A Letter to "The Walking Dead"
By Amanda Rossenrode
Note: In the following letter, I am specifically addressing The Walking Dead TV show. Not the comics or video games. MILD spoilers if you’re not caught up.
Dear Walking Dead:
Hey. It’s been a while since we talked. I think it was good that we took some time apart. I’ve been seeing Fear the Walking Dead, like you suggested and—well, I’ll be honest. It’s alright, but I’m a little gun shy (no pun intended) after what happened with us. I know you’ll be back in a few weeks, but I’m not sure things will ever be the same.
Things started off great. A Halloween night premiere—and what a premiere: tense and moody with a cast of intriguing characters. Yes, Lori was the worst of everything. But somehow Andrea managed to be even worse. Every facet of her soul was the most intolerable awful that could be in one person. No matter why you hated them, you were legally and morally justified. Glenn was adorably impish, while Carol and Daryl’s quiet yet turbulent family issues let the viewer ease into some complex storytelling. Shane wavered somewhere in between jealous lover ashamed of cuckolding his best friend on a good day and McCrazy Rage Sandwich with Violent Sauce on the next, but I had fun. People criticized season two, saying there was too much talking on the farm, but you know what? I dug it. I don’t know where Hershel was getting all that Wonder Bread they served with every meal, but maybe he was a shareholder in Hostess or something. And yeah, okay, Carl evolved into the dumbest lifeform ever to wear an over-sized Western hat (and that is saying something), but things still happened.
Let’s start slow: you focused a little too hard on your title. We get it, THEY are the walking dead. Not the walkers or zombies or whatever. And since we’re talking about the walking, you seem to have two modes lately. I may be wrong, but I feel like I’ve seen entire episodes nearly free of dialogue, where the plot could be summed up with “There was some walking in the woods. Then someone excused themselves to sob privately in the woods. Then they got back to walking.” What about the fun we used to have? Remember the zombie in the well? We had a good chuckle, but you managed to keep it tense. Why did you emotionally cripple Glenn? Why doesn’t anyone utter a word that isn’t a hoarse prediction of a grim future? Was there a scene which I missed where Rick decreed that anyone cracking a joke would be immediately executed by Michonne? You need some comic relief to cut up the woods-crying. And no—a character is not comic relief if his personality is basically “scared of loud noises and incompetent.” Not everyone in an apocalypse is immediately blessed with the ability to master medieval weaponry. Are you trying to say that the world’s population of optimistic, witty people taste better to zombies than sulking, scowling neo-ninjas? Because that’s what you’re putting out there. Sorry. I tell you this because no one else will. Because I still care.
Another thing that seems to happen a lot is the Grimes gang showing up at utopias only to find them massively corrupt and a tad cannibalistic. Now, first off, it seems a little quick to start murdering and eating people on such an efficient scale, doesn’t it? The prison was managing spaghetti night. Who at the Terminus city council meeting stood up and said, “Thanks Diane for your diligent report on the barricades and dry goods inventory. Now, rather than hunt some chickens or deer, what say we just eat people? We could put up miles and miles of signage and lure travelers in and just eat them. Its been like six months, we’ve all thought about eating people, right? I’m looking at Dave right now and I think he’d be delicious with a little lemon and butter.”
More often than not, it seems to me that the Grimes Gang is usually the one to screw up these little settlements. I don’t condone luring in travelers and eating them rather than foraging for some dented cans of Beef-a-Roni, but Rick and his posse seem rather fond of rolling in to a town, deciding that their makeshift government is corrupt, and starting a war with the intent to conquer people who don’t seem in need of conquering. I can just imagine more peaceful settlements seeing Rick and the gang on the horizon and hissing to one another, “Turn out the lights! I’ve heard of these guys. They’re here to screw up Monday Monopoly night and needlessly turn this place to ashes over our love of Wednesday Zombie Fashion Shows!” They have never left a community that welcomed them without being outlined by the roaring flames of its structures at their backs.
Look, I don’t want to fight. I loved you once. And you are completely right, I am not a TV show. I can’t tell you what to do. But you keep promising things you’re not prepared to give. You say that this season or episode will be “action-packed” or “shocking,” but maybe you don’t have to try so hard. Try to think about what made you good in the beginning. Characters can have weaknesses that aren’t crippling hallucinatory nervous break downs. I just read a headline about the upcoming season that proudly declared that all of the characters are “emotionally destroyed.” Well… do I want that in a show about zombies? What makes the modern zombie story great is the idea of fighting the zombie in us—mindless jobs, mindless relationships, lives we feel are rotting away. The idea is not to be destroyed by them. Game of Thrones almost gleefully exacerbates the feelings and physical well-being of its characters, but they manage to come back stronger, wiser, and (I’m sorry) more plucky than those that used to be my favorite Walking Dead characters.
In closing, if things are going to work, I think you should see someone about this slow-paced, sour funk you’re going through. Use your words; communication is key. Don’t rely on strummy indie guitar music to tell me what you’re feeling. And don’t be afraid to have a little fun! Give something for Maggie and Glenn to do again! Pouting at one another doesn’t count. They used to be master foragers! Stop centering episodes on Carl. He’s a little jerk and if he had the sense of a goat, he wouldn’t be sitting on a rooftop eating several gallons of expired pudding. Stop showcasing background characters for two episodes in hopes that when you kill them off in a horrific manner we will care and be concerned with the blood vendettas this somehow inevitably causes. Go back to creating complex problems between fleshed out characters, and leave the background folks to stabbing mushy zombies and holding Judith. Because you’re never so safe as the person that gets to stand behind and hold little useless plot device Judith.
Again, I say this not to hurt, but to help. Let’s try to recreate those salad days, WD. I’m prepared to stick around.