I like to think I don’t get surprised often. At least not positively surprised. While on vacation this week, my wife and I finally got caught up on the first half of the latest season of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I must admit…..I’m positively surprised!
AMC debuted the show in 2010 with a 6-episode mini-season. I was aware. I saw the promos. What I didn’t have was any interest. Though I loved the horror genre in my younger years, my consumption of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins is casual at best in adulthood. Add to that, I’ve never been much for the post-apocalyptic anything. I certainly didn’t think a zombie-infested apocalyptic world would interest me in the slightest.
Turns out the mini-debut season was a success. I kept reading and hearing via word-of-mouth how good this show was. Not too long after it debuted, the first season surfaced on Netflix. I suppose the combination of accessibility and curiosity led me to eventually check it out. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I recall a similar feeling…..positively surprised!
Not long after I finished those initial six episodes on Netflix, a full second season officially kicked off on AMC. Much to our aforementioned surprise, Julie and I were hooked. It may have looked like a weekly horror movie on t.v., but it was certainly a drama. The acting, though I was only familiar with one co-star’s prior work, was excellent. The production, cinematography, special effects, and musical scores, were grand in scope and first-rate. Overall this wasn’t shocking. Television show production quality had been stepping up to the levels of the silver screen ever since The Sopranos ten years prior. I guess I just wasn’t expecting that from a “zombie show.”
Little did I know at the time, the t.v. show was based on a running comic book series. This gave the show’s writers plenty of storylines and characters to draw from. Early on, characters started coming and going. As current cast members were killed off, new one’s were introduced. This became a common trend that’s continued throughout the show’s entire run. Characters we’ve come to know and love, who seem like a big part of the show, are suddenly killed off. Audiences are left in shock. Yet it’s a good thing. It always gave the show a sort of realistic feel. After all, living in a zombie apocalypse can’t be easy. All the good guys can’t survive.
As the show progressed, the antagonists were no longer just zombies. How long can a show survive if the only thing going on are people fighting zombies? No, in addition to the good guys Rick and his band of survivors came across, they also started encountering baddies as well. “The Governor” was the first real major villain the group had to battle with. It was a good story arc. Some folks think it stretched out a bit too long. If they only knew then how long a future story arc would stretch out with another big bad villain, they’d remember Rick’s time battling The Governor as a quick, fleeting moment in time.
Five seasons in, I’d venture to say The Walking Dead was one of the best television shows I ever watched. Unfortunately, this started to change with ensuing seasons. I suppose no one working for the show ever bothered to ask me about my 5-7 season theory for television shows. When I think about my favorite t.v. shows of all-time….Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Six Feet Under, 24, The Americans, Miami Vice, etc., they all fall into the 5-7 season range. That’s all the time you need to tell a great story. Less than five seasons may not be adequate (Halt & Catch Fire’s 4-season run being the exception), and more than seven seasons is usually always too many.
Here’s a textbook example of my theory. The CW’s Supernatural was introduced to me by a couple of friends years ago. These were the pre-streaming Netflix days, so I borrowed the first few seasons on DVD and got caught up by about Season 4. The 5th season of the show should have been the end. Every thing was resolved. The Devil was literally put back in Hell. The final episode of the season was titled “Swan Song” for goodness sake! Had it ended then, Supernatural would be one of my Top 5 all-time television shows. But it didn’t. No in fact it’s still running. I think it’s up to season 13 or 14 now. I quit during Season 6. It’s not the first show that didn’t know when to call it quits, but dragging on the way it has season after season has drastically diminished it in my opinion.
I only mention Supernatural because I’ve seen the same thing happening to The Walking Dead during its past three seasons. Unlike Supernatural, TWD wasn’t in a position to end after Season 5, but similar to Supernatural it too has been dragging on the past few years. I’m sorry, but there’s something wrong when real-time transpires at a quicker rate than t.v. show time. The character Maggie seemingly spent the last three seasons of the show stuck in the first trimester of her pregnancy! (If the 1st trimester is the worst, I can’t think of a worse fate for a woman!) Rick’s daughter Judith was stuck being a two-year-old for what seemed like three years of real time as well. The show simply slowed to a crawl. I’d go as far to say it was downright boring at times. It used to be a pleasure to watch each Sunday. We’d put off other to-do’s and make time for it. The past few seasons its felt more like “work” to sit through an episode. Julie and I were consistently falling three or more episodes behind on the DVR. That never used to happen in the early years.
The very thing that was supposed to give the series a jolt of energy a few seasons ago turned out to be a big part of the problem. Leading into Season 6, the show announced the hiring of the very talented Jeffery Dean Morgan. He was cast to play Negan, a hugely popular villain from the comic book. The entire season dealt with leading up to his arrival, even though he didn’t actually appear until the season’s finale. His battles with Rick and the gang would not only cover all of Season 7, but essentially all of Season 8 as well. What should have been an exciting, dramatic conflict degraded into a slow, long-suffering view for audiences. The story arc dragged on so long it just took all the life out of the whole deal. It’s not that I have a short attention-span, but even boxing matches have a set amount of rounds. This fight felt like it was never going to end. Simply put, they milked it.
Which brings us to today.
We were basically done with the show. In fact, we actually bailed on it with three episodes to go last season. The past few months the first half of Season 9 recorded. I didn’t delete it, but we didn’t watch it either. Then two weeks ago I overheard two co-workers talking about the show. I interjected, saying how after following the show for eight years, we finally had enough and threw in the towel. My colleague looked at me and said I picked a bad time to stop watching and encouraged me to give the new season a shot. I’m glad he did.
Turns out the show promoted a new head writer / show runner prior to Season 9, and the results are clearly evident. The show quickly fixed one of it biggest problems right off the bat. The first episode of Season 9 featured an 18-month time jump from the end of Season 8. Finally! The show moved forward! They’d then double down and featured a second time jump of three years in between the 4th and 5th episodes of the season. Three years!!!!! The show has literally covered more time in six episodes than it did in eight previous seasons! Hooray! Granted, the show’s star, Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) is now gone. Maggie left the show as well. Others are gone too. The names and faces have always changed. That’s nothing new. Now as we await the second half of the season, it appears the main villain(s) will change too.
Though I’m enjoying Season 9, it doesn’t change my philosophy on shows running too long. I still stand by my 5-7 season rule. I know this show can’t go back in time, so my timetable of seasons has well passed. That said, I still hope the show doesn’t keep keepin’ on for too many more seasons. Regardless, I’m just pleasantly surprised to be looking forward to arranging my schedule around the next episode of The Walking Dead. I haven’t done that in a long time!