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November 29, 2017

"The Walking Dead" is Negan

[SPOILERS??] There are no direct spoilers of the “So and So dies” sort in this post, but it assumes you are pretty much up to date on the current season of The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead has become Negan. I mean the show itself.

Negan brings to the show a principle of chaos: you never know who he’s going to bash to death. This puts all the characters at risk, although perhaps some less so than others based on their fan-base attachments.

That adds some threat and tension of the sort that Game of Thrones used to have. But only if it’s a principle of chaos embedded within a narrative structure and set of characters that we care about. And for the prior season and the current one, there’s almost no narrative structure and, frankly, not that many characters who don’t feel like narrative artifices.

As a result, the main tension in the current season is exactly the same as it was at the beginning of last season when we waited to find out who Negan would choose to bash to death. Negan was so random that “the viewer discussions generally were attempts to anticipate what the writers wanted to do to us”the viewer discussions generally were attempts to anticipate what the writers wanted to do to us. They had to kill someone significant or else the threat level would go down. But they couldn’t kill so-and-so because s/he was too popular, or whatever. There were no intrinsic reasons why Negan would chose one victim over another — Wild Card! — so the reasons had to have to do with audience retention.

This entire season is random in that bad way. The writers are now Negan, choosing randomly among Team Rick’s characters. They’re going to kill off someone for some ratings-based reason, and we’re just waiting for them to make up their mind.

The series didn’t start out this way. It had characters in conflict, and characters in arcs. Rick and The Punisher. Carol and her sister. Daryl and his other brother Daryl. Gingerbeard and The Mullet. Now there’s nothing, maybe because every character’s arc has been the same: S/he becomes an empowered action star.

There are still some things I like about the show. For example, it’s heartening to watch them work on the female empowerment, although it’d be more interesting if they didn’t all become like Rick. And Negan is a pretty good villain. Sure, I could do with fewer predictable charming smiles, but he’s scary.

But I’ll be damned if in the last episode of this series [MADE-UP SPOILERS AHEAD] Team Rick (which will probably be Team Maggie by then) realizes that it has become Negan. I’ll be especially pissed off if the last shot is of the dying Jesus saying, “We are Negan.” Star wipe. Out. Puke.

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