by Michael Brooks
As stated before I have been watching TWD since the beginning. I have seen it grow, change, peak, decline, and stabilize. In the first article of this series I wrote about the main ways the series excelled and how those things are what carried it to the meteoric rise it experienced in viewership.
But now, I will explain what I believe went wrong in seasons six through eight that have forever changed the show. Let’s begin.
1) Losing Glenn & Abraham
In the final episode of season six and the first episode of season seven viewers had to endure the deaths of beloved characters, Glenn and Abraham. These characters represented the truly great storytelling and character chemistry that was built over the last five seasons. The people and their struggles were at the center of the story for the first five seasons.
TWD had made a habit of killing off characters to create drama but this was the beginning of doing it too much and to characters that we could not afford to lose. Losing Glenn and Abraham left huge holes in the family. Death is a reality and losing characters (like Herschel) are important to grow the characters and remain true to the world. But, there are some characters that cannot be touched, for the sake of the show and for our hearts. I believe Glenn and Abraham were those kinds of characters. Combine that with the horrific, helpless nature of their deaths, and it was a terrible combination.
The show would not be the same without those two.
2) Small-Scale Survivalism Turned to Old-World War
The most significant change happened to the very fabric of the show. In the first article I discussed how I believe most viewers loved seeing small-scale survival that mattered to each character. We could focus on the people and their own struggles because the challenges were smaller but more personally significant. They were more immediate. Clear this house, get this resource, survive this building of walkers, save this friend, etc.
Starting in season six and more fully in seasons seven and eight the writers and creators of TWD changed the very nature of the struggle. Following the comics, the introduction of Negan (Jefferey Dean Morgan) would change TWD forever.
But, it was less about Negan than about the nature of the conflict. I actually think Negan the person is compelling, funny, conflicted, and filled with intrigue. He is a great character and one that continues to be great even in his role now as defeated former enemy.
The writers turned our tense, exciting, and very personal world into an old-world (pre-apocalypse) style war between powerful empires. Thus, the writers had less conflicts that were personal to everyone. It became relevant to only a select few. It became filled with guns and large groups of people engaging in combat. We didn’t tune into TWD for that!
TWD was different. Their TV spots and advertisements kept repeating “welcome to a bigger world” or “the world is about to get bigger” or “it is a big world out there”. Then, during the war, they made the tagline “all out war.” That speaks volumes.
3) Go-Nowhere Episodes and Slow Story Arcs
As a twin to point two, they did all of this war and fighting in a terribly slow way. You would watch whole episodes and wonder what progress was made? You desperately wanted to see Negan taken care of to get back to what we loved. Instead viewers had to endure episode after episode of slow, go-nowhere stories. This made viewers frustrated and bored.
TWD has never recovered fully from seasons six through eight because they killed characters we loved that should have been untouchable. Thus, also ruining the precious and incredible chemistry they had worked so hard to establish. Then, they changed the very nature of the world we experienced. From personal, close, and immediate challenges which allowed for characters to be at the center, to a world of big war and little character work. To make things worse it was done exceedingly slowly.
So, is there hope?
How Does the Future Look?
Season nine was an improvement with a sharp move from Rick Grimes to a new era. That combined with a time-leap was helpful to get a “fresh start” with new mysteries. Season ten has been even better than nine and has gotten back to being more character driven and featuring small-scale missions and more personal experiences. They have introduced new characters that we enjoy and have created a new vibe. They have stabilized.
I think the future could be bright if they were willing to let go of this idea that they need mega-villains. Right now, a new foe has been featured since season 9 and do not look to be going anywhere soon. Their name, the Whisperers. These villains have again outsmarted, out-muscled, and outplayed our heroes. They continue to best our heroes at every turn. The writers have not let go of the idea that the show needs these several season mega villains. Until we move on from that, and “shrink” the world down to the characters and more basic survival challenges we will not get back to the 10/10 quality we had in seasons one through five. We do need villains, but villains more like the Governor or Terminus is more appropriate. But, we don’t need them to dominate every aspect of the show. The world is less mysterious. Mystery has been removed because we rarely experience anything new because the mega villains dominate every aspect of the show. With big villains come the lack of ability to explore the world around them in unique ways.
I am still watching week after week. New showrunner (season 9-10) Angela Kang has done a good job rescuing the show and giving us enough of what we love to bring fresh drama and renewed interest. She even reeled my wife back into the show.
Still, it is far from perfect and without major changes TWD will never get back to what it was.