Monday, December 3, 2012

WALKING DEAD Viewers Made To Suffer

My articles, here, have rather exhaustively documented the wretchedly low quality of the writing of much of THE WALKING DEAD. The persistence of this awfulness suggests a fundamental problem with the authorial talent, namely, the almost complete lack of it. It's a harsh judgment. The writers of TWD have earned it. Earlier this week, I was discussing it over on the Internet Movie Database "Walking Dead" board. A poster, there, suggested the series was its own creature, and that its critics have to stop comparing it to the comic. I replied:

"It's dishonest to say 'you guys have got to move away from the comics here' when the series creators abjectly refuse to do the same. There is, to put the matter more acutely, zero creative work going into the writing of TWD. The writers have taken all of their storylines and nearly all of their characters (along with a large number of random plot scenarios) right out of the comics. And every change they make in adapting the comic to screen--their contribution to it--is for the worse, fouls up things that make sense in the comic, and just makes a mess of what is, in the original, a very well-written tale. The rubbish with which they fill it is, in almost every case, merely cribbed from bad movies and, in particular, soap operas. There's no creativity at work, here--they're just pillaging a superior source and a large compost pile of inferior ones."

Tonight's midseason ender, titled, appropriately, "Made To Suffer," offered even more examples of what I was describing in that little rant.

It kicks off, though, with an example of the same impeccable sense of drama TWD's writing team has always displayed: after spending the entire season building up the conflict with Woodbury (and with Rick and co. armed to the teeth and right outside the town's walls), they abruptly cut away from it entirely, in order to spend the opening of their closer introducing a whole new group of characters. Leading them is a big, hammer-wielding fellow named Tyreese. He's a fan favorite from the comic, but here, he's merely used for filler, something to add running-time to yet another terminally underplotted adventure. To be fair, filler, properly speaking, doesn't add anything but running-time, and that's not really the case here. The arrival of Tyreese is a significant event. It's just totally out-of-place in this particular episode.

As it turns out, it spells bad news for Oscar, as well. TWD has taken a lot of ribbing for treating T-Dog as the Token Black Guy, an obvious redshirt given virtually nothing to do except be black until such time as he could be bumped off. Earlier this season, the writers introduced Oscar, one of the inmates at the prison our heroes have made home. In the same episode in which Oscar was accepted into the group, T-Dog was finally allowed to be eaten by zombies. At the time, it led to a lot of Token Black Guy jokes on the various TWD message boards. At the time, some of these jokes were of questionable taste. Tonight, the writers lived down to all of them, though. The opening introduces Tyreese--by the end of the ep, Oscar is pushing up daisies.

In the comic, the Governor was a fellow who had abandoned himself to abject barbarism--a living symbol of what the world of the dead could do to people if they allowed it. He was set up as the ultimate contrast to Rick, who constantly struggled to hold on to his humanity in a world in which it seemed a burden. Rick and a much larger group of survivors had built something resembling a community at the prison, and it was suggested that the Governor wanted it because it was so much better than Woodbury, which was subject to constant assaults by the dead, and was difficult to keep together. The tv version has reversed this, and makes Woodbury the idyllic locale. Tonight, tv TWD's "Governor" (GINO the Liam Lesser) explicitly rejected the idea of moving Woodbury's population to the prison. He wants to exterminate the group presently occupying it. He offers no reason for this, and, in fact, has no reason, other than that he's the designated villain.

The fact that the Governor kept Penny, his zombified "daughter," on a leash in his apartment was, in the comic, just another example of his Sick-Fuck-ism. It even hints at a sexual attraction to her. GINO, by contrast, is the kinder, gentler "Governor," who genuinely loves and wants to somehow restore Penny. This and she become the subject of multiple scenes, this week, in which the big, tough villain becomes a mewling baby. This kind of pussification is aimed at making the character more "sympathetic," thus loudly breaking from the comic, where the entire point of the Governor is that there isn't a sympathetic bone in his very bad-to-the-bone body. But while the creators want to make a show--or, more appropriately, whimpers--of breaking from the comic, they don't have anything better--or even remotely as good--to replace what they're trying to overwrite. The Governor is the comic's greatest villain, a vibrant, mainacal, single-mindedly evil character who marked a natural progression of the central theme of TWD. GINO is just another b-movie villain.

After Rick's group sneak into Woodbury and rescue Glenn and Maggie, Michonne slips away and hides out in GINO's apartment with her trademark scowl, the only facial expression TWD can give to its Angry Black Woman caricature version of the character. It's another moment cribbed from the comic, and another one robbed of the logic and the power it had there. Comic Michonne was sexually tortured by the Governor. Repeatedly. When she went so far as to slip away and hide out at his apartment, it was to lay her vengeance upon him. TV's TWD, as pussified as its "Governor," had no intention of subjecting its milquetoast, middle-American audience to any of that, but, without it, Michonne has little reason to go after GINO in this way. GINO sent his men to kill her a few episodes ago, and viewers are supposed to find this sufficient cause. Another example of very powerful material being replaced by standard-issue b-movie-ism.

