When people find out I watch The Walking Dead, they’re surprised. I suppose I don’t look the profile. Most people know me as someone who loves the beauty of art, music, and the human spirit. Those who know me in the context of children—as a parent and teacher—wonder why I would watch something so gory.
Ah, but there’s a grittier side.
It catches people similarly off guard when they find out I like certain types of symphonic metal music—Trans-Siberian Orchestra being my favourite—when they’ve envisioned me as the tame classical or easier rock type.
I was never into horror and gory effects earlier in my life, but every now and then something caught my attention, and it wasn’t the gore. Usually, it was something about the human spirit, some greater idea.
The older I became, the more I opened up to two things I never had much use for as a child or youth: (1) fantasy (outside of sci-fi), since I was an adamant realist as a child, though I caught up on childlike wonder when I became a parent, and (2) certain “ugly” concepts such as the “deadlier” Halloween decorations, the annual Zombie Walk, and The Walking Dead—all of which I’ve become a fan of only over the last decade.
Whether the latter is because I was growing with my kids or because the brutalities in my life increased to the point I required, simultaneously, a mirror and an escape, I cannot be sure.
[Note: spoiler alerts for The Walking Dead Season 6 below.]
Further to the reasons I mention in my earlier article, “How The Walking Dead Saved Me,” The Walking Dead was my respite during my most trying years because (1) it reminded me of what to be thankful for (kids, family, and friends not being killed off), (2) I could revel in the idea that the slate of humanity, with its accumulating ails, was temporarily wiped clean, and (3) good people like Rick triumphed.
When I wrote “How The Walking Dead Saved Me,” I was barely a third of the way through Season 6, so I could not comment on the finale. (Or Glenn’s “death.” Faking Glenn’s death, although well executed, was just plain mean.) The writing and acting in Season 6 is exceptional, but the final episode disappointed me.
It wasn’t the cliff hanger—that I expected. It was the indication of history repeating with always the wrong people gaining control through power-hungry, cruel, and dehumanizing methods. It was the realization that this time Rick won’t triumph.
Certainly there was enough foreshadow of what was to come throughout the season, even the theme pride comes before a fall. But once the show travelled down the path of “The world just got a lot bigger” (Jesus, episode 16, “The Last Day On Earth”), everything it held for me seemed to dissolve. But of course the next step, after our beloved characters learned to deal with walkers (zombies) and a level of comfort returned to Alexandria, both in terms of physical protection and interpersonal relationships, was to increase the threat from people. The writers needed to stir the pot to create more excitement, danger, and urgency.
The next natural course of action, then, was dealing with the mentality of brutal people who have power. We had been exposed to dangerous and unlikable people in previous seasons, but never as organized or with as much manpower as the Saviors group.
Mirroring mankind is the point, of course. However, now the show takes on an oppressive rather than liberating air, losing the very benefits it once held for me.
What’s rewarding for me, what fills me with strength to deal with my own reality, is not only when characters triumph against adversity, but when people can work together to create win-win scenarios from which all benefit—like Rick Grimes’ group. They went through their issues, but they worked them out.
It’s not that hard, using ingenuity and cooperation, to make life more livable for everyone—except that it is. Greed and power seeking were always the sources of wars, oppression, suffering, and death throughout history.
The problem is it only takes a few individuals to take down many. One Brian Blake (the Governor, Seasons 3, 4, 5) destroyed countless lives and an entire compound that could have offered protection and grown much needed food. One Jack in Lord of the Flies (William Golding) burned an island, was directly responsible for several deaths, and created a dysfunctional social order that would never have manifested under the leadership of Ralph had there never been a Jack in the group.
When this face of humanity is portrayed, The Walking Dead (TWD) show becomes a burden rather than a temporary respite for self-restoration. I like to see hope for humanity, which was portrayed even in The Road movie, a dark, depressing, post-apocalyptic thriller with a sad but truly satisfying ending. The ultimate representation of mankind as a collective becoming better with time is Star Trek: The Next Generation, which has fallen out of favour to be replaced by the more current trends of outright escapism rather than reflection and problem solving, or by mankind’s downward spiral into ultimate doom.
To reiterate, it’s not the cliffhanger I found unsatisfying and disturbing in TWD Season 6. It’s that this show, or at least this season, drills the same message as so many others. As it focuses on the theme of survival of the fittest, somehow “fittest” or strongest always translates into the same Negan figure. Rick and those still remaining in his group survived from the beginning—they are, technically, the fittest (thus far), especially in comparison to those at the Hilltop and the original Alexandria residents. Rick’s leadership style is also to be admired. But when you add more people to the mix, the Ricks are easily outnumbered, outgunned, and out-maneuvered. Mankind’s indomitable spirit continues to pump out more Ricks, but man’s supposedly inherent power-hungry nature simultaneously creates the Negans to take them down.
The Walking Dead writers remind us through foreshadow that Rick’s mistake of overconfidence will cost him—and it does. Now it remains to be seen if the other foreshadowing will bear fruit: Will Rick and his people somehow triumph—escape, make a deal, convince? A few of Rick’s crew are not captured, since they weren’t with Rick at the time Negan ensnared him. They could be the hope, but they probably don’t have a chance.
My prediction: With Negan and all his manpower controlling the other settlements, the TWD world is already too big. The good times are over. Rick’s rule has come to an end. Negan will not relinquish power, accept Rick’s philosophies, or even let him go live independently in his own way. Alexandria will be inhaled into the new “civilization.” The only chance I see is if Rick can unite with the other settlements (which were hinted at but not quantified in Season 6) and overthrow Negan, but Negan has an army and too many resources. It would be a long shot that feels like pure fantasy at this point.
Although my curiosity will compel me to delve into Season 7 on Netflix when it’s released next year, if Negan becomes the new world order for our beloved characters, then this show will have lost the essence of what it once held for me.
Thanks to the Season 6 Finale, I have a year to think about the parts of humanity I loathe most. While they churn in my gut, I’ll be endlessly wondering, Is this all we are? Can we not be more? If we hit “reset,” can there never be a better world?
Or is this turn of events just a commonly held collective belief by writers that this is all we can ultimately be–that there are many roads, but they all lead to the same destination?
The Walking Dead: ‘A Look Ahead at Season 7’ Official Promo (3:36)
With recaps from Season 6
Information on The Walking Dead, Season 7, Episode 1
Click on the “Season” or “Year” drop-down menu and select the season you’d like to view.
The Road Official Movie Trailer and Commentary (3:26)