The Walking Dead

The End of the Walking Dead

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.

They're a team, Daryl is what Shane could never be, it's why their separation was so hard on them both.

They're a team, Daryl is what Shane could never be, it's why their separation was so hard on them both.

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. 

Biggest. Herd. Ever.

Biggest. Herd. Ever.

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.

You all know the drill by know...

You all know the drill by know...

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.

Negan's just as bad as Rick... or is that the other way around?

Negan's just as bad as Rick... or is that the other way around?

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. 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 promo for season 8 didn't even have any zombies in it... it had a tiger, but not one zombie. Not even a severed head! 

The promo for season 8 didn't even have any zombies in it... it had a tiger, but not one zombie. Not even a severed head! 

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 someone then it's the right thing to do.

Zombies Following Zombies

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. 

That's a real nice gun you've got there, Rick...

That's a real nice gun you've got there, Rick...

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. 

... it'd be a shame if you actually lost that hand ages ago!

... it'd be a shame if you actually lost that hand ages ago!

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.

We've golden soil and wealth for toil, and home is girt by sea...

We've golden soil and wealth for toil, and home is girt by sea...

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. 

I've never actually watched The Office, but this is what I imagine people with business degrees end up doing.

I've never actually watched The Office, but this is what I imagine people with business degrees end up doing.

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!

ooooh, they're getting ready for a fight.... better tune in to find out what happens!

ooooh, they're getting ready for a fight.... better tune in to find out what happens!

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?

We weren't friends before, why the bloody hell would we be friends now?!

We weren't friends before, why the bloody hell would we be friends now?!

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.

So many twists! So many reveals! So many boobies! (It's actually not that bad...)

So many twists! So many reveals! So many boobies! (It's actually not that bad...)

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.

You realize some Don Draper-style marketing executive for AMC probably made this shit... right?

You realize some Don Draper-style marketing executive for AMC probably made this shit... right?

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. 

Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaains......

Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaains......

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.