The producers behind The Walking Dead spent all summer promising that the arrival of the villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) would be a reset for the show, which is tacitly admitting that something had gone wrong and they needed a big new character to drive the show back on track. The problem is, they’ve done this before.
After the disastrous second season, the prison was supposed to be a fresh start. And then the Governor was going to shake things up. And then Terminus, and then Alexandria, and then, and then. But the core issues have never been resolved because this is a series with no ending. THAT is the number one problem from which all other problems derive. The Walking Dead is a vehicle designed to spin its wheels, so nothing ever really changes.
Dead has a lot in common with Game of Thrones, which is another genre show known for its nihilism and brutality. And though Thrones has its own issues, when it comes to drama, it is far and away the superior show, and all because Thrones has an ending. HBO can f*ck with the scheduling and drag it out, but Thrones will end, and you can feel that momentum building. Everything is a step to something else, which means even the really bad sh*t, like Ramsey Bolton, can arguably be endured because it’s all leading somewhere.
But Dead is just shock for the sake of shock. And worse, because shock is all Dead has, the pacing of episodes and seasons is garbage. The season premiere ran just over an hour but could have been ten minutes long, that’s how little the events of the story itself matter. People will talk about the blood and the guts and baseball bat. They will not talk about the characters or the challenges they face.
Glenn is the first major character to die in years, but the moment is totally ruined by sh*t pacing and narrative fake outs. Bad enough Dead cried wolf with Glenn’s death during the last mid-season finale, but they do it AGAIN by faking us out with Abraham first. Does anyone actually care about Abraham? He wasn’t developed well enough to matter in a moment like this. Even Negan teasing Rosita with his bloody bat doesn’t have much impact because Abraham inexplicably and out of nowhere dumped Rosita late last season. Sure, she still has feelings for him, but she had already lost him. We’ve already processed that and moved on.
Likewise, over the last couple of seasons, we’ve grown used to seeing Glenn and Maggie apart. So the idea of Maggie going on without Glenn isn’t that strange. But she’s pregnant! That’s extra sad! Is it? Pregnancy is just a way to make Maggie vulnerable, except this show has already established a world where everyone is vulnerable all of the time.
If we truly care about characters we care when they die because they’re gone, it doesn’t matter what other circumstances are in play. Game of Thrones didn’t bother making Sansa pregnant last season because they didn’t need to—we care about what happens to Sansa because we care about Sansa. But Dead isn’t sure we actually care about Maggie, so they make her pregnant because that’s an easy way to ensure audience sympathy.
The Walking Dead can, in short bursts, be effective—the pilot episode and “Clear” are always going to be great singular pieces of television—but overall it has become unwatchable torture porn. It’s a miserable show, with nothing to relieve its ugly nihilism. Thrones can get dark, but there are pockets of hope and optimism along the way. The heroes suffer losses, but sometimes they win, too. Rick & Co. never win. They just suffer, and lose, and suffer some more, until their current home burns down and they move on to the next place they’ll ruin.
I don’t mind a violent show, or a show that kills off beloved characters. But it has to be in service of something, and The Walking Dead services nothing. It’s just a carousel of horror, where characters go up and down and around and around yet nothing ever changes—shockingly brutal executions are not actual drama. The beginning looks like the end looks like the same old sh*t every season. Enough.
Zombie Kill of the Week: Me, deleting this series from my DVR.
Attached - The cast of The Walking Dead at an event in LA last night.