of Facebook and Twitter, it's all about how many people are talking about you and not how good you actually are.
Don't get me wrong, I don't hate The Walking Dead show... mainly just the people that follow it. I think the show has really great cosmetics/prosthetics for the zombies and their use of suitably post apocalyptic backdrops has gotten better as the show has progressed. In terms of characters introduced in the show that weren't in the comics, I actually really like Alanna Masterson's character Tara, and Tyler James WIlliams' character Noah. So it hasn't all been bad. It's just a shame they put so much emphasis on being cool and popular, it could actually be a really got show if it wasn't so vapid.
So that's why I, a long-time massive fan of zombies and all things post apocalyptic, don't watch The Walking Dead. I might go back and get all the comics eventually, but only after the zombie herd has shambled onto something else.