WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Last Sunday, one of the most highly anticipated premieres of the year aired on AMC sparking mixed reviews and controversy among fans, former fans and ultra-conservative groups. The nail-biting conclusion of The Walking Dead season 6 was anything but conclusive. With Rick and his crew lined up on their knees before a small army, Negan makes his grand appearance with his barbed wire baseball bat named Lucille. After his speech establishing him as the show’s new world order, Negan goes through the lineup and randomly picks his first victim with a game of eeny meeny miny moe. As one of the show’s beloved characters is picked, the camera is turned to a point of view shot as Lucille comes crushing down leaving everyone wondering who was executed.
After months of speculation and anxiously waiting, we discover that Abraham is first to meet Lucille. However, being known for throwing a curveball or two, the show did not stop there. When Daryl attacks Negan, the new ruthless villain takes a mere minute before choosing Glenn to serve as his second gory example. Complaints about the show are nothing new, however, when this powerhouse show premiered, attacks from multiple angles exploded on the Internet. Vocalizing several opinions, some people are crying out that they have been cheated and dramatically vow never watch another episode. Other groups are in an uproar about the graphic violence and demand suggestive violence and higher parental advisories.
One group taking the form of a weekly publication column called The Walking Dead Quitters Club released an article on The Verge. Ranting and raving as if they had been the ones who were actually physically, emotionally and mentally tortured and violated, this group and their followers dramatically claim there is no quality storytelling left. Though this show may not be on par with the first couple seasons, there is still a visible story arc prevalent in this show as it goes into its 7th year with views still religiously tuning in every Sunday night.
One of the biggest complaints from “ex-fans” is that ending season 6 without revealing who was killed gave the creators an excuse to drag out Negan’s infamous kill scene that die-hard fans remember from the graphic novel. Another complaint is that the show is sacrificing quality storytelling for gorified shock. Perhaps neither claim is true. Maybe there is a much bigger story arc developing as a slow burn that is overshadowed by graphic scenes which, if shown in any other way, would be “good taste” masquerading as a cheapened version of censorship. This also could be causing oversight in a world where general audiences prefer fast pace drama.
When the show first premiered with season 1, it was about Rick and his group seeking a remaining modern civilization that is working to defeat the dead. As hope gradually fell apart, the group’s goal was to find a place they could call home and survive in a world of the living dead. As their own community fell apart at the hands of the Governor, the group of survivors seeks out refuge with Terminus, which is discovered to be a trap for a community of cannibals. After an encounter with a community facilitated by corrupt police officers ends with the death of another beloved character, Rick and company are left with no more trust for humanity nor a place to call home. As the group struggle to hold onto hope, they wander the countryside. When the genuine community of Alexandria is introduced, the underlying moral struggle of survival shifts from doing whatever it takes to maintaining one’s humanity.
When Hilltop, another small colony, is discovered, the struggle of finding a middle ground between morality and survival becomes more difficult. By now, it is obvious that Rick is taking on some ruthless characteristics that drove past villainous dictators who began with the sole intention of survival in mind. When Negan’s army gradually makes their way into the show, Rick has no doubt in his mind that he is in complete control of the situation. In the finale of season 6, this could not be further from the truth. Perhaps season 6 ending on a cliffhanger was to keep the focus on Rick’s character arc while it reached its peak right before dropping off.
“I’m gonna kill you,” says Rick in the season 7 premiere. “Not today. Not tomorrow. But I’m gonna kill you.”
Having been through all that he has while losing friends and family in the past 6 seasons, it would seem farfetched that Rick would accept defeat and become someone’s lapdog after one brutal incident. If the show’s creators had gone the conventional route, those who are complaining now would be crying outrage over this sudden change and unrealistic angle of storytelling. To make the psychological breaking of Rick more believable and to portray Negan as the most ruthless and powerful villain The Walking Dead protagonists have encountered, Negan takes Rick for a ride in an RV.
Driving into a zombie horde surrounded by a morning fog, Negan claims Rick’s ax as his property and tosses it onto the roof of the RV. Forcing Rick out the door to retrieve his property at gunpoint, Negan is heard yelling up to Rick in an attempt at working him over psychologically. Making Rick reflect on the recent deaths, this opportunity is used to show the horrendous acts of Negan while reinforcing the idea that the same can happen to the rest of the group.
When Negan and Rick return to the small army holding the rest of the group captive, Rick is quiet. However, he is not as broken and submissive as Negan wants him to be in order to do his bidding. In an attempt that would break any hardened individual with any morality left, Negan forces Rick into a position to cut off Carl’s arm or see everyone die, including his son. Shaking and on the verge of an emotional hurricane, Rick tries to bargain, which gets him nowhere. Finally raising the ax, Negan stops Rick, which also seems to be preventing the protagonist leader from losing what is left of his humanity. Rather than losing his humanity, Rick seems to lose his egotistical confidence.
“You answer to me,” Negan says looking into Rick’s panic stricken eyes. “You provide for me. You belong to me. Right?
Those outraged with their attention seeking complaints overlook the ongoing struggle of learning to survive in an apocalypse while maintaining a moralistic sense of humanity. They seem to ignore that the end of season 6 and the beginning of season 7 might not be centered around Negan’s atrocious act, but Rick’s character arc and how it will set the tone for the episodes that follow. Others who are upset claim that this is the last straw having already lost too many prominent characters. For me, this is what makes The Walking Dead a success. In an apocalypse that results in the end of civilization, people will die. Allowing primary characters to meet their end adds to the believability of this show and sets it apart from many mainstream shows being aired today.
The final complaint that seemed to be highlighted less than a day after the controversial premiere was the graphic violence behind Glenn and Abraham’s deaths. I will admit that I was a little surprised at how far The Walking Dead was able to go without censorship. However, the way these scenes are shown, The Walking Dead does not surpass previous episodes by much. It has been known for years that this show does not intend to hold back from graphic scenes portrayed in the graphic comics. Fans of the show have graphically witnessed scenes such as the trough scene at Terminus where characters had their throats cut. Rick once bit an antagonist’s throat. Zombies and humans are killed and eaten during almost episode. It also did not take long for The Walking Dead to earn a TV-MA rating, which is the highest parental advisement available for network television. However, Negan beating two people’s heads with a bat was too much for some very conservative groups, though it served the purpose of truly driving home the brutality of Negan’s character.
There are those who are also concerned about material such as this being shown on a basic cable television network due to protecting their kids. It is understandable to monitor what one’s children watches and it is their right as a parent. However, the reputation of The Walking Dead is well known and the parental warnings are in place. Deeming this show as inappropriate for one’s children is respectable. However, parents still need to act as parents and cannot expect everything to be automatically childproof. The tools and information do exist. They just need to be utilized.
To those, for whatever reason, vowing to never watch another episode of The Walking Dead again. It will not surprise me if you continue tuning in secretly or vocally. Regardless, we all look forward to your complaints about episode 2 and beyond.
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