Spoilers for The Walking Dead's season premiere after the photo.
Judging by my Twitter feed last night, it seems that more people than usual have finally had it with this damn show™. As best as I can tell, this is because The Walking Dead actually managed to surprise an audience that prides itself on being jaded and cynical.
The newfound sense of despair comes on the heels of a season-ending cliffhanger in which we knew one of our beloved heroes was going to die, horribly, at the hands of the new head bad guy, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, finding the first role commensurate with his talents since playing The Comedian in Watchmen). But who? There seemed to be two paths the show's creators could take. They could go with a semi-beloved character—an Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), say—who has been with the show for a while but whose death wouldn't be a devastating emotional blow. Or they could go with—and this was the only other real option, given that spoilers from the comic book featuring his death at the hands of Negan had become more or less ubiquitous—Glenn (Steven Yeun).*
Director Greg Nicotero and writer Scott M. Gimple teased audiences for another quarter of an episode about what happened all those months ago (for us; moments for Rick (Andrew Lincoln), whose flashbacks reveal the outcome). This prompted another wave of anxiety-inducing tension and jokes on Twitter about never getting to find out who Negan killed, tensions that likely dispelled when poor old Abraham bit the bat. Oh sure, we all liked him and he was pretty funny and he had been entertaining to have around and he had a girlfriend but he was easy to dispose of but he hadn't been with us from the beginning but we all knew they would never do away with someone really beloved but—
OH GOD IT'S NOT JUST ABRAHAM.
We, the The Walking Dead faithful, should have known better than to get our hopes up after all this time. The Walking Dead is a show dedicated to destroying hope. The Walking Dead is a show that spits in the face of hope, then smashes hope's head open with a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat, laughing all the while that hope's friends ever believed in her.
In that it manages to accomplish exactly what it sets out to do—destroy hope—The Walking Dead is probably the most effective show on TV. There wasn't a single person watching last night whose eyes and stomachs did not reflect Rick's as Negan gave him one last choice: cut off your son's arm or everyone here dies. It was in this moment that we saw Rick had finally been broken. His eyes were pleading and his voice quavering, both empty of the arrogance and bravado that has marked so much of his tenure on the show.** And it was in this moment that we at home had also given up hope. I imagine that roughly everyone in the audience was wincing, just waiting for the ax to come down, disgusted at the grotesque inevitability of it all.
From a business perspective, I question whether or not this is the wisest course of action. How do you give people without hope a reason to continue watching the end of the world unfold? From an artistic perspective, however, I can't help but be impressed.*** The Walking Dead has accomplished exactly what it set out to do: break its audience's spirit and get it to emotionally identify with people living through an interminable apocalypse. Like Rick and his friends, we now see that there's no light at the end of the tunnel. We struggle to keep going. Eventually weariness at all the hellishness and hopelessness will overtake us and we'll just give up and the show will blink out of our existence. The sweet release of (the show's) death will be welcomed.
Until then, though, we suffer as they suffer. Like all great art, The Walking Dead is merely a reflection of our world.**** It's not AMC's fault you don't like what you see.
*Perhaps it played out on the show the way it played out in the books, with two folks dying. I dunno, I don't read the comics. All I knew, and all I think most people knew thanks to dicks tweeting photos of Glenn dying at Negan's hands, was that Negan kills Glenn in the comic.
**This was an Emmy-caliber performance by Andrew Lincoln, btw. Despite being hugely popular by cable standards, the show has never gotten much love from critics or awards-givers. Lincoln won't get a nomination for this, either, but he probably should.
***Then again, I would be: I'm the guy, after all, who thought Toy Story 3 should've ended with the toys going into the furnace at the recycling plant.
****This message brought to you by the 2016 GOP primary.