The Walking Dead TV show (henceforth to be referred to as TWD in this post for the sake of preserving valuable time and endangered cybertrees) has been going on for eight seasons now, with potentially many more seasons to follow in the years to come. The original source material, The Walking Dead graphic novels, have also been in publication for close to fifteen years, so there’s little reason to think that the show’s writers will run out of material or story arcs anytime soon. I’m aware that writing this criticism of the show will be seen as somewhat pointless by some readers as an ever greater portion of TWD’s fan base has steadily been voicing their displeasure with the direction, pacing, and overall content that the show has been putting out for the better part of (at least) the last four seasons or so.
Usual complaints range from too many boring filler episodes that are hardly necessary for the amount of time spent on them (i.e. we really don’t need to see flashbacks of secondary characters wandering through the woods before they met up with the main cast, especially if we already got the jest of it through previous dialogues exchanged between the characters; we have imaginations with which we can piece spoken/written narratives together, it’s one reason why books still exist, after all). Contrived moral dilemmas that seem out of place in the reality of the world the characters inhabit (i.e. Morgan’s infuriatingly laughable pacifist stance when it comes to even killing literal undead monsters that feed on the flesh of the very people he considers his friends and loved ones; it is not a noble position to be respected, it is just stupid, even for a guy that went–still is[?]–crazy). The introduction of characters that had no great impact in the overall plot despite heavy buildup (i.e. the Terminus crew of anally-retentive cannibals), or whose presence/nature defy belief (i.e. the Trash People of season seven, who in the mere 2-3 years since the zombie apocalypse have forgotten how to speak in complete sentences, despite being fully grown adults who presumably went through a school system and had some semblance of a regular life prior to the relatively recent fall of civilization). And, of course, the fact that the show is hardly even about walkers/zombies anymore, who serve largely as a background piece to all the issues discussed above.
I see all these complaints, and largely agree with them. Many more invested writers have done a great job giving full analyses on these issues (and many more), and I see no point in harping on them further than I already have. What I want to discuss here is a criticism that I personally haven’t come across all that much, and that is that TWD suffers, and will continue to suffer, from a key flaw repeated in most bad storytelling: lack of optimistic direction for the characters/story itself.
The dystopian concept of a hopeless world isn’t new, and has been used for a longtime in fiction. However, what separates a well-written dystopian story from a bad one is that even in a hopeless environment the reader/viewer is given some notion that the protagonists can have some kind of ultimate triumph over the hopelessness that plagues them. That doesn’t mean that a happy ending has to be delivered at the story’s resolution (in many powerful cases, it’s not), but if there is no semblance of any kind of optimism that readers/viewers can get emotionally invested in during the progression of the plot, what exactly is the point to continue to care about where the character/story is heading?
Within the reality of TWD, everyone–and I do mean, every single person on the planet–is infected with the zombie virus that will be triggered once s/he dies, regardless of whether s/he came in contact with a zombie. As of the moment of this writing, the plot has given no indication that there’s any chance of a cure to this ultimate fate for the characters (the first’s season hinted that there isn’t). Nor is there any attempt by the characters to investigate the possibility of such a cure (notwithstanding Eugene’s scientist charade, which the main cast was never really dedicated in pursuing besides very briefly, and then mostly as a means of moving the plot setting out of Georgia). So, the original dilemma of the show were the zombies, and since we do not, and seemingly cannot, resolve that dilemma, ever, the next dilemma for us (the viewers) to be invested in is the protagonists’ continued survival in this hopeless world. The problem is that, if the dilemma is learning to survive in a world where “zombie-state” is the inevitable fate for everyone, we’ve already seen the fully extend of how the characters would cope with this reality, and one would argue repeatedly so in the course of the last seven seasons. So what’s left to see? What is the ultimate payoff that they deliver to the viewer from here? Are they going to learn how to fortify themselves from the undead threat better than we have already seen them do in Alexandria? Seems unlikely.
The repeated attempts to introduce new villainous characters to serve as antagonists to the main characters each and every season is also redundant in the grand scheme of things. At the moment, the main villain is Negan. I’m supposed to care if Negan’s group (the antagonists) defeats Rick’s group (the protagonists). But let’s say the so-called unthinkable happens, and Negan does win the war against Rick’s group. In the end, Negan is still human, and Negan will eventually die (even if just from old age), and then Negan will be just another mindless zombie in a world littered with equally mindless zombies. Again I ask, what ultimately is the point? What is the payoff for us to get emotionally invested in as viewers? Because I really don’t see one. Furthermore, I would argue the writers of the show (and, yes, I’d put the graphic novels in this same boat) have failed to give us much to really care about anymore at this point.
I know there are fan theories online about how maybe those born after the zombie outbreak (like Rick’s daughter Judith) might be immune to its effects, but short of the show/plot actually confirming this it remains mere fan speculation. Maybe it will be the note that the show finally ends on to give us a bit of needed optimism for this world’s fate of humanity, but at this point, given how there has been no buildup to any such dramatic revelation, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a plot point was met with a resounding “meh” from the viewers that haven’t already moved on by then.
As much as I hate admitting it given how much I enjoyed this show at one point, I have to be honest that The Walking Dead has given me no real reason to care about what happens from here on out, no reason to be emotionally invested in its continued plot development, and therefore no reason to continue to invest my time in it.