***Spoilers: Spoilers for The Walking Dead through Season 7, Episode 1, follow. Spoilers***
In my own life, there is no room for people who manipulate emotions for their own entertainment, or simply because they can. So why would I watch a television series written by people who do the same? Look, I’m not one to rage-quit a show. I’ve felt purposely provoked; made it through series with pointless, excessive violence; even defended The Walking Dead when friends said the show had devolved into nothing but misery. It was about the characters, I said, and the hope and drive they have to keep on going, even when they aren’t sure why … that basic human drive to survive against the odds. I pushed past The Walking Dead‘s boring seasons; the stupidity of writers’ mind games with their comic readers. I’ve watched Robert Kirkman discuss his desire to shock, the thrill for him is taking things to another level. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” is finally, for me, a bridge too far.
At the end of Season 6, when the writers left us with the awful cliffhanger of a bat making contact with someone’s head, I said we’d gotten what we deserved. Our shared bloodlust as we sat rapt in front of our screens, demanding what we knew was coming; we were an audience full of anger at having to wait months to see who was on the receiving end of Negan’s psychotic rage. Did it matter? Would seeing this person over that one that smashed to bits somehow leave us less traumatized? No matter who was about to be brutally killed, it was going to be the same amount of awfulness, possibly times two.
We all knew what we were getting ourselves into last night; AMC began beating the drums quite a while ago, TWD cast warned us, and we did our best to mentally prepare ourselves. I knew my penchant for peeking through fingers would carry me through, just as it had with Terminus and other of the series more graphically violent moments. What I didn’t know was that seeing people’s skulls bashed in or, in the case of Glenn, having an eyeball pop out, wasn’t enough. Seeing the remains of Abraham’s completely pulverized head reduced to a puddle of slime on the ground wasn’t enough. Negan prancing in front of and taunting the group, mocking the survivors about the loved one he was about to or had just killed wasn’t enough. Watching him dehumanize and demoralize Rick wasn’t enough. The writers wanted to push the audience to see how far they could go.
In the final act of this opening Season 7 hour, The Walking Dead writers took their machinations to the next level, squarely targeting its viewers. Though, just last week, Kirkman played it like he possessed some sensitivity about what viewers were going to experience — he was asked about rumors there could be multiple Negan victims — it turns out that was just a load of BS:
I don’t know that our audience is necessarily bloodthirsty enough to be wanting to hear that there’s another death. One death should be enough for this audience and one death will definitely have the affect that we’re looking for. It will certainly set the stage for a very exciting season. It’s going to be a rough, rough, rough episode emotionally. Knowing what’s coming and knowing what happens, it’s really hard for me to watch. We’ve gotten to know all these characters over so many years and to see not only the one that dies but how it affects all the other characters involved? You can feel their emotions because you know their relationships and what they’re experiencing. It’s a really gut-wrenching episode. I don’t think anyone will be hungry for more blood when the episode airs.
Instead of one death, we were treated to Abraham and Glenn’s extremely graphic murders plus an added bonus, because, like Negan, this group of writers is so high on their own manipulative power they wanted to take the audience down a few more notches. Negan had his men put a gun to each of the rest of the group’s heads, ordering Carl to the ground in front of his father; a line is drawn across Carl’s arm and Negan tells Rick to cut it off with his ax or everyone else will die. The scene is drawn out, with Rick in an impossible situation, crying and begging, being pushed to the brink by Negan counting down, and Rick raising the ax, sobbing. At the very last second, Negan stops him. He knows he’s broken Rick; Kirkman and Co. know they’ve broken their audience. This was our own demoralizing, dehumanizing moment. This is the moment we make our own choice.
I’ve made mine, and I’ll be forked if I’m going to play Kirkman’s masturbatory, Neganistic game. It’s not a decision about or provoked by my rage. It’s not about the series being too graphic, or killing off the characters I care for. The Walking Dead has always been an apocalyptic zombie show; there are those who die, and those who live … for now; there is no expectation for happy endings. I don’t care that Maggie is probably going to rise up, be an even stronger woman after watching her husband and the father of her unborn child smashed to bits in front of her face. I don’t care that, eventually, like all the others, Negan will get his due, or whether, in a very satisfying episode, Maggie will be the one to give him a dose of his own medicine. By the end of this hour, what I cared about was the sick game the writers are playing, the power trip they seem to enjoy and ride high on. Kirkman gets a rush from paying “fan service” by toying with comic story arcs; he calls it “fun” to play with audience expectations: “It makes us up our game … “ And that, my friends, is just it. This is a game, and The Walking Dead writers will continually push themselves and their audience, to see exactly how much — abuse — we’ll take.
I will truly miss watching this show. I’ve spent six years alongside some of these characters; grown to love and care about them in a perhaps unnatural way, and it is that human nature of caring that Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple, and all the Walking Dead writers are enjoying exploiting. It is their sick game. There’s a difference between authors who create to connect with their audience and those who seek only to manipulate people to their own egoistic satisfaction. And, when we figure out which writers are which, it is our choice to pick up that book or put it back on the shelf. This is me putting the rest of those Walking Dead volumes down.