“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unites a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?
**WARNING – HEAVY SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN. THIS IS GONNA GET EXTRA HEAVY, DOC.**
My, how the times have changed. You know, when The Walking Dead debuted back on Halloween 2010, I don’t think anyone knew what a juggernaut the franchise would become. Seriously, look back at the landscape of television then. The most popular shows were Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, themselves altering the future of basic cable television yet hadn’t made the same leap The Walking Dead would. Not only were the characters very sharply written, as Frank Darabont’s pedigree was built upon back then, but the grotesque violence and incredible make-up effects by Greg Nicotero opened new doors. As hailed as both Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy have become in the history books, The Walking Dead broke down the walls on television violence and paved the way for more creative freedoms in the 10pm hour. (Look at FX’s Mayans or even American Horror Story – holy R rating!)
Yet here we are, eight years and nine seasons on, and audiences still can’t get enough. Yeah, go on, come at me about ‘sagging ratings,’ I welcome the challenge. People ingest their television viewing not live anymore – which most numbers are predicated upon – but by DVR and awaiting the show to hit Netflix and home video. (Others still cheat via non-traditional streaming sites too. Welcome to 2018!) That’s not my point though. We all can tell the effect the show has had not just on popular culture, but also in the genre itself. Zombies became the rage all over again, often imitated but never surpassed. Shaun of the Dead have been the match needed for the genre but The Walking Dead provided the spark, more focused on the tattered remnants of man and how people try to survive the end of the world. Sure, there were bumps in the road between 2010 to now, but what show doesn’t have its issues from time to time?
Of course, the last two seasons weren’t exactly the rosiest. I won’t point fingers, I was taught that motion is impolite and downright accusatory. …who am I kidding, I’ll point fingers and wag ’em with utter shame too. The writing on the show, a couple of minds aside, was generic and overly melodramatic. Our cast of characters fought more with each other and less with both the Walkers and the Saviors. I mean, really? So much for All-Out War! We were promised an epic season of conflict, but we didn’t expect the conflict to be character conflict instead of bloodshed and whiz-bang fights. I honestly zoned out for more than half of last season. Yeah, I watched most of the episodes. Sometimes, if I fell behind, I skipped the episode and read the recap. Yeah, bad work by me, but I didn’t feel enticed to commit 100 percent to the season when those running the show were missing the point.
But to those who walked away from the show just as new showrunner Angela Kang is navigating The Walking Dead back on course? What do you think you’re doing exactly? Giving up like a kid who can’t get what he wants for Christmas? Yeah, a temper tantrum never helps your case, but giving up doesn’t exactly work either. If you’re persistent and a pain in the ass, you get exactly what you demand you know!
Repairing the damage wrought by the previous regime (who somehow still has a job) isn’t going to be an easy task. This is going to be an uphill climb to woo back some of you lost souls. You got weary of the whole SS/DD approach to the show. Oh boy, ooh, Negan’s all big and bad with his barbwire bat and bashin’ skulls, ooh, we should be sssooo afraid. Ooh, Rick’s gonna scowl at the camera for a long time, he’s looking into your soul! That’s not all, see, Daryl’s gonna mope around, Carol’s going to hide because she fears the woman she’s become, Maggie… – right, you get the point. The last couple of seasons grew predictable and tiring. I’m as a big a fan as many of you that still tune in weekly. Yet I grew worn by the lack of progression. I want more substance and drama over style and shock. Enough. The Walking Dead became better when the characters became flesh and blood and relatable.
You all need to give Angela Kang a chance. If you jump off this ship after this season finale where we saw – yes, MAJOR SPOILER ALERT – Jesus killed at the hands of a Whisperer, then you don’t know where the show could be headed. Okay, not could be, more like will be headed. Kang’s steering the show back to its horror roots, where The Walking Dead has thrived best.
What, you think Tom Payne wanted to vacate The Walking Dead because of Angela Kang? Absolutely not. Now see, if people would read more than the headline of an article on social media, you would have discovered via The Hollywood Reporter that Payne just wasn’t dang happy whatsoever from seasons past. Tom Payne got the call because his time was due. Honestly Jesus wasn’t given enough to do on-screen and the previous showrunner failed to see the importance of Jesus’ character. What we got was a kung-fu man-bun-loving survivor who didn’t even get a chance to show off his skills. Kirkman created such a driven character in the comics. So what happened to that? And if you were Tom Payne, wouldn’t you be mad too? He at least doesn’t hold a grudge with Kang, his unhappiness rooted in the past. We’ll never know what Kang could have done with Jesus, unless the right story comes along from that six year gap that’s very much a grey area.
That’s right, see, within a half season The Walking Dead has jumped a lengthy seven-and-a-half years into the future. I presume that was crafted by Angela Kang to distance her grand schemes far away from the previous couple of seasons. You don’t plug a leak with a wine cork. Sometimes you gotta call in a professional to fix the leak for good. We fans are devoted to the leadership of the show. We want compelling stories, gooey gore, tense thrills. After the last two seasons, especially with how Chandler Riggs exited the show, fans still have their torches lit and pitchforks at the ready. Kang has written some of the best episodes of The Walking Dead. She doesn’t deserve to tarnish her legacy because someone who still runs the show sans the title is still lingering about with his hands in the honey pot.
Kang has already made her presence felt through this first half of the season at least. The last episodes of Andrew Lincoln were enthralling and character rich, with Rick Grimes’ last stand easily a top three episode of the show’s tenure. Now the jump into the future shows a world that has morphed around the presence of the undead. The communities are stable. Love is abound. Characters have seen some horrors and have changed. Kids party and booze. Life is as normal as possible with the fear of death at every corner. The reliance upon technology of yesteryear makes for a wholly different show too. What do you do in a world low on processed food, gasoline, and ammunition? What’s left of society is learning to regress in order to make progress. Those principles embedded at the heart of season nine have made The Walking Dead feel fresh and new.
We can’t have the past years back – the prison, first wandering into Alexandria, even Negan’s introduction. We also can’t get certain characters back either. Well, okay, we can get Maggie in time depending on how her new ABC drama fares. (Yeah, I’ve seen that show’s premise before. I think I’ll pass.) Rick, on the other hand, is stashed away for a film trilogy… alright, look, I get it, I understand why so many of you want to give up. It’s like the first year of a new showrunner on Doctor Who. You’re curious, want to watch, and remain faithful as a fan but you’re afraid the episodes just won’t be any good. Welp, guess what? Unless you make the commitment to pass judgement yourself, you can’t merely walk away and call a property a dumpster fire. Some shows are like a rickety rollercoaster, the ride growing bumpy but smoothing out in time. I watched all of Lost without quitting – and look at how that show changed the television landscape. Forgive the show’s past and give Angela Kang a chance. I do believe she’s about to make The Walking Dead a powerhouse thriller all over again.