Despite the fact that AMC’s The Walking Dead has finally reached the end of its journey after an incredible run of eleven fun-filled seasons, I think it goes without saying that we’ve clearly not seen the last of these characters. In fact, if you speak with any of the knuckleheads in charge of the wider Dead universe, they like to think that they’re just getting started. With new spin-offs and minis already shooting and scheduled to air in 2023, this post of mine – as well as any others across the Information Superhighway – is hardly an epitaph. All this is – as it is entirely intended – is an acknowledgement that the original program has reached the end of its original broadcast run.
As I’ve been blogging for quite some time now, I’ve occasionally been asked about why I haven’t sounded off on The Walking Dead. When I engage folks online and/or via email, I tell them that the show just hasn’t stimulated me enough to honestly want to ruminate over its characters, themes, situations, and circumstances. While I’d never argue that the production quality hasn’t been mostly superb, I just haven’t been captivated sufficiently by these various arcs to commit much space to them. That isn’t intended to insult the show in any measure, as – for the most part – I’ve spent an incredible number of hours through its high and lows. I’ve just – simply – had nothing to say about them … especially nothing to say that likely hasn’t been said elsewhere.
Any show that lasts as long as the Dead has is understandably going to endure a lot of critical blowback, both from fans as well as media types. That’s just the nature of telling stories: not everyone – at all times – is going to be equally riveted or moved or thrilled or aghast or indifferent. Instead, the various arcs have been what they’ve been – good and bad – much in the same way some characters have endured while others came and went, some expiring in incredibly bloody fashion. And the dead? The walkers? The rotters? The Whisperers and more? Similarly, they’ve left an imprint, trudged along, and gone the way of history. Or not.
An examination of the show’s ratings plunge over the last few years naturally made the rounds, some pundits using it to suggest that the program quite possibly should’ve gone away much earlier. Such theorizing made for some interesting and informative Tweets – fans debating back-and-forth over their respective ‘quality assessments’ of the years; and – if nothing else – the discourse reminds me why folks become fans in the first place … we like to talk about the likes and the dislikes, and these things obvious fed into those audience numbers. I’ve no interest in doing any grand autopsy of the apparently waning phenomenon, but I will offer up an observation or two, mostly because it’s my day job, folks.
For a program with the ‘Dead’ in its title, The Walking Dead – ahem – really left the Dead for dead over its last few seasons. The handful of narrative developments focused a bit too meatily on the rebuilding of society for my tastes, and I just didn’t find the bulk of stories involving the Commonwealth all that fresh or innovation. Essentially, I’d argue we’d seen a lot of these circumstances before – albeit in much small settings – so the show (for the first time for me) began feeling redundant. Its villains? Hammy. Campy. Borderline unbelievable, honestly, especially given how much of this universe we’d seen before. But the shift away from adventures fostering tension with – even in Daryl Dixon’s words from the finale – our true enemy weakened the potential of a once great adversary.
Now, the showrunners I think even acknowledged this reality when they introduced a late-breaking evolution of new walkers, ones that could apparently control their motor skills more effectively. Suddenly, audiences were treated to stumblers who could climb, pick up objects, and even use rudimentary weapons in their quest to eat flesh. But because these new traits kinda/sorta came out of nowhere (do not get me started on the spin-offs!!!), the development (while interesting) still felt like it was the creation of a room of writers trying to wreck a bit more havoc in a world that had become, sadly, predictable.
If there’s one trait that destroys Horror quickly, then that would be predictability.
Also, I’d argue that the cast just grew too big and cumbersome to truly focus on any authentic relationships. When you go a few seasons of adding new faces to the narrative coupled with eliminating the great zombie threat to the populace, then all of a sudden there are more folks at the table than we literally have chairs for. Before the Commonwealth, the Dead was already running that risk because the creators had fleshed out multiple communities with which to extend the possibilities: once this fully realized return to normality became the backbone to these stories, I contend that there were just too many characters centralized in a show that was supposed to be about the end of the world (to a point) and not a nighttime soap opera.
Well, the final swing of Lucille to the camel’s back was the fact that – in the process of trying to put the world right again – risk seemed to creep into the background of these various soirees. Gone were the days when the audience sat on the edge of its seat wondering who was going to survive, who might come up short in the battle, and who might get bit in the process. With no risk, there was very little authentic possibility for loss; and the removal of the program’s randomness might very well be what inevitably drove viewers elsewhere. What with streaming outlets on the rise and the fact that Dead still relied on the – ahem – weekly serialized broadcast format so many venues have tossed aside, perhaps there just wasn’t room for the routine.
Of its final installment, I will say this: it didn’t move me, not in the way I had hoped it would. It was just … fine. Parts of it felt rushed. Parts of it, honestly, felt a bit too easy. A small part of it moved me … but I won’t spoil that for folks. That’s for me to know and for you to always guess at, if it matters. While I’ll miss the time spent with so many of these very, very good creations, I’d still concede that there’s a part of me glad it’s all over … and, yes, I’ll probably tune in for the spin-offs because I’m a glutton for punishment … and I do so want some real closure.
Maybe they’ll provide it.