So before we get started, let’s get a couple of disclaimers out of the way. One, if you’re not caught up on AMC’s The Walking Dead through its current season finale, I suppose I’ll be spoiling something. Or… not spoiling something? That uncertainty ties in with my second disclaimer, which is that I haven’t been following TWD since about midway through its second season. It also ties in with how the show is only on my radar again right now by proxy, because my social media exploded with fans upset by the end of Sunday’s season finale to the point of declaring they’ve had enough and they’re bailing out.
Speaking of bailing out, that should all have been vague enough that you’ve had time to hit the back button or otherwise click away if you’re a slowpoke fan operating on a “news blackout” basis.
Okay, so the context on this is everything, and the context is apparently that for several months the PR for the show has centered around the debut of a new villain named Negan and that by season’s end he would be killing off one of the primary protagonists of the series. These events had already been depicted in the comics, but the showrunners have made several major deviations from the comics so there was still some suspense on whether it would be the same victim and circumstances. Lots of hype. Nerdist even had a speculative lead-up video which ended with their declaration of a giveaway contest based on people who called in to them with the right answer. I presume they’re now feeling a bit embarrassed that they won’t be giving away that Rick figure for several months. Why? Well, this is how the episode ended.
I don’t even really have a dog in this hunt, so to speak, but that does seem like a fascinatingly awful way to give your faithful audience the “reward” of waiting all over again for the promise of seeing something you already promised them back when the season began. Also like I said, I haven’t watched in years but it seemed like TWD never deviated much from the naturalistic camera style it established back when it began. This sudden breaking of the fourth wall, POV, blood on the lens stuff hearkens more to The Evil Dead than The Walking Dead, does it not? More than one reviewer has also snarkily remarked on the sense that by framing it this way it’s the audience that feels like they’re being bludgeoned into oblivion.
Yet on the other hand, when all’s said and done how many of the people claiming right now to be abandoning the series will be back at their televisions in October? And for all the fans who were deeply, vocally upset, there are many others who are taking it in stride or even supporting the decision. Word has it TWD has already pulled shenanigans on this level or close to it in the past and the ratings haven’t dipped as a result, so I’m guessing the showrunners are just as confident this won’t hurt, either.
Although… man, the way they did it is still very weird. Maybe it’s a test to see if the audience will accept things getting a bit stranger in presentation? I myself have played around with that. I’m still debating if and how I might eventually bring in the idea of a flashback sequence that’s not a “recorded earlier” scenario. After six seasons of a more-or-less naturalistic shooting style, do they want to shake things up a bit and change–if not the story itself–the scope of techniques they use to tell it? Is that laudably ambitious, or just jarring?
Or as the most vocal quitter talk goes, was it the last straw in a long spiral of declining writing and cynical, ratings-driven manipulation? Could some sort of derailment have even happened behind the scenes, where they really did plan to kill someone off (like Daryl Dixon as Nerdist speculated) but then at the last minute–just as rampant unfounded speculation–the orders come down from on high that “You can’t kill off Daryl Dixon, we have way too much Daryl Dixon merchandise to sell!” Or on a similar but less monetary note, “You can’t kill off Michonne or we’ll spend our entire break dealing with the social media fallout of killing a black woman. Also we just recently released her video game tie-in.” (Okay, so I guess that one came back to money again.) Did that leave them scrambling because now they had to figure out a different victim whose death wouldn’t derail future plans, so they just decided to postpone the decision while still fulfilling their season-long promise in a purely technical manner?
Point is this whole debacle has me interested as a writer because I’m as curious about the reasonings and reasons behind it as I am about if it will actually have any effect on whether people keep watching. Will it be looked back to down the road as the proverbial Jump the Shark moment? Has that moment already happened and this is just one more twitching symptom of decline? Or will all be forgiven once season seven shambles on in this October?
I presume at least some of you reading this are still current fans, or maybe even more specifically you’re one of the fans who just hit the breaking point. Any thoughts?