“Don’t Open Dead Inside”
We all remember those words from the amazing pilot for a once amazing show – The Walking Dead. Yes, I’m talking about that show, as have countless others.
But that’s fine, I don’t hate the show, I actually still kind of dig it. The purpose of this piece is to reflect on what made the series special, and maybe identify the turning point and overall dip in quality. Of course, all of this is subjective and one writer’s opinion.
Unlike many of today’s horror fans, I don’t have a soft spot for zombies, in any iteration. It wasn’t the genre I grew up with nor did it garner much interest from me as I got older. I’ve seen the classics, but nothing sticks out except maybe Shaun of The Dead. But I digress.
There are two camps regarding The Walking Dead – comic readers and casual TV watchers. I am in the latter. In fact, I never heard of the comics until well after the first season aired. Just wasn’t my thing. But something about the show stuck with me from the jump. I didn’t know what that “thing” was at the time, but after a while I pieced it together.
I enjoyed the human drama playing out in the zombie-ridden world.
Having someone like Frank Darabont running the show doesn’t hurt things either. There was an aura of “professionalism” and “seriousness” during the first couple seasons; from the subject matter to the acting itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the cast “unknown,” but they certainly weren’t big names, and that actually helped. There wasn’t any surface-level thing to take me out of the story. I believed what I was watching, even if there were some hefty coincidences playing out.
So, I’m talking about what made the show great, remember? The best aspect of the show, besides its tone during the Darabont years, would be the leadership dynamic between Rick and Shane. On one hand you have Rick – the lawful good character. He will protect his family while keeping the feelings of other’s well-regarded. Then there’s Shane – the chaotic good character. Knowing what needs to be done, and doing that thing is a trait that not all can develop. Especially when the right decision for all could result in the demise of a few. I should mention that Rick shared some of Shane’s mentality, even if he didn’t want to own up to it. See the amazing “Nebraska” episode for evidence of this.
So, what happened? To put it plainly – they killed off the leadership dynamic at the end of season 2. Comic readers remember Shane being killed sometime in the first couple of issues. But as a casual, this was a huge deal. This was the first major turning point in the storylines to come. Beginning in season 3, zombies were moved to the back burner in terms of threat.
Again, I know the show followed the comics, but it was at this point where other humans were more dangerous than the zombies. While this angle was interesting at first, the upcoming seasons resulted in typical “good guy versus bad guy” storylines, and became stale rather quickly. With multiple showrunners and repetitive events, many could argue that sometime in season 4 or 5 is when the breaking point in quality occurred.
Manufactured drama, fake out death scenes and characters no one cares about became the status quo, and arguably is still that way. It wasn’t all bad, as season 3 brought us the episode “Clear,” which also updated us on the now child-less Morgan. Another highlight was the dispatch of the Terminus folk, which is still one of the best scenes the show has ever pulled off.
It’s worth noting that since the departure of Shane, who became essentially “anti-Rick,” there was never a replacement for someone within the group to really challenge Rick. This was the biggest hole that tried to be filled by supporting characters, and in some cases Rick himself, as he had moments of Shane-like behavior.
This was it for me, the absolute breaking point and the final nail in the coffin. The character had it all, from the long-winded monologues to the sing-song manner of speaking down to the nameless cronies with an unlimited ammo cheat enabled. Negan simply doesn’t work in the realistic world The Walking Dead tried to establish. One can’t help but mention the Governor, but at least he put on an act to the people in Woodbury – the community…he was…the Governor of. Negan was all bad, all the time. Follow or DIE!
Can’t be all negative, remember? Negan did ONE thing right – challenge Rick on a psychological level. If you could get past the self-aggrandizing monologues, Negan actually made sense here and there. So much so that after a certain point, calling Rick the “bad guy” wouldn’t be far-fetched.
Ultimately though, the story became tired and too manufactured. Their dynamic almost became, dare I say it – Batman and Joker-like. Both had opportunities to kill each other, but neither of them did. There was even a sense of mutual respect/admiration, more-so with Negan’s view of Rick, but it was still there. The story needed to end, and it needed to be satisfying. Was it? Not really.
So where are things now? What could they do to take the show back to its former glory? How about “kill off” Rick, Carl, send Morgan packing, and leave Maggie’s current status hanging in the air? That sounds reasonable enough. Maybe a, I don’t know, 6 year time jump and multiple new characters? Done.
I’m writing this piece because season 9 recently ended, and while new showrunner Angela Kang is certainly bringing new energy to the show…it might be a little too late. As a whole, this season was good, but with a couple caveats. It would be nice if the show got away from cliffhangers for the sake of cliffhangers, and character fate’s teased but not mentioned in a timely manner. We know Rick is still alive, along with Maggie, but negating their characters completely just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
I’m not even going to start with Fear The Walking Dead, and the newly announced second spin-off aimed for a 2020 release. The Walking Dead is better than it has been in a few seasons, ratings aside, but there’s always room for improvement.
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