We explore five critical problems with The Walking Dead and suggest improvements
The Walking Dead took the world by storm when it initially aired, and has since become something of a phenomena. One of the most popular cable series to ever air, it has an incredibly impassioned fan base who adore the story and it’s characters to no end. Seven seasons in, it seems as if the producers have begun taking viewers support for granted, repeatedly offering mediocre episodes and questionable writing decisions. Anyone who’s ever been passionate about a television series knows how incredibly disheartening can be.
Although the series hasn’t always been perfect, it has consistently remained interesting and compelling for the most part. Occasionally over the past few seasons, decisions have been made that began to cause devoted fans to question the writing choices. As the seasons progress, this has been happening more frequently, causing a drop in viewership.
Below we explore what we feel are some of the critical flaws the series is making, and offer suggestions as to how they could make improvements.
MOVE AWAY FROM BOTTLE EPISODES
The Walking Dead has a massive ensemble cast and characters, most of which are gracelessly underdeveloped. The shame here isn’t simply that these characters have the potential to be incredibly complex and extraordinary, but also that the cast is remarkably talented. They’re talent is underappreciated and virtually unrecognized due to the fact that the series has been unsucessful at handling such a vast number of characters. Instead they utilize bottle episodes almost exclusively, focusing on one group at a time to the point of excluding other key characters for several episodes. For fans who are invested in most of them, this is an unbelievably frustrating method of storytelling. The occasional bottle episode can of course be effective and compelling however, and to be fair, on the few occasions when they’ve managed to get it right they do so incredibly well (Clear, Dead Weight, Slabtown, and Here’s Not Here spring to mind). Sadly, these exceptions have become exceedingly rare and the series is suffering as a result. Realistically, there was a time when it made sense to employ this method, for example after the prison fell and the group was splintered. Telling individual tales of each group was logical, up until the point where they were reunited at Terminus. However, they chose not to stop there and instead viewers are still getting single group episodes. More often than not, the characters und up serving the story as opposed to the story serving the characters. Ideally, the two should work together.
How they can improve: Two shows come to mind, LOST and Game of Thrones. Both series have an incredible amount of characters, yet collectively they’ve done maybe three to five bottle episodes total. Both series have successfully managed to focus on and develop a multitude of characters in interesting ways. While not every character is featured in each episode of either show, they’re all given similar amounts of screentime over the course of the series, relative to the character’s importance. LOST deployed centric episodes, focusing on a one character while still giving screen time and development to others within the very same installment. Rarely did character ever feel underdeveloped. Game of Thrones has at least as many characters in various locations and develops them more thoroughly than The Walking Dead, and with six less episodes per season. These shows could serve as great examples of how The Walking Dead could improve their method of storytelling in a manner that would benefit both the series and the viewers while also honoring their characters and showcasing their remarkable cast in a manner that they deserve.
GIVE EACH CHARACTER PROPER DEVELOPMENT
Initially this may seem redundant, but instead of developing the generous amount of characters the series has, The Walking Dead chooses instead to endlessly introduce new characters. In the span of three seasons, current season included, we’ve been introduced to several entire communities. Although each community has prominent members who are granted more screen time, it’s rarely enough to make viewers become invested in them. Oftentimes the point at which they get the most development occurs right before they die. This has happened time and again, and has become dreadfully predictable. When characters who have been given minimal screen time are suddenly given dialogue, viewers suspect that they may not survive the episode, which often turns out to be correct. Not only is this irritating because we lose characters who never realize their potential, but it also makes viewers wary of becoming invested in new people we’re introduced to. And isn’t that ultimately the point? If fans stop becoming invested they’re unlikely to continue viewing the series.
How they can improve: This is more challenging, because in order to express how much of a threat The Saviors really are, they have to establish the fact that they govern several large groups. They’re already on the right track by selecting core members from each group to put focus on, however they rarely follow through with developing them further. They need to limit giving characters such as Negan and Dwight an absurd amount of screen time while completely ignoring others. I’m going to use LOST as an example again, because they did this effectively when they introduced the tail section and The Others. While both groups were sizeable, there were key members that got incredible development throughout their time on the show. All while developing their original characters even further. Again, The Walking Dead could learn by their example.
