The Walking Dead

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan

Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan steps out of an RV, and now a face has finally been given to the often-whispered name of Negan on AMC’s The Walking Dead.  He is accompanied by Lucille, his barbed-wire covered baseball bat.  After a tense and relentless monologue, he informs Rick’s captured group that one of them is going to be beaten to death by Lucille.  He raises the bat, we see him strike in a POV shot from the eyes of the unnamed victim, and then [SPOILER ALERT]…


…there is no spoiler because that’s where it ends.  And when that happened, the internet went insane, most frequently with fury about not being told who was attacked.  Fans have been angrily tweeting and posting about it to AMC and the creative team.  The thing is, though, they made the right call, and here’s why.


They Created Suspense And Tension In a Moment Everyone Knew Was Coming.


Though the show often remixes or alters moments from The Walking Dead comic book series so the surprises still surprise, the reveal of Negan was so iconic that even non-comic book fans knew about it; most of the viewers watching the show were aware that a baseball bat to the head was coming.  There were only three options the show had: do it exactly like the comic book, robbing the moment of any real surprise; change it so much that the moment didn’t resemble its comic book counterpart, in which case the fans of the source material are angry; or, finally, they could gain suspense by building to the moment everyone knew was coming, and then withhold that moment.  They chose the right option.  The people who are truly invested in the characters will return next season to find out what happened; the people who look at the show as a drinking game or an opportunity to play guessing games on Twitter might not.


The reason people are reacting with shock and outrage is because that’s how they’re supposed to react when they’re frustrated.  Showrunner Scott Gimple did exactly what he should do, because…


Gimple Knows How To Utilize the Power of TV Storytelling.


Since Scott Gimple took over the show, his work has proven that serialized storytelling on television can still be effective.  He knows how to utilize the built-in language of television to the shows’ advantage, using act breaks effectively and creating single episodes of television that impact strongly on their own while still tying into the overall narrative.  Four of the  best episodes of the series were stand-alone stories that Gimple wrote: 18 Miles Out, where Rick and Shane struggle with their opposed morality in deciding what to do with the captured Randall; Clear, which re-introduced Morgan to Rick and reminded Rick of what can happen when a man loses the people he loves; The Grove, in which Carol has to deal permanently with Lizzie’s psychotic behavior; and Here’s Not Here, where we watch Morgan’s slow struggle back into humanity.  You may not like the way he is telling the story, but you can’t deny that he’s a good storyteller.

Showrunner Scott Gimple on Talking Dead

So why is it viewers are so upset by this episode?  It seems to be twofold:


Viewers Are Still Miffed About Glenn’s Fake Death.


Many viewers are still mad that they were led to believe that Glenn was killed in an episode of the series from the first half of the season.  Glenn seemed to be gutted, and then it took the show three episodes to reveal that he wasn’t dead.  Viewers were hurt by the sham and insulted by the attempt at fooling them.  And though Gimple had his reasons for telling the story the way he did (not knowing if Glenn was dead or alive put the audience in the emotional shoes of the characters in the story, particularly Maggie), people have not gotten over it and are still looking for reasons to be upset at the show for hurting them.  Add to that the fact that…


We As Viewers Have Been Spoiled By Binge-Watching.


In June of 1990, viewers watched The Best of Both Worlds, the cliffhanger episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Captain Picard was kidnapped and assimilated into the alien race The Borg, and Commander Riker made the only decision he could: he ordered the Enterprise to fire on the Borg ship that held Picard.  Then, the screen went black, and audiences didn’t know until September whether Picard was alive or not.


It is called a cliffhanger, and it is not only a great tradition in television storytelling, it is also something we do love as viewers, whether we like to admit it or not.  It is nice to be able to watch all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in three weeks on Netflix; what is lost, though, is the wondering in-between, the curiosity about the story and its possibilities.


What Scott Gimple, director Greg Nicotero, and the stellar cast of The Walking Dead did in the finale episode Last Day on Earth was to remind television watchers about the pleasures of having talented people telling an exciting story at a pace not dictated by the tastes and schedules of the viewers.  The fact that we’re angry about it means we’ve forgotten how to be patient and enjoy it.  As Shakespeare said in Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”  Everyone calm down and enjoy a very good show doing what it does well.

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