I was chatting with J. Porteous yesterday, the conversation started about Trump, switched to Futurama and then we finished on The Walking Dead. Life moves fast on Twitter. The thing with The Walking Dead, and I hate to beat a dead horse here, is that it's turning into a shambling zombie. While it was once a show that was leading the charge in television ratings, it's had pieces falling off of it for a while now. By the end of season 8 it's been going through the motions but all signs of life are gone. Okay, I'll stop with the zombie metaphors now...
Carl was killed off under suspicious circumstances. The father of Chandler Riggs, the actor who portrayed Carl, suggested that something fishy was going on behind the scenes. And while Rick and Maggie were set to butt heads over Rick's choice to keep Negan alive, both Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan have stated that they're bailing on the show. The show is hemorrhaging at every conceivable angle and the producers have apparently offered Norman Reedus an exorbitant amount of money to take over as lead. That's right, they want a character who wasn't even in the comics, to take over as lead for the show.
Don't get me wrong, I really admire Norman Reedus' work, and I actually grew to like Daryl Dixon. But while I've no doubt that Norman Reedus could lead, I don't think Daryl Dixon could. He's the right-hand man of the lead, the trusted warrior, and there's nothing wrong with that. But that's the way the show looks like it's going, and while I've no doubt that it could continue for a few more seasons I doubt it would do so in any meaningful manner.
I get that television shows are a business and people create them to make money, but there is something to be said for artistic integrity. Why not have the show finish up after season 9? How many television shows even get to season 9 these days? Or 5? Or even 3? The Walking Dead is riding high, and although it's already looking like it's peaked and now on the downward trend, there's still dignity in cashing out while they're ahead.
The thing with a zombie apocalypse is that the zombies are just the backdrop, they're a force of nature, the real drama comes from the other humans. The Walking Dead has always done this well, so much so that the title of the series actually refers to the humans and not the zombies. The television series sort of lost touch with the zombies after a certain point though, a bit too much, and it became more and more about the politics between the different groups of survivors. As much as I'm for well fleshed out characters and communities, it's only been a few years after the outbreak and so realistically the show shouldn't have turned into The West Wing quite so soon.
I know this will never happen, but I've an idea for what I think would be a satisfying end to the series.
The war with Negan was hard won, and loud, and unbeknownst to those involved it's been bringing in multiple herds from all across the countryside. Season 9 is the build up of this event as each of the communities comes under siege from different zombie herds, and one by one they all fall. Each community loses some key characters when it falls, but the survivors retreat back to one of the other communities. This just keeps happening over and over across the season, dominoes falling one by one. Oceanside falls, Hilltop Falls, The Kingdom falls, hell even the remnants of the Saviors and Scavengers are overrun and those that survive fall back to Alexandria.
All the petty politics that has been playing out over the last few seasons is dashed upon the rocks as the show reverts to its roots - humans vs zombies. Multiple herds are zeroing in on Alexandria and former enemies are forced to become allies as every character that still lives is given a gun and told to fight. A few die in the siege, dying valiantly or pissing themselves, but eventually the walls of Alexandria are broken under the sheer weight of multiple hordes.
The final episode of season 9, of The Walking Dead, is about the last moments of each of the main characters as they try to survive in an overrun Alexandria. Ezekiel and Michonne are back to back with their swords, like the knights and samurai of old, holding their own until they're crushed and consumed from all sides. Maggie is doing well but sees Negan and goes for some revenge for Glenn's murder, she knows it's stupid and but she can't help it and she dies in the process. Eugene thinks about shooting himself in the head, but in a final act of bravery he sets off a bomb that takes out hundreds of zombies, as well as himself. Carol sits in a chair in a locked room with her back to the door, just waiting for the zombies to burst through.
Rick is in the streets, gunning down zombies left and right with headshots, he's seeing survivors falling where ever he looks. With each shot fired we see flashbacks of everyone he's lost over the 9 seasons. Someone calls his name and he turns to see it's Negan, swinging wildly with Lucille. The two men, formerly bitter enemies, meet up and fight back to back, supporting one another against the herds. They share a moment about missing Carl, then reveal that they're both already bitten, before fighting to the bitter end. Swinging and firing as chunks are bitten from them and their guts are torn out. Rick and Negan die the way they both lived - fighting.
When it all calms down we see a lone figure staggering along the road, and it's Daryl. This is where the hypothetical story splits, depending on what the show runners want. If they really must have more Walking Dead to milk, Daryl is badly wounded but not infected and still alive. He goes on to lead his own spin-off, just like Fear the Walking Dead. It may not have worked for Joey from Friends, but it might work here. If they producers take the artistic approach over money, however, Daryl is a zombie. The hope that he made it out alive is dashed as the camera pans around and we see that he's dead on his feet.
It's a fucking zombie apocalypse, there shouldn't be any happy endings to this story. The survivors held out against the living dead as long as they could, but then they fell to infighting and forgot about the threat posed by the billions of ambulatory corpses that were scattered across the globe. The thing is that everybody dies, even your favorite TV show characters will die one day. If not on the show, then at some undefined time after the show ends. At least with killing them all off in the last episode of the last season their inevitable deaths can serve the narrative.
The Walking Dead has been a great ride, it hasn't been perfect but it has broken records and it will be the envy of television series for decades to come. Let it go out with a suitably dramatic bang, rather than let it peter out and get cancelled with a whimper.
Or, for one last zombie metaphor, shoot it in the head instead of letting it shamble on as a zombie. I know it's tough, but if you truly care about them then it's the right thing to do.