FIND BALANCE BETWEEN HOPE AND DESPAIR
This might seem like a ridiculous notion, because The Walking Dead is, after all, a tale of survival horror. However for many, the key word there has always been survival. And doesn’t one need some semblance of hope to even want to survive? Sure, sometimes it would be out of habit or instinct, but if everything was complete despair at all times, what would be the point? If you were to survive, and be required to do unspeakable horrors to protect yourself and your loved ones, wouldn’t there have to be a silver lining? The Walking Dead has not only lost all sense of hope, but has repeatedly and systematically killed it, and quite literally. We’ve seen it time and again. Inevitably the characters with the strongest moral compass and positive outlook meet grisly and untimely deaths. Dale, Andrea, Hershel, Beth, Tyreese, Noah, Glenn…those are merely a few out of many. The lighthearted characters are killed off the soonest, and maybe that’s realistic. It’s possible that only the ones willing to go to extremes would survive, but for fans it’s exhausting to constantly watch the characters we’ve grown to love suffer endlessly. It’s unclear what the intended purpose is on behalf of the writers for sucking the life out of the show, but viewers are losing interest in rapid succession.
How they can improve: Give the series balance. There was a time when there was amazing heartfelt character interaction, which helped bring stability even during the darkest times. They were a close knit family that loved and laughed and kept one another going against all odds. At present, what little interaction we’re given is too often focused on how they can eliminate the current threat. Which is necessary at times, but they need to return to form and breathe life back into the series. Just enough to make the rest of it worth enduring.
PROGRESS THE PLOT MORE QUICKLY
It’s incomprehensible how the series can be so unbearably tedious in its pace while still managing to underdeveloped the majority of it’s characters, not to mention it’s plot. This season alone, we’ve been granted two extended episodes so far. What should have been cause for excitement has been ruined by the fact that said episodes mostly consisted of Negan’s dialogue. He’s intimidating, or is intended to be, and he’s in charge. We get it, we don’t need it dragged out endlessly. Granted, they’re concerned that if they progress too quickly they’ll eventually outpace the comics, which is in theory a legitimate concern. Also, Robert Kirkman doesn’t want the show to influence the comics, which is entirely respectable. Nevertheless, his warped mind, and I mean that respectfully, has been anything but predictable. Fans would likely be confident that he could come up with unique material should the show need to move past the comics at some point. Exposing viewers to several seasons of The Savior’s versus the other communities will inevitably make people lose interest. The Governor arc was already dragged out far longer than necessary, while the There are far more compelling events from the comics that can be utilized for a long time without the risk of becoming boring.
How they can improve: Let go of the notion that the show shouldn’t outpace the source material. Kirkman will fare just fine with the comics either way. And realistically, the shows always done it’s own thing the majority of the time anyway, only following a loose outline of the comics and for the most part staying true to the characters. Even if the comics ended before the series, there’s not much chance that the series would end the same way. That would be boring and predictable. The series should move through the remaining source material in interesting ways and then do something entirely original. It might even be the best thing to ever happen to the series, and the comics respectively. Doing this fared well for Game of Thrones. At the very least it would enable fans of both the comics and the series to release their expectations that the two should compare, and thus freeing them to enjoy the show as it’s own entity.
HAVE AN ENDGAME
With the producers declaring that they would like to see the show run indefinitely, there’s currently no end in sight. After seven long seasons, the shows major concepts such as the group being fractured and endlessly taking on rivals have become hopelessly redundant and tiresome. Fans are losing interest in droves. We’re tired, and the series isn’t offering anything new or refreshing, nor has it for some time. Negan might be new, but his endless banter and swaggering is rapidly becoming dull. He is in no way as captivating as his comic counterpart, nor is he likely to be anytime soon. The current state of things will play out similarly to past conflicts with rival groups in the past, only on a much large scale. Which doesn’t make the story more interesting and instead makes it feel more diluted. Simply stated, it’s just too much of a commitment to endure these recurring themes without the promise of an end. After having already put so much time into the series, viewers are becoming bored and losing interest.
How they can improve: Let viewers know you have an endgame. Maybe not even a specific number of seasons, but let us know that there is an end in sight. Something that gives us hope that having viewed the show for years will have been worthwhile commitment. Given that, fans might be able to endure a few more seasons to see how it all plays out. As things are now, it’s increasingly challenging to sit through each episode every week, let alone finishing out the season. Nevermind several, indefinitely. If the producers insist on continuing the series, they should do so in other forms beyond the core series. They’ve already had a fair amount of success with Fear the Walking Dead, and there’s potential for other spinoffs. End the main series and move on to something fresh, so those who want to stay immersed in this world can, and the rest of us can move on after The Walking Dead ends.
These are not all of the errors that The Walking Dead has made, however they are the most crucial ones that should be addressed should the series want to maintain its popularity and viewership. We could get into their often questionable representation of women, minorities, LBGTQ characters, their lack of positive female interaction, and their catering to specific characters, among other things. Some of these aspects have recently been improved upon, and therefore weren’t as crucial to address at this time. On behalf of the fans, I can only hope that the writers come to realize that viewers are losing interest and that they’re able to find ways to shift the series into something captivating and heartfelt once again.
Image credits: AMC