Tuesday, April 5, 2016

That Walking Dead Finale, Man

The season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, AMC's most popular show about undead shambling husks clinging to dear life and also about zombies, will no doubt have people talking. This season was supposed to introduce Negan, the next big bad character of the series who was infamous in the comics for reasons I don't need to spoil because you can find people talking about it on the shallowest surfaces of Google. It did that, but it also just created a whole new set of problems. Bad problems. Problems I'm going to talk about in here with SPOILERS attached!

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Okay. Are they all gone yet? Did the people who don't want spoilers leave the website yet? They did? Sweet.


Basically what happens is, Negan shows up after this frankly pretty good finale full of tension and suspense, and the audience is shitting their pants with fear. The atmosphere and anticipation of what's about to happen was really through the roof, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan did a pretty good job overall. This character has been hyped for a while and everyone wanted to see what he would do. So he shows up, talks for a bit, makes everyone fucking sweat, and he raises a bat and kills... someone. We don't see who. It's a total cliffhanger. For the finale of this whole thing, a cliffhanger, and now we have to wait like five months to see that they no doubt killed off a character who won't affect the story in any major way for more than two episodes.

It especially sucks because I liked a lot of this season up until now better than anything this show has done in years. A ton of the episodes this time around were awesomely action packed, suspenseful and cool. I really was hyped for this finale, as I figured they could finally keep the momentum going. But instead the finale makes me see the show as that really cool friend that you liked, who came to your birthday parties early and bought you an extra drink at happy hour when you were down, but then you find out that he posted a status on Facebook asking why can't HE use the "N word" if rappers can do it, while you were asleep. It's a buzzkill.

It's just such cheap hack work writing. What the hell am I supposed to say? It reeks of social media pandering and bullshit hash tags and planned, calculated and focus-tested art. They've basically been given a license to keep pulling this shit over and over again – more cliffhangers dangling the prospect of death in front of you, more tricks and gimmicks to get their social media team something to do. It's bullshit. The idea of AMC putting up stupid polls asking who we think got killed and the hash tags and the fake suspense is nauseating, because you know they've probably already started by the time this blog post is up. It's anti-storytelling. Drama sucked out with a liposuction and replaced with corporate marketing. It couldn't be more transparent about that if we were talking about Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The Walking Dead just feels desperate with how often it does these ridiculous cliffhangers and drawn out “suspense” parts with disappointing returns. We should've seen the writing on the wall way back in early season 5 when they kept splitting up the narrative between Beth's hospital story and the rest of the gang – it was evident back then. They did it twice this season with Glenn's dumpster hiding extravaganza and then with Daryl getting shot in the previous episode – a complete non-story now, since he barely showed up in the finale. It's like we've all been enabling a drug addict, just going okay, he's not too bad, he was lucid at dinner last night so let's just not say a word. But then he steals Mom's jewelry she inherited from her dead aunt to pawn off for another ounce, and we look like fools all the more for it. And I know it's ridiculously hyperbolic to compare a TV show ending I didn't care for to a drug addict, but come on, it's the Internet and that is what we do here.

This really is the final nail in the coffin of network TV. It's done. That battle's over and Netflix's “put everything up at once” model has clearly emerged the winner if shows as big as TWD are resorting to desperate pandering garbage like this. It just shows how little integrity the show has left. They needed a way to compete with Netflix's juggernaut shows that come out all at once and are usually pretty fucking amazing. Since they have to wait another six months for another season while Netflix just pops out shows like the Octomom, well, we get cliffhangers and gimmicks to keep the audience abuzz on social media. A good story would have done the same, but when has that ever been in style? Someone is having a very good day at AMC's media marketing relations department, seeing the stats go up and up. I guess I'm not helping in that regard.

If it seems rather dramatic that I'm ranting about this, well, it's because I like the show when it isn't pulling dumb shit like this. When it doesn't fall back on the goofy cliffhangers and the ludicrous drawn-out parts, the show has a lot of good stuff going for it – strong acting, good characters, some good drama here and there and some good action. It's well worth watching, or it has been in the past anyway. But it sucks that the people running it are more interested in gimmickry and fake-outs than in real storytelling. The Walking Dead will remain successful, I have no doubt about that, but I think the illusion is over and we're kind of beyond the pale now – people will see the difference between this and really great TV.

I think overall, it's telling that the most cynical part about the nihilistic zombie apocalypse show is not the malaise of the main characters, but instead the marketing team's chokehold over the narrative, strangling the life out of it with these trash tricks and tomfoolery. That's depressing.