Time was that AMC’s The Walking Dead was essential Sunday night/Monday morning viewing. I remember staying up to watch the season 7 premiere with almost the same excitement that I feel for Game of Thrones. Indeed, many ranked The Walking Dead alongside its competitor in terms of popularity, scope and cinematic excellence. While it never ranked that highly for me, it was, for a while, one of my favourite tv shows. Two years on from that season 7 premiere which had everybody on tenterhooks and attracted one of the largest audiences for a drama series in history and I, along with many others I suspect, didn’t even bother watching the season 9 premiere, let alone stay up all night for it. Indeed, I stopped watching altogether somewhere in the first half of season 8. There once was a time when the news that Andrew Lincoln, (who plays the star of the series Rick Grimes, and is one of the only survivors from season 1) was leaving the show would have left me inconsolable but no longer. In fact, I sympathise with the man.
The Walking Dead always had the potential to be a bit naff, season 2 dragged horribly at points in what should’ve been a warning to the showrunners, and the first half of season 3 was a bit melodramatic. But always, just as you feared for the quality of the show, it would drag itself out of the mire with an astonishingly good run of episodes or a new storyline (I’m thinking of seasons 4 and 5 which were absolute rip-roaring tv). Unfortunately, somewhere along the way it misplaced the ability to reinvent itself and got lost in the wastelands that it always threatened to wander aimlessly into. There are a plethora of problems with The Walking Dead with which I could fill not only this section, but the entire paper but seeing as time and space is limited I’ll address only the most glaring issues:
- The Length of Seasons/All Filler, No Killer: Outside of sitcoms, no show, in my opinion, benefits from too many episodes per season. Gotham was ruined by overextending itself, Daredevil, again in my opinion, was another. The Walking Dead also suffered horrifically in this regard. Season 1 had six, short and sweet episodes. After that each season got progressively longer, which wasn’t a problem when the show had content to fill what eventually stretched to sixteen, forty-minute-long episodes per season. But, once the showrunners began to run out of new ideas to fill the seasons, instead of reducing the length down again they filled the gaps with heaps of nothingness, and a plethora of unimportant secondary characters. Not only did this betray the source material, it also increased the boredom factor. But hey, AMC are still making money, which leads me onto the next point…
- Straying Too Far from the Source Material/AMC being AMC: The Walking Dead is based off the successful graphic novels of the same name and the success and longevity of the graphic novels, helped in no end by their originality and concise action, has been completely lost in the meandering trudge that the later seasons have become. For a long time, the show has been afraid to take risks when killing off big characters, time and again the episodes would build up to a character death, only for the ultimate victim to be someone you’d be forgiven for thinking died two seasons ago. At the same time, some of the grit of the comics is lost because of AMC’s ridiculous censorship laws, which permit a man to have his head beaten in with a baseball bat, but God Forbid there be a bad word uttered or a nipple exposed. No character has suffered more because of this than Negan, the big baddie from season 7 onwards. In the comics he is a foul-mouthed, swaggering and cocky psychopath. In the show Jeffrey Dean Morgan embodies the character brilliantly but is constantly prevented from fully embracing the role by AMC’s hypocritical “morality”.
- Character Problems: Negan is not the only character with problems. The beauty of the earlier seasons was that there was a limited number of characters, each was well developed, and when one died you felt empathy/sorrow/gratification in the appropriate volume. From season 6 onwards, however, the sheer volume of vapid secondary characters exploded, and it became very hard to care about the death of a character who is only given screen-time/backstory during the episode in which they die (a common trope in TWD which makes it instantly obvious who is going to bite the dust in each episode).
- Lazy and Clumsy Screenwriting/Overused Plot Devices: One of the most specifically irritating problems I have with TWD is the sheer volume of cringe-inducing and utterly pointless monologues they embark on at least once, if not twice an episode. Why can’t they just speak like normal people without each conversation having to take of some great philosophical meaning? To be fair, I get the feeling that they are simply a device the writers use to kill time and meet AMC’s ridiculous expectations but still, they are boring and utterly kill any momentum the show starts to build up. Similarly, I’ve lost count of how many times the show has made you think a character is dead, only to bring them back. The first couple of times it was impactful, if a little cliché, the sixth and seventh times it was just ridiculous.
What The Walking Dead eventually boiled down to by the time it reached season 8, was three of four watchable episodes in a sixteen episode long opera, the rest differed little from a particularly philosophical episode of Eastenders with a few zombies and missing limbs tossed in for kicks. It is no real surprise to me that Andrew Lincoln saw the light and jumped ship. By all accounts TWD’s spinoff show Fear The Walking Dead has similarly lost its way and all that’s left to wonder really is when The Walking Dead will stop walking, just lie down, and die?