The Walking Dead.
I stopped watching after this season’s second episode. I haven’t seen it since. The narrative tone, the authorial position, have all changed drastically. These story lines weren’t allegories masquerading as horror, with ultimate sympathies for the human race. Instead, the viewer became subjugated to a taunting, teasing author whose narrative, like Lucille, became a weapon. Shooting Negan’s violence with the camera standing in for the viewer spoke volumes.
It seems that characters like Rick, and Glenn, or Carol and Maggie, no longer carry the voice of a struggling humanity, but that they are now the devices upon which the new authorial voice, Negan, speaks and acts against the audience. Sure, art and fiction are supposed to be catharsis, but for us.
In season six we were teased about Glenn’s fate, to many critics’ and viewer’s chagrin, only to have him survive, almost inexplicably. Glenn was almost transformed into a Mary Sue. Then, of course, only to have him brutally murdered in the next season’s premiere exactly how he dies in the book.
Such plotting didn’t serve the story, it didn’t fit any thematic purpose. In fact, there was none. Of course, senseless randomness and tragic chaos occurs in everyday life. However, TWD set itself apart by using tragedy and violence to make sense of the chaos thematically. Meaningless death had meaning for the viewer: bravery, humility, tragedy, honor, justice. This season’s premiere of TWD, however, had degenerated into the sadistic slasher genre, more closely resembling Friday the 13th sequels and B-films like The Tourist Trap: inexplicable violence committed by an uncomplicated villain against characters who were merely stand-ins for the viewer, quite literally in some takes.
The Governor was complicated; Garth was complicated. They were horrendous villains, but villains with story and theme. The first was the tragedy of one man’s struggle to maintain an illusion of a civilized life whose time had come to an end, and the sacrifices he was willing to extract from others to keep that illusion alive. Garth, the second, was the cautionary tale of what can happen to the human soul when it has been so brutalized that all humanity is destroyed.
Negan of the season premiere is simply sadism and greed. There are people like that, and no doubt our increasingly contentious and greedy culture gives rise to more of them than in better times. TWD, however, didn’t explore this. The writers and producers leveraged Negan’s villainy at its most superficial level for the sake of violence, gore and the cheap facsimile of suspense that wasn’t too suspenseful, once we knew who’d been killed.
But hey, Fear the Walking Dead may have just become a real story.