I stopped two years ago, in fact, halfway through season 5, after discovering I didn’t care much anymore about what happened to characters, since killing them for shock value was more important to the showrunners than bothering with an actual arc. Then I heard of the premiere of season 7 two days ago, and decided once and for all not to give the show a second chance.
I know character death is something I talk about a lot, because I do not like the things this trend says about our current culture. We don’t explore violence; instead, we revel in the idea that we can stomach it, and thus simply express that violence is a normal fact of life that real men/winners/survivors (choose favourite option) can deal with while the rest of us losers cannot. For obvious reasons, I think that in the present time, internalising that violence is a normal fact of life and not something to be fought and rejected seems like the worst possible option to me. We don’t need to ‘stomach’ violence. We need to end it. I think people who get the luxury of watching TV from the depth of their couch could at least try to remember that.
Now, the people in charge of The Walking Dead apparently realised that random character death was getting a little tiresome, what with this technique being all over the place on television these days. So they took it one step further and… BOOM! They killed two characters! Including one fan favourite from the first season! I can’t believed they dared! All taboos are broken, oh-my-god-what-is-happening!
All sarcasm aside, here’s another big problem I have with that type of particularly shocking moments on TV: they put the viewer in a bind. You can’t possibly say you enjoyed it (although it would be a rather funny article to read). But you can’t use it to disparage the episode either, because then, your opinion is automatically worthless: either you’re speaking from hurt feelings because you liked that character and you’re sad to see them go (in which case, you have no critical sense), or you’re dismissing the violence as gratuitous and tasteless and will get sniggered at (what are you, a seventy-year-old church-going grandmother?). The one correct thing to say is: I’m shattered, I’m grieving, but this means that the show is able to give me such a strong emotional response and I’m so grateful and impressed (unless it’s a strong female character and you’re running a feminist media–but then you’ll complain about the particulars of who died, not the death itself).
As far as I’m concerned, making viewers feel a strong emotional response from seeing a favourite character die is 1. not art (here’s the recipe: introduce character, momentarily do your actual job as an artist by making viewers care for them, kill character without bothering to wrap up their arc in a satisfying way), 2. not particularly interesting since the emotional response is always the same, 3. I don’t know, abusive? Seriously, the only reson we keep inflicting that on ourselves is that we’d sound like wussies if we admitted we don’t in fact enjoy it. It’s like children in the playground pretending they’re just thrilled to do something painful or disgusting because they don’t want to give up before the other does. I understand that sometimes, art is not something you enjoy. I understand it may be necessary to hurt your audience because there is no easy or pleasant way to put what you have to say. But if the message is not worth it (and I think it’s not), if the way to present it is always the same, and if we don’t even get to fucking enjoy ourselves, then why are we still doing it? I mean, we’ve accepted TV shows as a valid art form, so why keep doing this thing where we pretend we like what they do to us just so the other children in the playground won’t call us wimps?
I won’t go back to watching The Walking Dead, or any other show with a similar philosophy. However, if you find a show that manages to create a suspenseful, emotional rollercoaster without getting anyone killed or otherwise resorting to basic tragedy, I’d love to know.