What Has Happened to The Walking Dead?

Author’s Note: Despite the feature image being far to accurate on how I feel right now, I will apologize that this is late yet also still rushed. I went on spring break last week and I’ve been a bit frazzled. But I was determined to get a post to y’all, so here it is!

So there’s been this popular show on TV that a lot of people talk about and argue about spoilers. It’s kinda violent, and gritty, and i think it’s called The Walking Dead? I dunno, I don’t have cable, so I’m such a peasant.

Ok, all bad jokes aside, I have seen at least the first 4 seasons of The Walking Dead, and I used to be a mild fan. But recently, the show has been giving me some rhetorical troubles. As I’ve worked more on this blog, the more I’ve realized I have to talk about this show, and the several important pop culture rhetorical topics tied to it. Hence, this is part one of a three-part blog series stemming from The Walking Dead.

For part one, today, we ask the ultimate, show-centric question: Why is a show called The Walking Dead have more human threats than zombie?

Quite mind-boggling, eh?

You see, writers are clever. Though the zombie trend was big when it came on TV, they knew it wouldn’t last forever. Therefore, the TV writers and producers were super clever about picking up this zombie comic about humanity as a show. It went along with the current hot trend and the zombie appeal, but once zombie love died down they had a mainly human-based story to anchor to. They roped people in with the decay, but for the human struggles they stay.

Furthermore, the title is clever because not only is it a allusion to the fact that in this disarray humans already feel like they’re dead, or at least the old them is dead, but also it brings in the zombie appeal although the main interest point for this show is by far the humans.

Now, to disclaim personally, I originally thought this was one of the strengths of the show. The Episode with Lizzie and the flowers was one of my favorite ever. It showed the harsh issues of this world, and how in the old-world Lizzie would get help, but in this dangerous world a dangerous girl was better off dead. It was so goddamn painful and well done. It was also a great growth of Carol, who previously had to watch someone else shoot her zombied little girl, and now had to shoot one herself. It was the true, largest change of her going from scared wife to badass Carol. It was great character growth as well as questioning humanity during such a dangerous time. Seasons 3 and 4 were honestly probably my favorites (regardless of the destruction of Andrea’s character).

Speaking of Andrea’s character, that also was the first sign of things going down; the writers destroyed an important character for the sake of her being used by the plot. Half her actions didn’t make sense, it’s just the plot needed her to be dumb or do dumb things to get where it wanted. Those characters it built up were easily destroyed for what they wanted the story to do, not what made the most sense.

Because of this shift, as time went on, the writers were relying too heavily on people’s’ previous attachment to characters to force interest in events, instead of writing events and storylines well or logically.

Now, as an important aside, a vital rhetorical concept to pay attention to with these discussions are the Modes of Persuasion: Pathos, Ethos, Logos. Pathos is when something appeals to someone emotionally, logos is logically, and ethos is credibly. While all three are important, and some stories may focus on one more than the others, all three are vital to good storytelling, particularly in longer stories, like The Walking Dead. Now, initially the story had all three: emotional attachment to well-rounded, intriguing characters (pathos), a complex narration about man v. man v. science, and the complicated world that would occur after social and physical collapse (logos), and a vaguely referenced science to why things are happening and rules to the walker disease (ethos). Now, in recent seasons, things have been slowly getting more jumbled and less rhetorically clever and fleshed out, and it has slowly begun to show in the events of the TV Show.

One of the best and less recent events that show this was Beth’s death. Beth was known for being the wholesome girl who basically was “corrupted” by the apocalypse. Now, what I mean by Beth’s death is not per say the fact she died. Her arch was definitely leaning towards her death the entire time, be it by her becoming a monster OR by the apocalypse literally consuming her instead of just figuratively. She was an interesting character by the end, but her end was such clickbait. (And another note to pay attention to, I will be using this word a lot here and in later posts in this series). Beth was nearly out of the woods, and she was getting corrupted by the world, but what made it clickbait and not just good was the fact her death was such a tease and used for utter shock value. What would have been a great ending for Beth would have been them coming to save her, only to find she was a monster of a woman now or already dead. But very deliberately they chose a subtler corruption so that the audience could feel the satisfaction of her safety before violently ripping it away. I don’t even think the stabbing was the worst way to go about her corruption. But using her death as a shock value buzz for the audience was. And ever since it’s become the Walking Dead M.O. Shock value clickbait. It relies heavily on people’s emotional ties to Beth, but it doesn’t quite make full sense, nor does their use of shock value add any credibility to the realism of the event.

This became even more painfully true with the case of Glenn. Not only did that have a huge fake-out death for him, but then a real, cruel death as well. Glenn has always been a fan favorite, so they heavily used him as a tool of interest and shock for the audience. They love Glenn? Better will-they-won’t-they with his death! Within about eight episodes (EIGHT!) The writers tease his death, let the audience breath, and then murder the shit out of him all over again. Now, the Negan death made sense credibly because it happened in the comics. Now, in the comics it made more sense because Glenn was truly randomly picked and launched Maggie into being the strong leader she was always on the cusp of being. This time, not only is he not the initial random choice, but they have Daryl be a needless dumbass just so they can get in two murders for the price of one. Now, Daryl has always been one to think with his fists, but he’s never been an idiot. And this was idiotic AND got Glenn killed AND got writers to get all the juicy, lazy clickbait and shock value they could ever want. First, they make the audience relieved for not losing Glenn, then they get a convoluted reason for possibly the biggest fan favorite to get tortured and become constant source of over-relying on emotional attachments, AND still kill Glenn to rub in that shock value. How pathetic (in a rhetorical and adjectival way).

Of course, I also can’t just finish up and pass through without mentioning Negan. The Negan shit should not have been drawn on that long. He was hinted at and teased for episodes because he was a popular villain and people knew what came with him. Instead of weaving him in naturally, the writers use him as an excitement and tease for a whole season, only to still draw out his big event until the next season, literally using him and his actions as a clickbait for next season. To forcibly try to convince people and cliffhanger out the ass to still watch. Though, logically, no psychotic man waits a couple months to murder the hell out of people.

Once, the walking dead TV show was a great analysis into what can happen to people during the end of the world. Now it’s a clickbait to get people to the next season. You Love Daryl? Well you’ll NEVER guess what Negan does to him… You heard about Negan, the horrible guy? Is he right around next episode? Guess you’ll have to wait and see!

I wish this hadn’t happened to it, as I once respected and enjoyed the quiet and clever analysis, but I wish it luck. I won’t be watching, but I hope it gets better for its own sake and its watchers’ sake. They both deserve better than what it’s devolved into.

What do you think would make The Walking Dead better again?


Stephanie Marceau


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