The Walking Dead Season 7 & The Great American Shadenfreude
Season seven of The Walking Dead premiered this past Sunday night. In an effort to not blow up this week's podcast with rantings of the undead I will try to convey my frustration here. I will start by saying that I have watched every season of The Walking Dead (almost?) religiously. I eagerly awaited each new Fall for the new season. But come March, as each TWD season wraps up I have found myself increasingly displeased at the finales.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE WALKING DEAD AND PERHAPS A BIT OF GAME OF THRONES BY COMPARISON, TREAD WITH CAUTION!
My primary gripe with TWD is the unrelenting frustration of the viewer. I know I'm not the only one. But the whole "will they, won't they" schtick regarding a safe haven with increasingly ridiculous gore and voilence has gotten a bit tired.... at least to this fan.
Last year we were left with the inherent mystery of who's head Negan bashed in. Fans of the show had to wait the better part of a year to find out. I appreciate the fact that they didn't tease out the reveal for half the season like this show and others have done in the past, but that's not to say they didn't tease it out. To say this was TWD's Red Wedding moment would be an understatement. Where the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones was brutal, it was succinct in it's brutality. It had a purpose. It wasn't brutal and violent for the sheer sake of being brutal and violent. The Red Wedding, is essentially, what set all of the (living) Stark children on the paths that they needed to be on. Without this cataclysmic event, Aria would not have fled with The Hound. Who in turn wouldn't have had his own shot at redemption, which we are just starting to see unfold. The Red Wedding served as a proverbial exit on the highway of character arcs.
The season seven premiere of TWD was without a doubt built up to be one of the most emotionally jarring episodes of the entire series. It opens up where season six leaves off... sort of. The big reveal doesn't come until 15-20 minutes into the episode. Up until then we simply get Rick and Negan being salty to one another as Negan tries to tear Rick down a peg or two. This does serve to build up the villain of Negan, who arguably is the best villain of the series thus far. The show-runners will be hard pressed to top Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. Who is as terrifyingly charismatic as he is violent. As Rick is getting his reality check we see flashes of all the other characters getting their heads bashed in. These flashes are clearly from Rick's own mind, but are these the past, future, or what? Well in reality... it was just a way for the show runners to use all of that footage they shot of each character getting killed in an effort to sway spoiler leaks. Sure these flashes served to build tension and to illicit an emotional response from the audience, but in the end they were pointless. They were simply red herrings, and that is essentially what this entire show has built itself into over the years.
Once it's finally revealed that it was Abraham that fell victim to Negan's bat Lucille, we have your typical scene of people being upset while the villain revels in his dubious act. I don't believe it was any real surprise that Abraham was the chosen one in this scenario. They had been building up his own personal and romantic story arcs last season. If you know anything about writing and storytelling, this is a common trope and is used quite a bit to have an audience get behind a character right before you knock them off. Needless to say... I saw it coming. Abraham also wasn't a character that was incredibly influential to the plot. Yet, he still mattered enough for the audience. Unlike Aaron or Eugene who are fairly inconsequential, and basically along for the ride in the same way as the audience.
As we watch our characters reeling in what has just transpired, Daryl breaks free and lands a punch on Negan. Who promptly takes this moment to remind everyone that "this shit doesn't fly." To further establish his dominance, he then bashes Glenn's head in. Which was one of the most brutal things I have seen on television in recent years. So in one swift swing not only do we have the death my favorite character, but we also get another red herring. Which is what they diminished Abraham's death down to.
I would have liked to have seen the episode just pick up where the last season left off and play out in a very linear fashion. But they used non-linear storytelling not to help tell the story, but to help string the story along.
Overall I was unimpressed with the premiere of the new season. With shows like Westworld on Sunday nights... it's going to be difficult to convince me to watch The Walking Dead. But even to the extent of watching it later, I have found myself very tired of watching a show try to top itself again and again with non-nonsensical gore, and shock factor.
At this point I'm just exhausted, I'm tired, I'm tired of caring about this show at this point. The show has no real narrative drive anymore. It's only function is to exhaust and shock the viewer both emotionally and physically. With the only real weight of a character's death being who the audience has spent more time with.
I'm unclear whether or not I will be taking the ride that is The Walking Dead this season. The show is, no doubt, a cultural phenomenon. But it has turned into America's Great schadenfreude, at least outside of this year's election. At this point people are simple watching The Walking Dead to see something more fucked up than last time. They watch it because each week is essentially playing Russian Roulette with a zombie and ball-bat filled revolver.
All my gripes aside. Andrew Lincoln has killed it as Rick Grimes since season one, and continues to do so. That man has some series chops, and I'll always be excited to see what he does in the future.