Why I Stopped Watching the Walking Dead

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It’s not as simple as leaving because one of my favorite characters died. I hate it when people reduce other people’s decisions to quit watching a show to sounding like they are whiny children who didn’t get their way, so here is the long, drawn out explanation that won’t fit in the comments section on other blogs.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead since the very, very beginning, long before it became The Biggest Show on Television. It was my favorite show for years. My (teenage, now adult) kids and I watched it together, then watched Talking Dead. My husband would get drawn into watching Talking Dead, even though the mother show was too intense and violent for him. It took a lot for me to walk away from a show that we enjoyed together as a family so much. (What can I say? We’re an odd family with a dark sense of humor. Think The Adams Family, with chickens, more sunshine, and less black.)

I was hooked as soon Rick Grimes shot the original Symbolic Sacrificial Angelic Blonde Girl in the head in the pilot. I was just about done when the most recent Symbolic Sacrificial Angelic Blonde Girl*, Denise, died as a random in S6 Ep 14. I should have known she wouldn’t last, since, not only was she a blonde female and a Medical Practitioner**, both types sure to die early on TWD, but she also was a Lesbian, and female queer people in general were doomed on television last spring (even more so than usual).

Only a season before, we’d watched Beth come into her own. I was so proud of her when she asserted to Daryl and the audience that not only was she strong, but that her care-taking skills were as vital to the group as fighters’ flashier skills, and that she was a survivor too. She was a voice for women who choose to become caretakers in a society that doesn’t value them. But then, as soon as we’d seen how smart and tough Beth really was inside, the show took that all away. The writers decided to have her make a stupid, out of character mistake to bring about her death in order to further Daryl’s man pain. Not okay, TWD, but typical.

Beth deserved better than to join Jesse, Sophia, Mika, Tara’s niece Meghan, Andrea and Amy*** in the long line of Sacrificial Angelic Blonde Girls who die to further the plot. So did Denise. So did all of them. Glenn was not an Angelic Blonde Girl. When we met him he was the Only Sane Man with the skills and compassion to get Rick out of the tank in Atlanta. He grew into becoming the heart of the group. Like Beth, Jesse, and Denise, he seemed to be on the verge of getting what he wanted out of life. Classic time to die on TV.

I used to love the characters, storyline, cinematography, and production values on TWD. They’ve all gradually gone downhill over the years, as often happens on long running TV shows, especially after they become popular. I can accept that TWD doesn’t look like a movie anymore. I can accept that they put more effort into outdoing themselves on the zombie makeup than anything else. Heck, I started watching because I love zombie stories. I loved the idea of watching what happened when people had to deal with zombies on an ongoing basis.

I’ve always accepted that characters can and will die at any time. What made it interesting was how and why they died. The struggles of the group as they searched for some form of safety and security while trying to stay alive, form and maintain relationships, and raise children in a very dangerous world was compelling.

But TWD hasn’t been about that for a while now. Since not long after Scott Gimple took over, the show has gradually changed to being about camera, storytelling and editing tricks meant to drag out the plot and shock and confuse the viewer into thinking they’ve been told a story, when in fact very little in the way of plot and character development actually happens anymore. Episodes focus on 1 or 2 characters, show the events of the episode out of order and in other ways that take most of the episode to reveal important information. The point of the episode is for the viewer to guess what the hell is happening. Episodes typically focus on a very brief period of time, perhaps only one event. Small and large fake-outs like Glenn’s “death” last fall and the failure to show who Negan’s bat hit in the season finale happen more regularly. The show is really about outdoing themselves in gore and shock value events now, and marking time in between those events. It’s gone from being a long running version of one of the best of the zombie movies to mimicking the very worst of the genre.

The season 6 finale is a great example of what the show has turned into, and was my breaking point. I actually haven’t watched the season 7 premiere and don’t intend to. I guessed correctly who was going to die and don’t need that level of graphic violence or lack of plot pay off in my life. At the end of season 6, we had Glenn having everything to live for, with Maggie pregnant and needing him, having just come back from being presumed dead, and being one of the few truly good characters on the show. Abraham had been through a huge personal crisis, having lost his reason for living, but had found his way through that and decided he wanted to move on and form a relationship with Sasha, who also had been through a major depression. Both men practically had signs on them saying “Pick me!” as Negan’s victims.

