Unfortunately, a number of conversations I’ve had or witnessed among my friends within fandom relate to character death. How often do we lament when our favourite fictional character is killed off, especially in/to particularly gruesome and unnecessary ways/effect? A lot. (Spoilers for The Walking Dead after the cut.)
A friend of mine made a series of tweets the other regarding AMC’s The Walking Dead, and its proven penchant for killing off hopeful characters, and how much it bothers her. Before I say anything else, I agree with her. From Beth Greene to Tyreese Gibson, even way back in the day to Dale Horvath, the show has genuinely been about demoralising its audience through getting rid of the “good”. To be honest, when Dale died, I wasn’t fine with it, but I understood it in a storytelling context, still. Now, it’s gotten so ridiculous.
I don’t usually buy into that kind of writing anyway. In fact, I’ve sort of stopped watching TWD anyway, and periodically tune back into the conversation to make sure Glenn Rhee isn’t dead (I’ll probably write a post about Glenn and his importance to me sometime soon). That’s the extent of how much I care about the people that are left.
I mean I love Andrew Lincoln and I love Rick Grimes. I love seeing the deterioration of a character and his struggle with the “light” so to speak. I love Michonne too, a badass woman of colour who I’ve admittedly not even witnessed too much of, considering I stopped watching at Season 4, Episode 5 or 6. However, her relationship with Rick and Carl, and her integration into the group would have completely been up my alley. Maggie Greene is wonderful and made better through her relationships with her family members that are still alive. I love her resilience and instinct to protect so immediately. And I always just want to protect Carl Grimes because he is just a kid. But he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and steps up.
So technically, I do have more to care about. But why bother? For all TWD’s inclusiveness in a diverse cast, its character list shrinks so quickly and all we’re left with are the physically resilient members. The ones that very obviously learn to adapt completely. That’s boring to me.
It’s funny because TWD used to be a show I could hardly watch because it was slow and I wasn’t really into that zombie stuff (I’d seen it in films before). Season 1, in retrospect, is very good at keeping itself contained. It doesn’t have as much of a narrative and is only six episodes long, but there was enough variety to ensure a stance for the audience. For example, Shane was either completely wrong or completely right to two different sides of fandom, and even though I despise him, at least he was a moral compass in some way. He was perhaps one of the most clearcut characters in the entire show (this line is begging Shane fans to fight me, lol).
I don’t care if a story is supposed to be conflicted for the characters if it literally makes me lose my soul too. There’s a difference and the writers of a show about the end of all days need to understand that. Taking a show like TWD as allegory is very dangerous, especially with what the current season looks like, even from afar.
At the moment, TWD sends its audience the message that kindness will never ever truly make it in a post-apocalyptic world. That in order to survive, one has to compromise their belief systems in order to get there. That would logically happen, but this goes beyond the suppression of feelings that would be re-evaluated later on, even in secret. More often than not, it just means stamping out those emotions entirely, because characters “learnt the hard way” and “can’t look back”. Looking at Carol, Carl, Glenn and even Maggie (god, poor Maggie, seriously), it’s not hard to see.
If looking back gets you killed, I don’t want to have to care about the show anymore. If that seems like a silly response to you, then I’m not sure we’ll agree on most things.
How is sensitivity a weakness? How is it compromise the concept of strength? How is it not considered even more resilient and human to hold onto things that make you feel good?
The insinuation that only the gritty and the pessimistic can make it through tough times is complete bullshit. People don’t exist in vacuums, even if hypothetically, all hope is lost. For example, we don’t know what Beth Greene would have been capable of if she had stayed. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Emily Kinney has said about her character:
I haven’t thought of her as a hero, really.
And isn’t that just so interesting? Isn’t that the point of the show, to show a bunch of heroics through the non-heroic characters?
Even a character with that much of a moral centre isn’t considered or played to be a hero by the actress that played her, and Emily (for as many seasons as I managed) was so wonderful in the role. Anybody remember when that “virus” subplot was implemented, and Beth tried so hard to put on a brave face for all her family members while she looked after Rick’s and Lori’s baby, isolated from everybody else? I’m not part of the fandom, so I can’t say I know of any shit people talked about her then, but I can picture it. But to me, Beth showed that she was trying so hard. And she isn’t a stupid character. From that subplot, she was shown attempting to adapt to. She wanted to be strong and so she was.
IGN did a story with Emily too, in which they asked her of her character’s brash final decision (which I gather involves stabbing someone):
I think she suddenly felt like she not only wanted to reunite with the group but she needed to step up in this physical, violent way. It was a mistake.
Honestly, that constant struggle between feeling like she needs to be a certain way and embracing who she is in all this darkness is what a viewer like me (and I’m sure my friend) is actually there for. Beth is not a damsel in distress who is incapable of defending herself at all, even if people seem to want to think she is.
But frankly, this isn’t a character study on Beth specifically. The point to be made is obviously the fact that these characters are completely lost potential when they could be goldmines for writers. It’s so lazy to just put them in terms of what dichotomy they bring to their tragic antihero. When they’re sweet and kind, they’re viewed as weak. When they try to up the ante themselves, they wind up “making too many mistakes” or become emotional/physical baggage for other characters who “shouldn’t” have to worry about them. When do they ever win?
TL;DR (that was very long, to be honest), in decreasing the pool of diverse characterisation, you just lose your show. You lose both heart and reason in a single (or multiple) small blows.
There are those who’d argue that a show like The Walking Dead is not about winning but surviving, and that’s what people go through; “that’s life”, “tough luck”. Even the actors of the show themselves have said it. But this show isn’t a fucking allegory, okay. It has the ability to control its environment, unlike real life. The messages the writers are sending with their penchant of killing off the ones who have even an ounce of humanity left are dire. And call me the eternal optimist, but people are likely to perform acts of kindness when they see them, and fictional characters should be no different. The question of “entertainment” comes into play when you’re expected to enjoy something that actively sucks the life, light and willpower out of you as an audience member. If you also become desensitised, what exactly did the show do for you when you’ve gotten to the very end?