Poisonous Love Triangle: The Walking Dead, AMC, and Me
I love The Walking Dead. It is important to recognize this before we dive in, because the article is going to get pretty salty. I have been a big fan of the comic for years. Robert Kirkman has created some extremely engaging characters that you can’t get enough of. Their personalities run the gamut, and you can’t wait to know more about each of them. Panel by panel you quickly become invested in them and they are just as quickly ripped away from you. Kirkman does a tremendous job of making you feel like you are part of the group. You begin to feel like you are trying to live in this terrifying world with this family. Together you have SEEN SOME SHIT, and you are left heartbroken with every member you lose. Speaking vaguely to avoid spoilers: I’ll never forget the first time I met that certain villain who promptly obliterated one of the members of my family. I poured over the panels and then I went back. I went back and forth through those scenes a few more times before asking out loud, “Did that just fucking happen?”. I’ll never forget the big victories throughout the story either, where I wanted to jump up and celebrate. I’m invested, and I can’t wait to see how he brings the story to a close.
I am not one of those people who reads a book, then watches the movie or TV show and feels the need to constantly tell people how much better the book is than X. There will be exceptions where one medium greatly surpasses the other but its not as often as all the book snobs will have you believe. If there is a story that appeals to you, I strongly believe that your first experience with that story will be the most memorable to you. “Oh, the book was so much better”. We get it, you can read. Relax. As you know, there is a television series for The Walking Dead*. I talk to folks and read articles and reviews that constantly throw out that line “It was so much better in the comic”. This has always bothered the hell out of me, more so for TWD then other stories I am a fan of. The TWD TV series is not the same story as the comic. I like to think of it as an alternate universe. If you are familiar with comics, this likely appeals to you. Sometimes comics are rebooted, but they maintain certain principles and even backgrounds for characters when the new series begins. For example, they could reboot Batman a million times and you can be fairly certain that billionaire orphan Bruce Wayne will be the man in the cowl. The writers will then take some different approaches to the trials this character will face. It is apparent from the first 6 episode season of TWD that this is not a 1:1 representation of the comic on screen. They didn’t take the book and use it as the story board. The events of the first season at large never happen in the comic. However Rick Grimes’ core characteristics and principles remain the same. You will get some scenes directly out of the comic, you will get some that are brand new, and you will get some (in my opinion the most interesting) where the character makes choice A in the show instead of choice B from the comic. The writers, directors, and actors on the show are incredibly talented. On the other hand, the network it airs on… (just add salt)
AMC has had some amazing shows. With epics like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it is hard to throw a stone and not hit somebody that watches or has watched something from the network. With every season that has followed the 1st AMC has progressed at pissing me off. For starters: seasons were forced to be longer. It is very clear when writers are forced to add more content to fill a 16 episode season they were able to accomplish properly and fully in 10. For another example: As the years have gone on we have gotten closer and closer to a 1:1 commercial time to show time ratio. At this point its impossible to watch the show live. Especially when the obscene amount of commercial materials (on a channel you pay for… I’ll never get that) have the volume output cranked up to 11 ripping you out of the experience to shove a Hyundai Veloster filled with Doritos down your throat*. AMC is not run by evil people. It is run by evil geniuses. I hate what they are doing to me, but they are totally winning because I continue to watch the show. They also found a way to stick around for another hour after!
Enter everybody’s favorite nerd: Chris Hardwick. You gotta love Chris Hardwick. He is super fun, relatable, and respected by his fellow nerds. He is also charming, vulnerable, and charismatic enough to engage non-nerds as well. During a TWD season my Sunday night ritual is not complete until I watch both The Walking Dead and Talking Dead. The masturbatory talk show hour where AMC exploits TWD fans as it showers itself in cash. Now, I don’t always watch the shows live. I record them and fast forward through the commercials most of the time. However, that is only because I’m not subject to the FOMO that AMC capitalizes on by airing Talking Dead live, with opportunities to call in and participate in trivia and polls. No, for people like me AMC has another way to ensure we tune in live when it counts so they can drive up their absurd advertising rates right along side the super bowl. They air the shows at the tail end of prime time east coast hours. They also make the follow up spill over prime time into late night by “giving” us two episodes to kick off the season and an extended episode to end it. This is brilliantly designed. The majority of folks need to get up early on Monday for work. We can’t just record it, watch it after it airs, and fast forward the garbage. That would put us well past midnight into 1 AM. Why can’t we watch it the next day and fast forward through the filth? Simple, spoilers. The first, and last episodes of each half season are the ones with the spoiler ready material that we don’t want ruined for us the next day by co-workers, friends, and social media. Did you pick up on “half season”? these somebitches split the season in 2 so they can have 2 premiers and 2 finales. EVIL GENIUS.
AMC takes the approach where it strings TWD viewers along with not-so-risky turmoil. Ever since season 2 and the barn, the producers have become cowards. They want to deliver shock and take away characters you love just like the original story. However its more important to them to retain viewership. If this show was on HBO who knows what would happen! The main character might have already been taken out. Those HBO people are next level crazy. In TWD a character that you don’t care much about will be focused on for an episode. The writers will do a great job of getting you moderately invested in the character, just before killing them by the end of the same episode. They want to get you invested just enough so you will have a momentary gasp when they kill the character off. Game of Thrones on the other hand…. Those sadist somebitches (to whom I pledge my undying allegiance) will kill your best friend while you’re having a drink and not even blink.
It’s painful to watch this 10:1 fan disservice to service ratio, but AMC has got its hooks in me. I will continue to watch until it ends unless they somehow destroy the entire story. I don’t see that happening with the awesome writers they have so until then I remain addicted. As the great Dante Hicks says, “Give credit where credit is due”. So AMC, I recognize this empire you have built with this cocaine that you hand out. I recognize your tremendous success with the franchise and for that I applaud you… I also hate you.
*If you did not know that, you probably don’t have a computer, internet access, or any means to view this article.
*I don’t believe Hyundai is still advertised during TWD and I’m not sure Doritos are or were, I’m just making a point