TWD's chronic Idiot Plot Syndrome kicks in, big-time. Throughout this season, Michonne was constantly accumulating evidence that Woodbury wasn't safe, was constantly trying to get Andrea to leave, and was constantly refusing to share, with Andrea, any of that evidence she'd collected, even when Andrea demanded it. Tonight, after fighting it out with GINO and blinding him in one eye, Michonne is confronted by a pistol-wielding Andrea, who, appearing, presumably, to service and be serviced, isn't happy at all about what she sees, and offers up the standard cliché rhetorical: "What have you done?"

Possible response: "I'm here with your old gang to rescue Glenn and Maggie. This trash"--and she'd wave her sword at the mewling GINO on this beat--"kidnapped them. While you were polishing his knob up here, he's had them tortured in the basement. Oh, and by the way, he sent his men to kill me right after I left Woodbury. See this nice gunshot wound in my leg?"

But instead of any of this (and solely because the writers want to continue to drag out this matter), Michonne doesn't say a word again. She just leaves.

GINO gets his eye taped up and goes out to make a ludicrously misplaced George Bush Jr.-style speech to his followers about "terrorists" (quite topical, if it had been offered a decade ago). The big cliffhanger on which things end is that his men have captured Daryl, and GINO opts to use Merle as a scapegoat for the "attack" by Rick's group. Whatever.

TWD, at mid-season, remains a show mired in crises. Lots and lots of them. One is a creative crisis. The crisis, there: No creativity. It lacks the guts to tell anything remotely as bleak as the comic it allegedly adapts, yet doggedly refuses to step away from that comic and strike out on its own, choosing, instead, merely to pillage and travesty one character after another, one storyline after another. In an era of groundbreaking, high-quality dramatic television, the iron was hot for a series based on this property. That this is what we get instead is a damned shame.



  1. Talking dead featured the creator of show based on the comic and I was lost as to how pointless having him as a guest was. This follow-up to the episode never holds a show accountable for possible failures, contrivances, and implausibilities, instead invested in making sure The Walking Dead is treated as a series of excellence worthy of 30 minute (well, 22 minute) talk. Guest stars seem enthusiastic about the product which definitely contrasts your write-ups of the show. I haven't watched but a couple episodes, mainly as background noise while I'm putting together blog entries. Seems like you are torturing yourself, though, J. Maybe it is time to move on so you won't continue to suffer.

  2. Like crow, I haven't watched it as throughly as you do, though what I reckon is, unfortunately, close to your write-ups.

    I enjoy reading your blog as it saves me the problem of enduring the series, but I'd like to see your talents put to a more enjoyable task.


  3. Great stuff as always. Once again, our write-ups contain a lot of the same points. I actually enjoyed the episode in spite of its many flaws. But there is no question that it is badly written.

  4. This episode wasn't that bad like Lebeau said now the first half of this season is over. It's time for my long ass rant.

    I wouldn't say every change I like what they did with Shane. You know how really boring the first half of season 2 would of been?

    I don't even want to think about that because it's was already crap to begin with.

    I don't read the comics except the first two chapters from what I heard in the comics the guy just losted it way earlier and Carl shoots him right.

    What happen to Oscar was bs It's a shame I started to like the guy who wasn't in the comics at all.

    Come to think of it I think I only like most of the original characters that wasn't in the comics Merle, Daryl, Oscar, and T-dog.

    Everybody else execpt Shane and Axel and maybe herschel infinite ammo I just hated them.

    Sucks for the other two they should of had more of a role after they fucked up T-dog character in season 2 I would of thought he would of have more of a role.

    No Merle showdown? That had to be one of the most disappointing moments in the season 3.

    I played the walking dead game and I got to tell you it is so much better than the show some of them were assholes like Kenny.

    I had no problems with his character especially for he went through.

    The kids were far better I still can't stand Carl in the show and let's not forget that horrible Sophia storyline that killed the first half of the season.

    No token black guy to be cheaply killed, better character development, no annoying love triangle, no boring romance scenes I can't stand the daryl and carol or glenn and maggie scenes.

    No bs armor plot We all know that Rick and Daryl is gonna survive until at the end of the show I doubt they have the balls to kill them off earlier than that.

    The main character is awesome compared to Rick on the show.

    It was much more emotional but the show kinda makes me laugh which Rick says no to Carl that ruined the whole scene for me.

    And finally it focus mostly on the human drama and some of the zombie stuff which I thought was a great balance.

    The first episode of the tv show had it nearly down to perfection. one more thing screw those imdb users I'm a lurker on there man you get so much heat on that board.

