At one time or another, a series has to end gracefully. The Walking Dead (TWD) is fast approaching this stage, taking their characters through another arduous fight for survival against hordes of walkers and a maniac tribal leader keen to stamp their authority on a community. We’ve been here before and the formula is feeling tired. 98 episodes in 6 seasons and it appears recycled.
Full disclosure – The Walking Dead is not only an unheralded commercial success, but a cult classic that transcends the zombie and horror genre like no other television show has. Amid a golden age of T.V. the program has built on its loyal following to be in the discussion with the likes of Game of Thrones and AMC’s other smash hit Breaking Bad.
TWD has also propelled Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira and dozens of other actors into the spotlight while the previously thought of fringe B-grade talent like Norman Reedus and David Morrissey have used the show to resurrect their careers (no pun intended) and match any other small-screen performances in the 21st Century.
However, those other programs took the viewer on a journey where plotlines are unique and the story is always progressing forward with something new to digest. Nothing felt shallow and a genuine crescendo is building to an end worthy of what went before it. As the drama is unfolding, TWD is being drawn out for all it is worth to the network and risking its reputation in the process.
Now with a prequel/spinoff in Fear The Walking Dead, AMC are wanting to engage in franchising this creation and make a lot of the mistakes made time and time again in the world of cinema. TWD has scaled the heights of television stardom, but the success is starting to go to the heads of the creators, producers and marketing executives cashing in rather than giving a worthy end.
15. Ending To Last Season’s Finale
Negan has just brutally killed off one of Rick Grimes’ cohorts by brandishing his Lucille to beat someone over the head without a care in the world. With the group engaging in a battle across the last few episodes of season six, Negan wanted his pound of flesh and using a first person camera technique, he taunted and agonized over who would be his next victim. The finale puts the group in a no-win situation where Negan is now king and escape is futile. To once again have the creators twist the knife into these characters who have already been to hell and back is a hard pill to swallow to say the least. This ruthless brand of personal justice offers little in the way of hope, only to delve these people into a deeper predicament and make a darker series that bit more bleak than it was before.
14. Impossible Odds Becoming Probable
When Glenn Rhee was pinned down amid a horde of walkers baring down on him with their teeth and claws ready to tear him apart, it was seemingly the end for one of the bravest characters the series has created. Yet he was held down by a man of cowardice who had just committed suicide and there was the smallest of possibilities that he had wriggled out from underneath to escape to safety. With a week of speculation and the gnashing of fingernails, Glenn was saved and lived to fight another day – impossible right? Likewise with Rick when he was trapped inside the caravan, Daryl by a renegade group seeking revenge and so on. Much like Game of Thrones, TWD does not hang on to every central character and can dispatch them with gruesome regularity, but the huge odds of survival being overcome episode after episode continues to push the gap between genuine drama and just pure fiction.
13. Still No Genuine Female Lead
There are plenty of strong female characters in The Walking Dead. From Maggie Greene to Michonne, Carol Peletier, Sasha Williams, Tara Chambler and Rosita Espinosa of the remaining survivors. But what about the leaders? The overwhelming majority of the decisions made on behalf of the group are planned and devised by Rick Grimes, forcing the female characters into a more maligned position and maintaining a standard hierarchy. Given time and with Michonne and Rick forming a new relationship, this dynamic has the capacity to shift. Yet in a world where everything is turned upside down and the normal rules don’t apply, it still seems when it comes to gender politics the normal rules do apply.
12. Leaks To The Press
Months out from the premiere of season seven, the prolonged wait for TWD fans has transitioned into a spoiler-free zone as they have to hide under the covers like those recording an episode of Game of Thrones. New directors brought in for the upcoming series of episodes have already caught vision of who Negan kills and depending on where the audience sources their news and how reliable they consider it, the death will be a shock and an emotional rollercoaster. The chopping and changing of people working on the show makes secrets more tenuous than they would be with a solid team working throughout the production, yet this is not the case. Leaks have been made before and if the saying that loose lips sink ships, then this is one leaky boat that needs some rescuing.
