Time to wind down The Walking Dead?
By Kyle Sutherland.
For eight years now The Walking Dead, the television series inspired by the graphic novels of Robert Kirkman has held the lofty position of must see TV, with its ensemble cast of fascinating characters, drama, tragedy and zombies, it has attracted a rabidly devoted fan base and widespread critical acclaim.
Yet as we stand in the aftermath of the season 8 finale it’s time to look towards the future, where is this series going and how sustainable is it for future seasons, whether it’s time to start winding down The Walking Dead.
Now for many fans the mere suggestion that now is the time to begin looking towards a wrap up of this much loved series would seem like sacrilege, but the reality is that personally I would much rather see the series ended well, than a drawn out, slow, painful decline towards the end which frankly has already begun.
For now the show has been greenlit for a 9th season and the makers feel they have enough source material to continue going forward for at least several more seasons with producer David Alpert stating “we know where seasons 11 and 12 will be… we have benchmarks and milestones for those seasons if we’re lucky enough to get there”; and therein lies the catch 22, “if”. The simple fact is that those words were spoken in 2014 when the show was at the height of its viewer ratings and since then The Walking Dead has seen its ratings steadily decline, with US viewership down by millions.
Season seven saw a spike in viewers for the premiere which revealed which of the main cast had been killed in the season 6 cliff hanger yet lost 5 million viewers the next week, and the season 8 premiere was down by 6 million on the year before; whilst the penultimate episode for season 8 drew 6.67 million viewers, the show is haemorrhaging its audience.
So why could this be happening?
One of the main reasons is possibly the stagnation of the plot, in many ways The Walking Dead is stuck in a constant loop at this point, the characters find a safe place, are threatened and then fight, whether it’s against The Governor, Terminus, The Wolves or The Saviours, it’s effectively the same plot in a different set of clothes; the result being that the plot never really moves forward.
Another issue with these multiple antagonists is the rather transitional nature of many, whilst the Governor plotline had a long slowly drawn out plot, gradually revealing more of the antagonists backstory and motivations, Terminus feels very rushed, as if only serving as filler between two major plotlines. It’s kind of like the seasons of an anime they make to fill time while the source material catches up, there’s nothing really bad in them, they’re just not quite as interesting.
The saviours plotline has effectively run out of steam, it came in big and loud after a slow build until the reveal of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the terrifyingly menacing Negan at the end of season 6 and it was brilliant. But for the most part the next two seasons have dragged far too much, with many episodes being filled of nothing of much interest and little in the way of character development, which brings us to the next issue facing the programme.
The Walking Dead has too many main characters who as a result are being afforded too little attention and growth.
This season has seen a massive drop off in the involvement of fan favourite Daryl, who at one point in the shows run was one of the most fascinating and complex characters, his development has effectively been stopped dead as the focus shifts almost entirely onto Rick Grimes and his battle with Negan.
Old fan favourites such as Carol have been left treading water with plotlines seemingly started and then abandoned at will, only to then be re-visited several episodes later with the expectation of the same level of audience engagement.
The deaths of major cast members such as Glen Rhee and Abraham, which admittedly had a massive emotional impact on long term fans have left a void of interesting and familiar characters as new cast members are promoted to fill their place without the proper back story and personality which allows fans to engage with them. Even Ezekiel, a man who walked around with a tiger has come across more corny and, personally quite irritating, whilst the only character to have his personality truly developed has been Morgan, who really works better as a supporting character.
It is brilliant to know that the producers of this programme planned as far ahead as season 12 all the way back in 2014, that shows that they’re committed to their product and that they believe in it’s continuing appeal. But as we’ve covered, it’s easy to plan for the show to go on indefinitely when you’re consistently pulling in 12-15 million viewers, not so much when that has dipped to between 6 and 9 million.
Season 9 needs to be the wind down season in my opinion, bring all of the plotlines together, especially with the Negan character now sidelined, and the prospect of a split within the original group between Maggie and Rick.
The alternative is that viewership continues to drop and the studio loses faith in the series as we’ve seen in the past with programmes such as Heroes, a show which had a similar stagnated feel, or Dexter, which attempted to drag itself along for too long and left many fans disappointed.