Walking Dead

How ‘The Walking Dead’ Became a Television Zombie

The pop culture giant has struggled to remain in the limelight during the past few years. With the announcement of its final season, what went wrong?
October 10, 2020
6 mins read

On April 3, 2016, millions tuned in to see the Season 6 finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Viewers were treated to an intense finale as actor Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes and our beloved survivors were cornered by the mysterious “Saviors” group.

The show was setting up to introduce its next major antagonist: Negan. Played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Negan was a towering figure, wielding a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire nicknamed “Lucille.” Negan brings Rick’s group to their knees, begging for mercy, as he promises to kill off a fan favorite. The tension builds, audiences holding their breath in anticipation to see who the unlucky victim will be. Instead, we are hit with a cheap cliffhanger telling audiences to come back next season to see who was killed.

Critics cite this as one of the first signs that ratings for this juggernaut of a show would be in decline. But that wasn’t all: Viewers were so furious at the cliffhanger that the show’s previous flaws began to become more apparent, including repeated plot threads, awkward dialogue and filler episodes.

These issues would plague the show in the following years as ratings dropped, more fan favorites were killed and the pacing slowed to a snail’s crawl. Now in 2020, AMC has announced that the 11th season of the zombie drama would be its last. Yet, no one seems to care. Why? Besides poorly-executed cliffhangers, the general greediness and outright disrespect AMC has shown “The Walking Dead” has turned fans away from the show. But what happened exactly, and how did this once pop culture phenomenon fade into obscurity?

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Here’s how it happened. After a lackluster Season 7, fans were looking forward to Season 8 of “The Walking Dead” and the promise of adapting one of the best storylines from the comic books, the “All Out War” arc, into the show. The Season 8 premiere started off with a bang as our survivors declared war against Negan’s forces, ready to engage in what could be one of television’s most anticipated payoffs in history. Except it wasn’t. Again, we were dealt bottle episodes, cheap action scenes, fake-out deaths and overall lazy storytelling.

It was made even worse when spoiler sites leaked that Carl Grimes, played by Chandler Riggs, would be killed off in the midseason premiere. Comic readers were particularly disappointed by the news because Carl was slotted to go through immense character growth in the subsequent storylines. The show had always been building up to the idea of Rick passing the torch of leading society into the next world on to his son. Now that the show could no longer do that, well, where could it go?

Despite these disappointments, fans were given a bit of hope upon the conclusion of Season 8. It was announced that longtime showrunner Scott Gimple would be exiting to helm some of the franchise’s other projects, such as future spin-offs and even movies. His replacement, Angela Kang, breathed new life into the show. Season 9 contained plot-heavy episodes, strong character development and actually made the walkers threatening again as the show was gearing up to adapt the next storyline, the “Whisperer” saga.

While critics praised the return to form, a dark cloud hung over the show with two announcements. First, it was revealed that Lennie James, who plays Morgan, would be leaving the main show and joining the franchise’s spin-off “Fear the Walking Dead.” Critics and fans speculated that this was merely a ploy to get more viewers to watch the new mediocre show.

Second, it was announced that main star Andrew Lincoln would be exiting the show early into the season. While he would be leaving the show, he would continue the character’s storyline through a trilogy of movies set to release in theaters. Fans were naturally confused. How could the show be removing its star character? Not only that, it felt like another cheap ploy by AMC to force audiences to watch a bunch of movies to learn Rick’s fate.

So where does that leave the show now? Well, due to COVID-19, the series had to postpone its 10th season finale to October. AMC took that opportunity to air the episode as a lead-in for the company’s next spin-off show, “Walking Dead: World Beyond.” Reportedly, this spin-off will contain plot elements that will lead into the Rick Grimes movies. However, with little news about the films, fans are doubting that they will even happen.

All in all, “The Walking Dead” franchise is clearly a mess right now. Even with the announcement that the 11th season would be its last, AMC immediately publicized two more spin-off shows: one anthology series and a second piece that will follow fan-favorite characters Daryl and Carol. While the main show is “ending,” the characters we love will still be enduring the apocalypse for years to come.

Ironically, all of the spin-offs and problems have created a Frankenstein’s monster of a zombie, one that endlessly wanders the realms of television without guidance. The show currently has little to no direction, and like an actual zombie, it will crawl its way to the finish line to little applause. So please AMC, let “The Walking Dead” die and give it the rest it deserves.

Alex Luna, University of California, Berkeley

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Alex Luna

University of California, Berkeley

Student at UC Berkeley currently majoring in English. Lover of all things anime, literature, sports and debating the possibility of parallel universes.

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