God help us all. According to Bloomberg, AMC has plans to make “The Walking Dead” last another 10 years.
The show about undead corpses now resembles its subject, as the show now averages about half the audience it pulled in its heyday. 17.3 million people tuned into the Season 5 premiere see how Rick and company survived after being trapped in the boxcar by the Terminus cannibals. In its most recent season, an average of 7.82 million people watched each week.
“The Walking Dead” has problems. So many problems. But the biggest problem is that the showrunners have no idea where they’re going to end this thing, so every season follows the exact same pattern:
Season Premiere: Last season’s cliffhanger is resolved with the glorious success of our heroes!
Second Episode: Whew! That was scary. Thank God everything is fine… except for this new threat we just discovered.
Episodes 3-7: Filler. Usually, someone runs away. Maybe someone falls in love? A normally good person does something seemingly evil (or stupid). Lots of nobodies get eaten.
Mid-season finale: What a shocking cliffhanger as our heroes have fallen into incredible danger!
Mid-season premiere: Whew! Our heroes survived! Maybe some tertiary hero dies in the escape. This season’s threat has been neutralized… for now.
Episodes 9-15: Several subplots about farming or looking for ammunition. Characters do uncharacteristic things that no rational person would do in a zombie apocalypse. (“Michonne, I don’t care what you say! I’m going to operate a frozen banana stand at the bottom of this quarry and no one can stop me for three or four episodes.”)
Season Finale: Our heroes split up and face various cliffhangers.
The predictability of “The Walking Dead” is its undoing because the only thing that matters in a zombie movie or TV show is unpredictability. We should not be able to identify a character with plot armor as soon as they appear on screen. This show has been at its best when at its most chaotic.
For all its ups and downs, “The Walking Dead” took a fatal blow with Glenn’s death. We’re talking about Glenn’s first death, when he fell off a dumpster and zombies tore him apart in an episode that was not a season premiere or finale (when all heroes die). It briefly, shockingly, supplied the terror and chaos you want from a zombie show.
And then it turned out that Glenn was hiding under a dumpster the whole time and the zombies were eating the person lying on top of him. It proved that the show would not play fair with its audience, manipulating them with a death that was faked on-screen.
A few episodes after the dumpster fiasco, we got the abominable Season 6 finale – a fantastic episode that ended in the stupidest possible way when Negan killed an unseen character. Was it Glenn? Glenn died in the comics. So we waited.
And then after many months, Season 7 resumed with an entire filler episode before finally revealing that Abraham was Lucille’s victim in the season finale. And as a bonus, Negan killed Glenn, too. What was the point of that? They could have let Glenn die under the dumpster instead of keeping him around for a few additional meaningless episodes. That would have preserved the suspense of this chaotic world with a midseason major kill. Instead, they went with the same old pattern.
Complicating matters is the fact that Andrew Lincoln (Rick) will be leaving the show at the end of Season 9. Will he be zombie chow? Or will he head off to run a frozen banana stand at the bottom of a quarry until reemerging for the series finale? Either way, it will be hard to sustain the show without the character who’s most defined it. It will be like when Coy and Vance stepped in for Bo and Luke on the “Dukes of Hazzard.” (Sorry for that ancient reference, Millennial friends.)
The best thing for “The Walking Dead” would be to pick an end date, whether that’s next season or five seasons from now, then build a compelling narrative that arcs between the present and the finale. The “Lost” showrunners experienced the same narrative bog when they had no idea when their show would expire. Having an end date finally gave them a chance to build toward something. And although the “Lost” finale sucked, it’s not like they were blindsided by a sudden need to end the story before they were ready.
Granted, this announcement seems to suggest that like “Star Trek” or “CSI,” AMC wants to be in “The Walking Dead” business with some kind of spin-off show, even if the original has to die. (And it should have died several seasons ago.) But given how awfully “Fear the Walking Dead” started, it’s reasonable to ask if AMC even knows what to do with the property for another decade.
If they’re setting us up for endless fake-outs, jump scares, and characters who do stupid things for no other reason than elongating the season, AMC should put a bullet in this idea. If they plan on making limited, tense, character-based drama against the backdrop of zombie hell, we’re on board. Let’s hope they choose wisely.