Like its spiritual predecessors on the big screen, The Walking Dead signifies the very worst of what the silver screen has to offer: depraved gore porn that thinks it’s intelligent.
Lately the show has seen its ratings crater, leaving The Walking Dead hobbled but still well in the lead as the most watched program on cable TV. This represents a most welcome development, one that I hope will lead to a quicker death than many of the show’s ill-fated characters have endured. Now in its seventh the season, the show has managed to stay on air long after its expiration date. Unfortunately it seems destined to plod on until the end of the decade and possibly beyond.
It wasn’t always this way, and at one point the show had me hooked. The first season, which began with the zombie genre cliché of main character waking up in a hospital bed, nonetheless quickly developed into a captivating and addicting series. The writers of those initial episodes wove together a well-paced story, with scenes of engaging exposition punctuated by heart-pounding drama. The undead zombies, called “walkers” in the show’s parlance, represented a real and visceral threat to the heroes. The characters were scared, and so were we. They learned to survive as society collapsed around them, practically living a day to day existence as they struggled to stay ahead of the growing zombie hoard. Formerly meek characters learned to be strong, some of them venturing into anti-hero territory as they fought the living and the dead alike. When death came for the unlucky ones, it served to propel drama and drive character development for the survivors.
The problem with such a story is that it can’t continue forever. Once the character arcs flatlined, it became apparent that the show didn’t have much else going for it. The world of The Walking Dead, devoid of all joy, humor, or romance, doesn’t seem credible. Suffering and hate compose the twin pillars holding up the drama, which an audience can only endure for so long. Sometime around the mid-second season, the show’s formerly taut script began unraveling. Ever since the plot has wandered seemingly at random, the characters gradually making their way up the eastern seaboard. Every season brings a new Big Bad, each more horrific than the last.
The once potent and heart-stopping walkers no longer seem to pose any threat. Apparently everyone on the show took classes at Rambo’s School of Zombie Killing, thereby evaporating any remaining tension. Without any interesting characters, story, or even fear-inducing zombie attacks, The Walking Dead has sought to fill the void by ramping up the gore factor. Cheap thrills and constant, violent death have supplanted the real terror of the first season. It seems that the audience is just as hungry for blood as the zombies. Viewership grew rapidly even as the show abandoned any pretense of being a character-driven drama, although the excitement has started to deflate.
In short, the show is boring now.
Unless The Walking Dead makes drastic changes to the story and cast, the only direction for ratings is down. Shows such as cartoons and crime serials can continue indefinitely because each episode is usually a self-contained story with static characters. The Walking Dead, enamored of its own success, fails to recognize its inherently limited lifespan.
If you are bored one day and really want to try this show on Netflix, watch the excellent first season and maybe the mediocre second and third seasons. Then quit. After that it is just more of the same.