11. Sex Appeal Not Necessary
In a world where the male characters can barely keep a scratch, piece of facial hair or gruff exterior out of place, the female characters like Sasha Williams, Tara Chambler and Rosita Espinosa always seem to bookmark their adventures with trips to a manicure and pedicure salon. The gritty realism of adventure is cynically taken down a notch by these talented and gorgeous actors who light up the screen, but it runs contrary to the circumstances they find themselves in. The reasoning behind their exceptional appearance is obvious, however it doesn’t stand up to any sort of scrutiny if thought about logically. This standard does not just apply to the female characters, but the likes of Austin Nichols’ Spencer Monroe appears too well kept to be in the middle of the apocalypse.
Step 1: survivors find each other and form a group. Step 2: escape from walker attacks as a handful of beloved, but not overly influential characters die off gradually. Step 3: find a refuge to stay. Step 4: encounter unwelcoming militias intent on killing and taking goods for themselves. Step 5: Rick and his crew get the last laugh to defeat these deadbeats and charge onto the next challenge. Rinse and repeat. Now this is an oversimplification as some enemies become friends and enemies friends, but how long before TWD breaks this script? Before long one compound looks like the last one and the characters that come in and out of the series share many of the same traits that fit into the dynamic of the group. There is always an alpha male, someone lacking courage and some aesthetically pleasing eye candy to keep the viewer hooked.
Staying alive is hard work. One of the best parts of TWD is taking the audience on this horrifying and soul-destroying journey where you can smell the blood and feel the aces and pains of clinging to life. But during the commercial breaks it is easy to ponder what this all really means. Best case scenario, Rick and the gang will find a perfect location to hold down a house, create another family and lead a community free from danger where everyone lives happily ever after. Even in that hypothetical conclusion, the world is still at an end. The near escapes and endless running from impending doom makes it difficult to care for these characters in the long run. During the small moments of reprieve where Rick and his son hunt for food, repair buildings and fraternize with the rest of the community, the viewer knows what is around the corner and that they will have to brace themselves for another whirlwind of near-death experiences.
8. Too Much Gore Desensitizing Viewers
Sticking a knife through a walker’s skull is now as mundane an activity as shaving or taking a shower. The death count is so ridiculous and absurd after some episodes the recap program The Talking Dead partake in an ironic montage of tributes to the fallen flesh eaters. Heads are chopped off, limbs discarded with, insides gushing out – there really is no other limit where TWD can go now, we’ve watched it through fingers before. Red stained shirts are part and parcel of the dress code in the series, spare a thought for the poor old dry cleaners on the program! With all the endless slashing and violence, the shock and effect that those scenes would normally warrant evaporate over time. It is a double-edged sword of types because it is both the appeal of the show as well as a filmography tool that is holding the show back from using it sparingly and properly.
7. Character Development Exhausted
One of the great revelations of the show is the meaning within the title itself. For all the walkers haunting the deserted landscapes, The Walking Dead is a direct reference to the survivors biding their time before they meet their seemingly inevitable and gruesome fate. This environment causes great physiological stress and personality change, like that of Gabriel Stokes, Morgan Jones, Eugene Porter, Carol Peletier, Daryl Dixon and the series’ main protagonist, Rick Grimes. But now these characters are on the other side of this, living through multiple near-death experiences and assassination attempts, there is almost no room for change or growth. They have seen and done it all before. Perhaps there will be more twists and turns in store for Rick Grimes who, in the initial season, was a good family man until the apocalypse turned him into something maniacal and unrecognizable. Still as a young man, the silver lining is that there is hope for Carl Grimes who could transform and experience stages of character development.
