The Walking Dead pt. 3: What is Clickbait TV?

And, at last, the trilogy ends. The trilogy that took forever because I thought trying to do a trilogy of blog posts during my last two months of college was genius. We can all see the obvious planning wrong with that, but alas.

Today, we’re here to finally wrap up The Walking Dead analysis trilogy. And this post is actually my favorite of the three, which makes it more mind-boggling why it took forever. But hey, that’s what you get when you overload as a college senior.

So we’re going to have to stop and talk about a serious, grave issue with our media nowadays. So grave that it tears me up a little inside talking about it: Clickbait.

Most people are heavily bombarded by clickbait in their daily lives, popping up on their newsfeeds and plaguing their interwebs. But for anyone who may be a lucky enough soul to avoid this, clickbait is the wildly over-exaggerated and sensationalizing use of word choice and rhetoric to encourage a reader to click on an article. Unfortunately, though, the topics discussed are never as exciting as the title says, leading to deeply disappointing content. For example, a classic clickbait title would be: “20 Celebrities Who Married Too Young; You WON’T Believe #7!”. See, it is sensationalized by treating the topic as a huge deal and also, whatever #7 is,  is either inciting intrigue in those who have no clue what #7 may be, or inciting indignation in those who think they know everything about celebrities who married too young.

The catch is that our internet media is so saturated with clickbait that it’s become some sort of an internet epidemic.

Now, you may be wondering “Stephanie, this is interesting, but what the hell does this have to do with TV and zombies?” Well, readers, what is fascinating about clickbait, and also vital to leading to where we want to go involving The Walking Dead, is that its use stemmed from an innocuous, clever rhetorical tool and evolved into an over bloated, overused, and tiring trope.

Clickbait actually likely stems from the internet rhetoric of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Writing. SEO Writing is centered around writing articles and/or tags so that a piece online is as effective as possible in attracting as many people as possible, but also the correct audience, while also not just using generic tags/words because that could make the article fall into the hazy, blurry fold of vague internet articles. It’s a balancing act to appeal on the internet in the best way possible for your website/brand, without trying to hard to appeal to too much.

Now, the process of using SEO writing is completely reasonable and intelligent, because you’re just trying to be as effective as possible with your writing. But that mindset of trying to attract attention through internet rhetoric and tools has warped into this whole new thing where the entire point is to get as many clicks as possible, without the effectivity and nuance of SEO writing.

Things have become a little more hectic, though, as this clickbait mindset (more viewers, no nuance) has begun to leak into other facets of media. And this is finally where we meet our good old buddy, The Walking Dead, the strongest example of Clickbait TV that I know.

Someone may ask, how is it Clickbait TV and not just TV that likes to use cliffhangers and such? Well, I’m glad you asked, someone. Here’s why. We can even use early seasons of the show itself versus current ones to explain the difference between reasonable, strong cliffhangers from good writing techniques versus Clickbait TV.

A great example early on in the show is the ending of episode 4 in season 1. Rick came into this zombie world in horror, and joins a settled camp outside of the city, where he meets back up with his wife and son. Just as things start to feel more comfortable and settled, a zombie horde attacks the camp and kill quite a few members of the group and ravage the site. The episode leaves off on a cliffhanger of sorts, uncertain what the future holds for these survivors as everything they had built just was destroyed in a single night.

This is not an example of clickbait for several reasons. Though it was shocking and the end left the group hanging, there was an eerie sense of understanding that this was establishing that nowhere really was safe, and getting comfortable isn’t exactly going to work for these survivors to make it. They got comfy because the walkers were sated on city food, but they were running out there and so sitting outside wasn’t an option anymore. They learned through this act that not only is the situation not isolated, but it can affect them at any time. They can’t just walk away and things will be safe now. The walkers won’t stop coming. The eerie understanding of this made the technical cliffhanger have questions, but none that were enraging or confusing. It just made sense to establish that in this story that trying to stay outside of the problem will always fail. This idea is repeated in later episodes as well, with the Governor and Hershel’s farm. The event also gave motive and development for characters, established a tone and mood for the setting and situation of the group, and developed what the walkers of this story were like. Slow, clumped up, but always hungry. The scene may have counted as a cliffhanger, but it was a cliffhanger that made sense and left more feeling in you than just shock and confusion with little substance. 

A pure counterexample of clickbait TV was episode 2 in season 6 where (—SPOILER ALERT—) it was uncertain if Glenn was devoured by walkers or not when his scouting partner killed himself, dooming them in a trapped alley. While I cannot properly comment on if this was proper development of the scouting partner, I have looked into the Glenn aspect of this and how illogical and unnecessary the entire situation was for the growth of Glenn’s character and the plot. At the end of the episode, the writers’ deliberately leave it vague as to if Glenn has been eaten or not. This sets up for next episode him being trapped, then found, then working his ass off to get back to Alexandria. While it does bring proper setting and mood-relevant tension, the way it was gone about was needless and only used because it would get viewers to click on articles and debate it and watch it over again to try to figure out if beloved Glenn was dead. See, viewers knew Glenn had to be dying soon, as he was far past his comic counterpart’s life, but didn’t know when or how. This gave the producers and writers a cheap way to make their viewers look up and debate and talk about their show, without having it progress anything at all. Thinking Glenn is dead between episodes serves no one but the makers of the show. No one saw Glenn get trapped,  thereby negating any effect and growth of other characters. There was no questioning tension about it, per say if he went missing for the rest of the season,  negating any deep effect on the rest of the season and the plot. He didn’t actually die, negating those possible meanings and repercussions entirely. The scene was precisely written to end an episode, make viewers scream about it, and then deliberately be negated next episode. He could have been trapped, with viewers uncertain how he could make it, without any leading implications of him getting eaten. But instead they chose to make it vague just because they wanted you to click so damn bad. The episode’s ending, faking a Glenn death, was literal Clickbait TV.

This concept and mindset that’s beginning to pervade into other medias is greedy and honestly, boring. This is why horror movies were so bad for so long; jump scares are basically also clickbait. Quick shock but ultimately, nothing that stays with you or is worthwhile. But the extra shitty part? Corporations are now finding ways to monetize these shitty jump-scare/clickbait scenarios to make easier money. It’s much easier to write needless cliffhangers and shock values than make tight, interwoven, clever plots. And they’re finding ways to use that and get rich off of it. The Walking Dead honestly used to be one of my favorite shows. The episode with Lizzy and Carol is still one of my favorite TV episodes ever. But now I despise it and have refused to see anything directly since early season 6. 

So what about it, though? What can we, the singular people, do? Noticing things doesn’t stop them from happening.
And that’s exactly right. We may notice it, as many people have started wondering why The Walking Dead seems more shock-value, but now we need to take action. We can’t just tolerate clickbait, we have to actively reject it. No matter if you’re a little interested, don’t click on the article just to roll your eyes and make fun of it. Don’t watch shows just for shock-value. Just simply don’t click. Don’t give them exactly what they want, because terribly enough, us enjoying their media is not the point anymore. It’s just getting us to click. People are more than clicks, and deserve better. Expect better from your media, and don’t let it turn the world around you into twisted clickbait. Help make more media mean something.

Get it on like an after-school drug PSA, and say no to clickbait.