I am eight-and-a-half and done.
I have spent a long, long time with The Walking Dead. I remember excitedly watching the very first episode in a hotel in Liverpool; I sat through a few series’ in a cold Milton Keynes flat with terible wifi; I caught up with a bunch of episodes instead of sleeping before a holiday to Portugal. Oddly enough, it’s been one of the few consistent things in my life since it began.
All of which means I’m ducking out with a heavy heart. I really wanted to get to the end.
In truth, it’s probably the amount of time I’ve invested – and the memory of genuinely good times watching it – that’s kept me going over the past few years because the show has been dreadful for a while.
It wasn’t always the case.
In the early years, I loved the sense of dread that hung over the show. Very few other television shows did bleak quite so confidently. The zombies were good; they looked amazing and they were, if not exactly scary, then effective. Andrew Lincoln was a dependable presence as the leader of the human survivors and the cast around him was padded with enough solid actors that they could usually lift the stodgy dialogue. Even when The Govenor arrived – an arc which was not entirely succesful – it seemed relatively fresh compared to what had come before.
Of course it wasn’t perfect – the torturous slog of Season 2; the annoying characters like Lori and Carl – but I still basically enjoyed it. I wanted to watch something relatively good with zombies and The Walking Dead was, more or less, delivering.
The zombies are, I suppose, one of the reasons my interest has waned. The show had used them well for the most part in the early years – they offered a genuine threat to the main cast and still had the capacity to surprise.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened – maybe sometime in Season 5, maybe before – but at some stage the zombies stopped mattering to everyone on screen. I get the wider social commentary of making the real baddies the living – it’s been a theme right back to Night of the Living Dead – but it’s sad how entirely inconsequential the title characters feel now. The undead are despatched with about as much effort as it take to place cutlery in the dishwasher. Hundreds are defeated within seconds, and characters just skip past crowds of them. Very occasionally, the show remembers the zombies can be an effective tool (e.g. Glenn’s fake-out death or that time Alexandria was over-run) but it is rare. No one gives a shit about the zombies in a show called The Walking Dead anymore.
To be honest, it’s a minor quibble in comparison to the other stuff. I could accept the move away from the zombies entirely if any of the rest of it worked.
Unfortunately it doesn’t.
It’s almost remarkable how tightly the show has continued to hove to the idea of Rick Grimes as the ‘hero’ of the show. Sure, the writers have played with him being an ‘anti-hero’ over the years and in more recent episodes they’ve made a point of him seem similar to Negan. Which would be fine – welcome, even – if the show didn’t continually revert back to him being the moral core of the show.
He’s done some awful things but by the end of each season we’ve forgotten them because, hey, he’s not as bad as that other guy. It’s cheap, lazy and insults the intelligence of the audience. Rick is an A-grade arsehole by this point; Walter White with a hairline. The natural conclusion is toyed with but never committed to and it’s so frustrating.
What’s more, he is a terrible leader. The amount of failed plans he’s responsible for must number in the twenties by now. He has had so many of his own people murdered because of his hare-brained schemes. But, bar the odd extra who usually dies an episode later, no one ever questions him. By now surely one of the main characters should be asking ‘why are we following this guy?’
I kind of feel like the writers think the audience want him to remian the hero, but i’m not sure that’s actually the case. He’s a busted flush in the path they’re following
A lot of the characterisation is similarly poor. While there remain some good actors doing solid work (Melissa McBride, Lennie James), they’ve spurned a whole load of others. Daryl does presciesly nothing any more; people like Rosita and Sasha have bizarre plot arcs that make no sense; and Carl still remains alive (for now, at least).
What’s more, the long-awaited arrival of Negan has turned out to be the show’s nadir. Although he’s reigned his performance in somewhat after the poor reaction to the first half of season 7, the Big Bad continues to be a largely annoying presence. He’s had the odd effective moment, but he still remains a cartoon charcater who, like everyone else in the show, makes astoundingly stupid decisions for plot reasons.
Stupid character motivation litters The Walking Dead. There often seems very little explanation for what anyone ever does other than ‘why not?’ Even when, on the odd occasion the inital plan makes sense, there’s never any back-up plan. It’s just irritating, at this late stage, that nothing ever seems well thought out.
The writing really has been dreadful for years. It was never brilliant, but the quality was perhaps masked when the show still remained exciting or novel. There are very few episodes these days which are either structured interestingly, have enjoyable dialogue or do something smart. When it does happen – the idea of Ezekiel as an amateur actor, for example – it’s like an small cup of water in a really, really dry desert. It keeps you going but it’s never quite enough, especially when you know you’ve got a long way to go before the next cup.
I nearly gave up after the Glenn fake-out I mentioned above. It seemed like a genuinely gripping, heatrbreaking, way for a longstanding character to go. RIP Glenn. Except, he impossibly survived, only to be bludgeoned by Negan for a cheap thrill the following season. It summed up the writing generally. An easy stunt masquerading as something smarter.
Tied to all of these issues is the underlying one: it’s been going on far too long. The zombies aren’t an threat anymore because everyone’s killed a million of them already. Rick’s character has become problematic because he’s been in the show too long. The plotting is stupid because they need to keep fatigued audiences interested.
We’ve had every type of story at least twice by now. Negan is just a really irritating, extended, re-tread of The Govenor; everyone has seen friends and relatives slaughtered with a regularity which makes their despair boring; the main core have found a home and been forcily evicted from their new home about once a season.
I said in my review of season 7 that the show needs to find an end. I honestly cannot see how they progress with something else after they finally kill off Negan and make it different to what’s come before. Since we discovered that Eugene wasn’t the key to a cure in Season 5, the show’s been drifting. If that story had been followed through we’d have had an interesting throughline and a shot at an effecive end. Now? They either need to find ultimate safety or they all need to die.
In the meantime, the show will continue to trudge forlonely along. It has become a quite spectacularly boring show. I can’t remember the last epiosde I watched that I managed to pay attention all the way through for. The dialogue is stolid; the stories have been told before; the characters have all reached their natural conclusions. Nothing happens and, even when it does, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s just a tick box; something to get through. I don’t enjoy it anymore. In fact, sometimes I really resent it.
And so, with the cheery conclusion that Carl is probably a goner (surely they can’t give him a fake-out too?), I’m going to bow out. Life’s too short (unless, of course, you’re Rick Grimes, in which case it goes on FOR EVER).