Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan (Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
The Walking Dead used to be thrilling.
It wasn’t “good” TV, but the show generated a tension unlike anything I’d watched before—the walkers (a.k.a. zombies) were legitimately scary, and the characters had to be genuinely brave to survive the horror their world had become. I still remember the scene when Rick and Glenn disguised their scent by smearing themselves with walker goo, boldly stepped into a shuffling horde… and rain started falling. That was a serious “Oh, sh#t!" moment.
Now The Walking Dead is just gore and nihilism.
I think the shift began in Season 3, when Rick’s crew lost their fear of walkers and came to see them mostly as a nuisance (albeit a deadly one). To survive, the living didn’t have to be courageous anymore—they had to be hard. They had to become colder and colder to outlast those who’d already frozen inside.
This numbing devolution commenced in earnest with the fight against the Governor, the first time a person—and not a flood of walkers—was the true villain on the show, and (seemingly) bottomed out with last season’s arc, which saw the main characters kill people for food. “This is how we eat,” Rick said to justify his plan of murdering other murderers in their sleep.
The heroes of the show hadn’t been bitten yet, but they’d become zombies anyway.
There’s still lower to go, though—Negan demonstrated that with each swing of his barbwire bat on last night’s brutal (and yet tedious) Season 7 premiere. In most stories, now would be the time when redemption beckons; with circumstances at their bleakest, the protagonists would find it in themselves to overcome their flaws and win the day.
Except The Walking Dead shows no signs of wanting a resolution. Zombie-apocalypse tales generally close with humans turning the tide (as they do in Max Brooks’ surprisingly thoughtful World War Z), and sometimes with the living conceding (as the planet’s lone survivor does in Richard Matheson’s brilliant I Am Legend). But either way, they end. In contrast, The Walking Dead snuffed hopes of a cure by blowing up the CDC in Season 1 and exposing Eugene’s “I’m a scientist with a plan” claims in Season 5. Monstrous men and women still abound, however, leaving the main characters with little choice but to continue doing terrible things to scrape by. This is a story with nothing left to say, stuck in the stuff-gets-worse-and-worse stage of the second act.
You know that line “It’s always darkest before the dawn?” Well, The Walking Dead is pitch-black right now, and the sun ain’t rising.
So I’m out.