So it wasn’t exactly that they died that caused me to turn off the TV, especially since I was always neutral at best about Abraham, and I’d known that Glenn was Negan’s comic book victim for at least a year (though Glenn has always been a favorite). It was that all of season 6 was spent toying with the audience. The entire purpose of the season was a build up to introducing Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. The actual plot and character development of the 16 episodes of season 6 could have been fit into the first 2 or 3 episodes of season 1. The season 6 finale, as a typical episode, spent the majority of its time in a pointless cat and mouse game between the Grimes Gang and the Saviors as Rick tried to get a pregnant Maggie to Hilltop for reasons that didn’t completely make sense to begin with. Why not keep the pregnant woman safe and still and bring the medical person to her, when you know Negan’s men are out there? Isn’t there anyone in Alexandria who’s had a few babies and has some knowledge and common sense? Didn’t the 2 doctors who’ve died leave behind any medical books to consult? Maybe one of the Alexandrians who’re always standing around should have been studying to be a midwife instead? Oh, I forgot, we’re in the land of stupid TV plot devices now, instead of decent creative writing, never mind.

As an example of the changes in the show, when Lori was pregnant, we explored her fears, Rick’s fears, the implications of the pregnancy, and the dangers of giving birth during the apocalypse. The ramifications of Judith’s birth were explored at the time (with Emmy-award-worthy performances) and are ongoing. Sure, exploring some of that again would be repetitive, but we explore typical male issues over and over. Maggie is a different person, in Alexandria up against Negan rather than the prison up against the Governor, in her first pregnancy rather than her second, and is newly a widow. I’d love to see that focused on. Instead her and Glenn’s story as it relates to the baby is barely touched on in a meaningful way (only a few characters’ stories are anymore, and few in depth). Maggie’s potential miscarriage is a mere plot device on the way to getting Negan in front of the group.

Then we finally get Negan in front of most of the Grimes Gang, the iconic scene from the comics which we’ve been building towards all season, which was supposed to make the lack of plot and movement all season worth it. And what happens? IT’S ANOTHER FAKE OUT. Pay off deferred for months until the next season. Then the pay off is deferred again, until midway through the season 7 premiere. Kind of reminds me of the giant Terminus build up throughout the second half of S4, only to have Carol whup Terminus’ ass almost singlehandedly in one episode at the beginning of S5.

Scott Gimple does not understand pacing or how viewer gratification works, and it’s killing this show creatively. Obviously the ratings are doing just fine, with TWD likely having been found by people who just want to watch something relatively mindless with gore, fights, and occasional excitement. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a show like that. I just wish The Walking Dead, which was a unique show with something interesting to say, for all of its flaws, hadn’t turned into it.

 

*We didn’t make up the term Symbolic Sacrificial Angelic Blonde Girl. We read an article a couple of years ago that used some variation on the term and talked about The Walking Dead specifically, which we’d love to credit, but we can’t find it. If it’s yours, or you know whose it is, please let us know. We’ll add the link/credit, and we’d love to reread it as well!

**Medical Practitioners who have died on TWD: Bob Stookey*, Hershel, Pete (Porch Dick/doctor), Edwin Jenner (CDC doctor), Denise, Otis (EMT), Patricia (veterinary assistant and Otis’ wife), Caleb/Dr S. It doesn’t matter what kind of medicine you practice, or how much or little training you have. If you give trained medical care to the group, you’re quickly doomed.*We know the black men on TWD are doomed to die before their time as well. Noah was one of the deaths that especially rankled.

***Technically, Hannah/Bicycle Girl zombie and Summer/Bunny Slippers and Robe zombie girl from the pilot, as well as Lizzie, probably also belong on this list (and maybe more girls/women I’ve forgotten). We’ll leave the discussion of why horror media turn seemingly angelic little girls into scary monsters so frequently for another post. I can’t wait.

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