The last time I was emotionally invested in The Walking Dead, Negan, a straight-up terrorist, had just arrived, waving a barbed bat like a four-four. The show has since completely lost me.
After the first two episodes this season, following six seasons of loyalty (half of it through binging), I finally up and quit. I am not alone in this world. As of March 12, the ratings—though still impressive for a cable show in its seventh season—dropped to a four-year low, signaling a larger viewer exodus.
A turning point for multiple fans came last October, after a Season 7 premiere in which Negan beat our friend Glenn to death and initiated the slow-drip process of emasculating Rick. What’s going on now? How’s Negan? Everyone’s in excellent physical and emotional shape, right?
Based on what I reluctantly watched in Sunday night’s episode, with minimal context, here’s what’s happening: Daryl is still alive, great. But the crew is still trapped with Negan and his torturers. Carl lost an eye. Tara feels bad about something. Lots of unfamiliar faces. Sasha is imprisoned. A dude named David physically threatens her, but Negan stops him from going further, with a speech: “I can see that you’re trying to rape this woman. You were trying to rape this woman, weren’t you? This is some unacceptable behavior. Rape is against the rules here.” Okay. This presumably means Negan has standards. Then he stabs David.
Eugene is with Sasha but on the other side of the prison. With Negan??? There’s a weird old lady. Rick is plotting again. Walkers! Is that everything? What is Oceanside? How did Maggie deal with Glenn’s death? Where are Morgan and Carol? Next week’s finale will fortunately put an end to a story that I feel has been crumbling under Negan’s weight, as I pointed out early on last year in a piece about Negan’s vapid destructiveness.
Another piece on The Ringer questioned the show’s poor decision to favor savagery over story, on a level unlike that of seasons past. An Atlantic post from February, “Is The Walking Dead’s Villain Killing the Show?” similarly observed: “...while in comic-book form Negan is a classic supervillain—much discussed, rarely seen, and brutally memorable every time he shows up—on TV, he was an almighty dud.” And this Verge post, “The Walking Dead Quitter’s Club: goodbye for real,” breaks down how The Walking Dead has “devolved into exemplifying its worst qualities.”
There’s also a variation of declarations like this: “Stop Watching ‘The Walking Dead.’ You Hate It.” And “Why I’m Walking Out On The Walking Dead.” And “Five Reasons I’m Done Watching the Walking Dead.” One suggestion is that AMC should prematurely announce a series end date.
While the ratings are far from horrific, of course, it’s a big enough drop to mean something is wrong. The viewer exodus has largely been blamed on the Negan narrative, the reign of gratuitous terror and a dragging storyline. Further, one could assume that it’s easy for American viewers to develop fatigue for zombies now that we have actual bloodsuckers running the country. Perhaps the post-Apocalypse scenario is too fathomable—but that has rarely been a reason to avoid escapism altogether.
In fact, that’s when many of us fall into fantasy (i.e. America’s recent obsession over 1984); and during eras of mass depression, Hollywood tends to produce its greatest work by layering fictional horrors with those in real society, making pieces of fiction extra visceral, which is what apocalyptic fantasies should consider. For me, the ride is over and I’m not sure what the show needs to do to win me back. There was always a masochistic aspect to watching it anyway, knowing our hearts would continually be broken. For those still invested, why stick around?