Sometime during college, my comics-newbie past self sought guidance from friends in seeking medium entry points. As a horror fan, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series was the surefire recommendation. It only took a few flipped pages before Rick Grimes’s post-apocalyptic journey would become an addictive source of horde-defense thrills, dramatic heartache, and everything between. As an illustrated narrative between volume pages, The Walking Dead ripped my heart out, chewed my nerves to shreds, and danced a victorious jig atop my corpse time-and-time again, but I masochistically savored the misery. Kirkman’s storytelling never flinched nor played to expectations.
The announcement of AMC’s The Walking Dead television series, behind Frank Darabont of all creative minds, still exists as one of the single most geek-into-oblivion announcements in my lifetime. I was, how you say, “super hyped, brochachos.”
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Alas, my love affair with AMC’s The Walking Dead was an abusive back-and-forth of all take, no give. Spoiler alert, it didn’t last. I’m not here to assassinate from a place of hatred, mind you. Nor is this some indictment of AMC, which boasts a tremendous catalog of shows—this is an outlying confession. I’m just continually shocked The Walking Dead continues its conquest through popular culture as a horror-themed property with commoner appeal (despite a tumultuous history behind the camera). Against all odds, after countless broken and re-broken viewership records season after season, Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) flanking survivors captured the hearts of audiences coast to coast—but lost faithful like yours truly along the way.
Why? Well, here’s a quick tweet recap before peeling the rotten flesh back to reflect a bit deeper:
GoT twitter: “THE WRITING OVER THESE LAST FEW EPS, WHAT’S GOING ON?!” (rightfully debated, I’m sure.)
me, having watched multiple THE WALKING DEAD showrunners and writers fail characters and development from season 2 until I stopped watching midway through season 7: pic.twitter.com/7ipLIzRygR
— Matt Donato (@DoNatoBomb) May 13, 2019
I remember the weekend I stopped watching The Walking Dead. Season 6’s finale prepared us for “The Bashening” of Glenn (Steven Yeun). Could AMC bid farewell to one of the show’s most recognizable and beloved characters, or would screenwriters deviate from Glenn’s gruesome fate at the hands of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Lucile? I wasn’t sold, and when Season 7 began, we found out that rough-and-lovable Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) had been selected as Negan’s victim as an example. At this point, Abraham’s arc was a source of inspiration as The Walking Dead showrunners proved to have fresh ideas of value, only to sacrifice such hopes for stunted emotional duress.
Then, because one miscalculation wasn’t enough, Daryl (Norman Reedus) swings at Negan and earns his allies another punishment. This time Glenn feels the skull-cracking brunt of Lucile’s weight, mirroring the eye-popping brutalization from Kirkman’s comics. The double-whammy of removing Abraham first as an unceremonious fake-out, then killing Glenn as expected pushed me over the edge. After weeks of confessed hate watches, I finally left The Walking Dead behind as my Sunday night ritual. Enough was enough.
From Frank Darabont to Glen Mazzara to Scott Gimple, AMC’s untouchable ratings beast was marred by infuriating inconsistencies including a carousel of showrunners. Darabont’s signatures throughout Season 1 align more with Kirkman’s volatile sensibilities (re: The Mist), never shying from a shakeup because there’s morbid justification. It’s true, I’ll die furious over switcheroos like Dale’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) neutered role. Still, Darabont—at least throughout one season—seemed more in-tune with Kirkman’s proclivity to shatter our souls with another meaningful tragedy befalling Rick’s community (Hershel’s farm, Alexandria, elsewhere). The unfortunate continuation of Season 2’s slow-as-molasses storyline sans Darabont almost scared me away much earlier. In hindsight, The Walking Dead never recovered from that string of teases at something more exciting. It was the beginning of a concerning trend that would define my contentious relationship with The Walking Dead moving forward. Sit through four-to-five episodes where the gang pitter-patters around scavenging, or muttering Carl’s name, or plotting another dash towards freedom, then grin during a twentyish-minute burst of excitement.
As the show continued to mistreat audiences by slashing through survivors for the sole purpose of “gotcha twists,” I experienced increasing numbness and fleeting connectivity to characters who’d once left me an inconsolable wreck. Andrea’s (Laurie Holden) exit at the Governor’s facility is in stark contrast to the Andrea who warms countless frosted souls in the comics. Rick’s whole “Crazy Rick” era where he sees ghost Laurie becomes soapily overblown. Even T-Dog’s (IronE Singleton) rise is handled so unconvincingly, as he graduates from a background prop for multiple seasons to heroic martyr throughout a few scenes. Even something as silly as Heath (Corey Hawkins) vanishing from the show without explanation (at the time) or continuity follow-ups, because that’s what The Walking Dead did best in my experience—churn through survivors like a rotating door around a handful of mainstays who would remain untouchable.
I just couldn’t handle the unevenness and how little The Walking Dead respected its fanbase. Weeks would pass without actionable momentum ramping beyond a sloth’s sprint uphill, only to be tided over by another thrown bone. A zombie show without zombies for hours on end, unable to concisely handle even its villain subplots between The Governor’s (David Morrissey) prolonged stay or Negan’s even lengthier standoff. I watched The Walking Dead hoping AMC’s episodic would eventually resemble the Image Comics masterpiece that should have been used page-for-page as an adapted screenplay. Instead, doomsday exploits within gated compounds and abandoned prisons failed to recognize the mortifying brilliance within Kirkman’s hand-drawn universe. What started with promise eventually became a chore to endure until my feelings of disappointment and boredom morphed into outright experiences of betrayal.
I mean, Tyreese’s (Chad Coleman) goodbye. Beth’s (Emily Kinney) growth for nothing. Need I stoke further frustrations?
I’m just one ex-fan who doesn’t speak for the masses based on Fear The Walking Dead, countless tie-in properties, and planned feature films to appease The Walking Dead consumer appetites. That said, I don’t believe I’m alone in my breakup admission. The Walking Dead will no doubt outlive us all, in whatever formats, but a part of me can’t stop questioning why. The Walking Dead is a show that hated its audience during my viewership, which lasted into Season 8 after a cooldown period and one last hurrah. Instead, time spent away from AMC’s undead extravaganza reminded me how the show was anything but extravagant. The Walking Dead became a serial I sat through because the discourse was unavoidable until I realized there was freedom in non-participation. No more snippy tweets, no more commiserating with other exhausted viewers, and most importantly, no more flocking to a program that learned nothing from Robert Kirkman’s masterful graphic series other than “kill characters, munch flesh, end on cliffhangers.”
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