Tuesday, 24 February 2015

THE WALKING DEAD readjusts (again), but I'm still dead-eyed...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I'm still watching THE WALKING DEAD after five years, but only for the entertainment-value of its action sequences and the impressively-staged violence and gore. There are no characters that appeal to me in any meaningful way, and heaven knows its story arcs are incredibly hit-and-miss. Over time, I've distilled exactly why this AMC drama feels overrated to me, and it's very simple: there's no actual goal to achieve, as the show seems determined to nix any possibility of a zombie-cure or impregnable sanctuary being discovered. (And yes, even taking into account what happened in the latest episode, "The Distance", I don't envisage there being a happily ever after until AMC announce The Walking Dead's cancellation.)

The thing is, the zombie genre is usually confined to movies, which have endings. Even in multi-film sagas, goals are achieved and every movie ends with recognisable success or failure for a group of characters. And given the nihilism of the genre, it's usually a downbeat one: everyone dies, or the hero is sacrificed, or a cure is lost, etc. But with television, you're chasing an ending that's forever being pushed back into the distance, because of commercial concerns with ratings. Or sales, in the comic-book's case. There's no chance of The Walking Dead ending unless ratings plummet. Andrew Lincoln could quit and it wouldn't matter now, because the show is built around the idea of an ever-changing ensemble. Characters can die or wander off, whenever it's necessary, with no lasting effect on the show—as no actor is bigger than it. AMC are almost certain to commission a spin-off this year, which is believed to be a prequel (or at least takes place during The Walking Dead's established past), so there'll be even less of a feeling that show might be leading somewhere.

Occasionally, The Walking Dead offers up potential end-games to keep us hooked: season 1's search for the laboratory that might hold a cure to end the zombie holocaust, season 4's convergence on the 'Terminus' station, or season 5's quest to get an alleged scientist to Washington D.C to work on a cure. But we know none of those situations are going to end well, because the show must go on. And that's beginning to really annoy me now, because The Walking Dead could do with an immovable goal that makes sense and won't be yanked away from viewers. Would it be so bad if the group were on a cross-country trek to a refuge that wasn't a trap, or held false promise? I just need something to cling to, because the interpersonal relationships of the characters don't do much for me. They could have an episode where almost everyone's eaten, and I'd only really be annoyed if Michonne's amongst the fatalities—because it means no more cool scenes of her lopping zombie heads off.

I don't know. Maybe it's just me. The Walking Dead continues to keep millions of people watching every week, and I still make up those numbers. Are other people hate-watching? Or sticking with it in the vague hope of a finish-line being spotted? Maybe people are just watching out of habit and it's become background noise? Maybe it's good for enough of a season to convince people the inevitable downturns are just blips, and it'll be back to full strength next week? Or next season? My "real-world" experience of the show is that most of my friends stopped watching in season 3 because the prison setting started to bore them, but online the series still appears to be a hit that pulls in astonishing ratings—especially in the U.S.

Like Lost, I think it would be great if AMC announced when the show will end now—because if we knew season 7 is going to to be the finale season, I have a feeling the writers would stop spinning wheels. They could then take the best chunks of the comic-book's remaining plot and throw that into a two-season arc, with excitement building because we know there's a climax brewing.

As it stands, I just feel locked into a never-ending slog, having come so far, kept on the hook by the occasional strong episode or decent cliffhanger.