I consider myself a fan of The Walking Dead. When I first started reading the comics, every issue was a nail-biter. I felt invested in the characters and concerned for their well-being, and I couldn’t wait for the next issue to come out. It was a blast to talk about theories surrounding the group members, the antagonists they would face, the challenges within the group, and how glad I was that Daryl wasn’t in the comic. Fast forward to now. I can only read the comic for its meme qualities - case in point, issue 171, which is arguably the lowest low point of the comics.
At times like this, I have to remind myself what I loved about The Walking Dead and what made the comic series so special then vs. what I dislike about it. So, today I’m going to take a look at some of the better elements of the franchise that endeared me to it.
Before we do that, however, I have to note that there is a considerable point where I began to notice a dive in the quality of the comic. That would be the time skip. I didn’t want to admit or even acknowledge it at first, as I was so heavily invested in the medium, but the mere fact that such a huge time skip exists is a sign of a marked change in Kirkman’s writing. We’ve had time skips before in the comic, but never to this point. I’m not sure if it was purely to give us a lens on Alexandria and the community through fresh eyes or a lazy reset button, but either way, it was the beginning of a steady decline.
For the sake of this blog, I’m going to talk about The Walking Dead in the context of two parts - pre-timeskip and post-timeskip. For the sake of simplification, I’ll refer to everything after issue 126 as timeskip-TWD. Now, by no means is pre-timeskip TWD perfect. There are plenty of moments where I had to do double-takes, laugh out loud, and even consider writing salty blogs about that no one would read. Here, I’m just pointing out what I loved about classic TWD and what made it my favorite comic at many times, and why that’s no longer the case.
The Whisperers were terrible villains. They had great potential as the antithesis to all the communities, but in the end, they were nonsensical, inconsistent, hypocritical, pretentious morons, and I’m glad they’re all dead, even though their defeat (especially Beta Ray Bill) was stupid. However, a large part of what makes me dislike them is how they stack up against villains of the past and their philosophies. Negan and the Saviors were played straight and quite a force to be reckoned with. Unapologetic and brutal in their methods, they had clear motivations in conflict with the main group to control everything and take for themselves. Governo was also fairly straight-forward in his presentation if you disregard the novels, and the people of Woodbury were set as tragic fools on a crusade. Low-key the best villains in the comic, the Hunters were just a brutal reminder of their new world and the many ways to survive in it. The Scavengers were retarded but served their purpose in also showing an angle of desperation in the world. All these villains brought something new to the table while giving us a new danger and fear. While the Whisperers did bring something new - zombie masks and apparel - it was only the concept of them that I enjoyed.
At the beginning of TWD, the cast was somewhat limited, but they all offered something unique to the series. From nearly the very beginning, it was made clear that while this was a story centered around Rick, no one else was safe. Hell, not even Rick’s hand was safe. As much as it absolutely crushed me to watch it happen, some of my favorite characters were killed off left-and-right and communities and safe havens ripped apart. That added to a sense of dread and really got me immersed in the story and the better characters, hoping they would stick around and that characters would find safety. I’m not saying the comic needs to be kill-happy to satisfy me again (as happy as it would make me to see some characters die off), but Kirkman rarely seems to take the same level of risk with his characters. I understand that it’s a sign of the stability of the community that less and less main or loved characters die, but plot armor wears thin for a reader after a while. It’s not just the risk of life or death, but the risk of taking a story in interesting and bold directions. The beginnings set a high bar for what to expect on those regard, in that you didn’t know what to expect.
Not Everyone Believed in Rick Grimes
I get it - Rick Grimes’ done a hell of a lot for the community, and he’s a GOOD MAN, but there’s a larger world out there. Kirkman originally made a point to show that people had their own reasons for and methods of trying to survive, and it didn’t always revolve around Ricky G. Yes, He was at times the leader, but beyond living independent of him, some people didn’t just accept that, and the ones that didn’t weren’t simply branded as “bad guys”. Characters like Dale, Hershel, and Allen were incredibly humanized and felt like they would be able to carry weight in their own comic book stories. In timeskip-TWD, just about all the non-antagonist main characters are Rick Grimes fanboys, with the exception of broody Dwight who is apparently allergic to bees. Even Negan, one of Alexandria’s most brutal enemies, has seemingly joined the Rick Motherfucking Grimes club. There was a point where you could disagree with, and even dislike Rick for very good reasons and still be accepted and even loved by the community, as Tyreese and Abraham have shown - Tyreese in particular. Timeskip-TWD’s lack of autonomy frustrates me, especially when Kirkman has had many opportunities, and indeed set-up many juicy premises surrounding Rick’s friends becoming enemies.
On that note, Kirkman lately seems to have taken a tip from Glenn Mazzara and thrown in several interesting beats that go absolutely nowhere. The cover of issue 146, setting Maggie and Rick’s ideals in conflict, is probably the best example of a timeskip-TWD built-up and wasted plot point, but there have been many lately, including but not limited to the Kingdom leadership, Rick’s secret alliance with Negan, and Negan…just, all of Negan. I’m not saying TWD always followed through on every moment, threat, and thread, nor would it have to, as this element isn’t very true to the world (which is my father, and I’ve got its looks). However, even small looks, comments, and subtle hints would often develop into interesting character moments or even major plot points. For the most part, Kirko held true to the principle of Chekov’s Gun. Now, he seems to have tossed it into the trash in exchange for simpler devices.
Faith in the Reader
When I read issue 171, there was a defined point when I realized how far the comic had gone. Kirkman actually used a flashback in referencing Rosita’s words, a device that I consider highly insulting to a reader, unless it’s used for more than just a refresher (a different angle, revealing something new, etc.) It was such a “previously on AMC’s The Walking Dead” moment that I had to laugh at the time. TWD once had much more faith in the reader, and people who paid attention to character dialogues and details were rewarded by understanding references, making sense of dialogues, and even being able to know what a character was likely going to do next. Understanding why it was so important to his character that Gabriel open the door for the other survivors during No Way Out, making sense of Rick’s bizarre phone conversations - when you paid attention, you really gained a better connection. As a side note, in timeskip-TWD, you have a scenario with a strange bald lady (who no one recognizes) luring over ten people out of Alexandria during a heavily guarded festival and murdering them, coming back each time, and none of the guards batting an eye, with Kirkman not showing any of it.
Less of Rick Grimes Sleeping Shirtless on Andrea’s Grave
WHY HAS NO ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT THIS
That about sums it up. I’ve been wanting to write this for a while but haven’t had the opportunity. I would do this for the other TWD forms of media, but it would only be regarding the music of the TV show, as there have been some pretty memorable scores and soundtracks. I fell asleep during the first episodes of the second season of Fear The Walking Dead and never continued watching, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to talk about a series I haven’t actually watched.
Agree? Disagree? Extra points for why you enjoyed the original The Walking Dead? Still a fan of The Walking Dead's arc? Let me know what you think and in the comments section. Thanks for reading m1800s.