6. Best Acting Talent Killed Off
Perhaps it is an indication of success how a cast of lower profile actors can carry a series with a ratings rise while actors of higher profile, like Michael Rooker’s Merle Dixon and Jon Bernthal’s Shane Walsh are rubbed out early on in the piece. Yet those characters leave a mark and raise the standards, leaving a clear void when their services are no longer required. Importing big name actors is not a TWD trait and is usually a sign of trouble for a series, but those two in particular set The Walking Dead on the path it finds itself on today. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan breaks the mold to some degree, importing a well known, if not globally recognizable Hollywood figure into the mix. Shane Walsh was a fascinating character that turned evil in the first stages of the series and given the projection of Bernthal’s television career with projects like Daredevil, there should have been room for him further into the series where others have been carried.
5. Unnecessary Padding
Take the example of Maggie Greene’s younger sister Beth. Throughout her time from a loving daughter and carer of Rick’s baby to a younger femme fatale version of her older sibling, Beth’s ultimate demise felt as though it left a lot of scenes and genuine character development on the scrap heap. Just as the romance of Sasha and Abraham is padding for time between battles, these moments do lack purpose to move the story forward. Some of the best television is not always a thrill-a-minute ride where every frame carried significance, but the contrast between the content that matters is far superior to the endless padding for time. Michonne and Rick are now an item, for how long will depend on their life span in the coming season. After all, this is The Walking Dead and not The Days of Our Lives.
4. Ending A Scientific Pursuit And Cure
The introductions of Eugene Porter and Abraham Ford as an unlikely traveling companions has done little to spice up the story line of TWD, but the latter was once heralded as a potential savior of the human race. His false guise as a scientist who knew the cure to the walker crisis lead the crew on a journey to Washington D.C. and reclaim life before the epidemic broke out. This turned out to be nothing more than a lie to save their skins and since that revelation the notion that this apocalypse can be saved is extinguished. The destruction of a scientific compound aka the Center for Disease Control in the first finale eliminated the chance of rescuing the human population on a scale grander than the small group of survivors followed every episode. The bubble in which these characters operate can be suffocating and to know that there is something occurring beyond those barriers can integrate genuine interest.
Is this a sign of things to come? Will Lennie James’ character Morgan Jones have a spin off? How did Negan rise to become one of the kingmakers with such a loyal following? Perhaps there is enough material to examine the life and times of the Dixon brothers as the zombie apocalypse was beginning to break out? Whilst the pilot episode for Fear The Walking Dead gave promise, the prequel to TWD is not exactly revealing too much we didn’t know in the original series. Not only is the timing unusual, running before the conclusion of TWD, but it is essentially an exercise of rewinding the tape to follow the same chaos only with different faces and different locations. There is commercial success to help the series brand, but following on so closely to the original and rehashing the experiences is something that should have been saved following the conclusion of TWD, not running alongside it.
2. Villains With Similar Motives
Control and power. Tribal male domination is a common thread throughout TWD, whether it be in a prison, a barricade, a compound, an old house – whatever shelter is deemed necessary, there will be an alpha male with the most evil of intentions looking to rape and pillage remaining survivors and take advantage of the death and destruction around them. Negan appears to be another take on The Governor, Gareth, Merle and even Rick himself. In a world where no one trusts anyone and tensions are always close to boiling point, the villains are all just over-hyped extensions of what every character is and wants – safety, control and power. Perhaps throwing into the mix an evil scientist or religious fundamentalist would throw something different into the equation where the rule of law is transitioned from civil society to another point of refuge.
1. Heading Towards Inevitable Conclusion
For those of us that are not comic book followers who have glimpsed into future plotlines, the endless struggle goes on. Rick will continue to lead this rag-tag group against the odds and will have to overcome the might of Negan minus one recently killed member, a big revelation keeping viewers just interested enough to hang on in there. With news that Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan has been included as a series regular for the upcoming season, binge watchers know the conflict will be drawn out like everything else in the TWD universe. Other favorites will come and go with gruesome regularity, but we know one of Rick’s crew will valiantly carry the mantle of a just crusade. With no near conclusion in sight, there will have to be a circuit breaker of some description where the tables are turned and a new path is forged. Picking off characters in small doses while adding new ones is keeping a consistent dynamic that is frankly tiresome.