  5. "The tv version has reversed this, and makes Woodbury the idyllic locale. Tonight, tv TWD's "Governor" (GINO the Liam Lesser) explicitly rejected the idea of moving Woodbury's population to the prison. He wants to exterminate the group presently occupying it. He offers no reason for this, and, in fact, has no reason, other than that he's the designated villain."

    I just skimmed the article because I'm a fan of TWD and realise it is flawed but still great entertainment. However, you've let your dislike of the show blind you slightly IMO as he offered the very specific reason that people LIKE living in Woodsbury and he couldn't see them wanting to up sticks from the community to go and live in a buunch of cells. He then suggested clearing it out, taking it over and putting biters in there. Just thought I'd clarify that point.

    I agree with a couple of your points here, especially about the token black guy and the poor waste of Michonne in crucial moments, but there is plenty that I think you're being a bit harsh on. The cutting away to the new characters, allowing for fresh subjects to enter before some more death occurs and also just pacing the material, was fine IMO.

    Horror fans have, when it comes to TV, been ignored or poorly served for a long, long time. We were in a desert and now we finally have water, I can't help thinking that a lot of folk are throwing it away and demanding triple-filtered spring water.

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  7. I'm sorry but using a lot of big words doesn't make your points any better. Sometimes they do change things from the comics for "creative reasons", and yes sometimes these changes end up being worse than the comic plot, but some make the show far better (the changes to Shane's plot for example).
    Also, remember this is a tv show, and even if it's on cable, there is still a limit to what they can show. The brutal torture and rape of Michonne and her revenge against the Governor would never be aired, it's just too graphic. Many people accused the show for pulling back on the scene with Maggie and the Governor, but they writers have said that in the show, the Governor is a developing character, if they introduced him as a completely reprehensible character that would be far worse. It's much better for him to have an arc that gives him reason for the future things to come, and it's obvious now that losing penny has rid him of whatever humanity he had left, he is closer to his comic counterpart after this episode.
    Personally, I prefer the Woodsbury of the show to the comic, it makes much more sense to have a community of normal people led by a deceptive and manipulating Governor who seems like a nice guy than to have an entire community of scumbags. And with the attack from Rick's group being labelled as terrorism, they now have reason to take the fight to the prison, the entire town shouting for the Dixon brother's blood makes sense for how a community would react to the attack, and shows how normal people will be able to back the Governor in the assault on the prison.
    Ultimately, this is a good show, and the writers are far from the worst in the business. It might not be exceptionally smartly written or topical - seeing as it takes place during the zombie apocalypse - but it is still one of the best shows on at the moment. Give me this over truly bad shows like The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men.

  8. @Kevin
    So he wants to put biters in the prison... why? A better motivation, namely revenge for the attack offers itself up by the end of the episode.

    One thing you overlooked - or maybe not but it was too painful - is the hilarious action when they storm in where Maggie and Glenn are held, throw some smoke grenades and just run off with them. I have a feeling Merl and Deryl were not allowed to see eachother yet :) Just another example of how the writers twist reality to achieve their badly laid out plots.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading these. Fans of this show need to realize how much better it could be and that people like you actually strife to make this show much better. Hope they listen to some criticism, hire new writers and (try to) save the 2nd half of the season.

  9. I think it was just a containment solution. And would be a big reserve compared to what they already use for experiments and such, though I could be wrong.

    With TWD, American Horror Story and the tamer Grimm lately, I have been watching more TV than ever before - it keeps me off the streets, haha.

  10. I can kinda understand the Governor wanting to destroy all other alternatives to his community to secure his power over his people. Killing the soldiers because they are strong males not loyal to him and so on.

    Still pretty much everything else sucks. :D

    Not showing how or why Daryl got captured isn't bad writing might be explained in future dialogue!!! Amazing.

  11. @Brian and Luis, there are some reasons I keep writing about TWD. I actually had no intention of continuing to do it (or watch it) into this season, but a friend made me an offer I couldn't refuse regarding my own project, so I've kept it up. It is a chore for me, but maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, I arguably said all there was to say about it way back in the first article I wrote about it. Everything I've written since just seems like an extension of that original.

    In any event, if the inspiration hits me, I'll definitely be on to other topics.

    @Kevin, I know why GINO said he didn't want to move his population to the prison--I explicitly referenced it. Horror fans have been treated badly by television for a long time. We have been in a desert. We're not getting a drink with TWD, though--all TWD is doing is shoveling more sand our way.

    @Ben, you don't have any real point. If TWD is too brutal and graphic for AMC, then the solution would have been for AMC not to create the series, or, failing that, to break from the comic and go off in a totally different, kinder, gentler direction so as not to upset their milquetoast audience, not to grind out dumbed-down, watered-down crap that merely pillages infinitely superior source-material. The notion that the series has done anything better than the comic (particularly Shane) is ludicrous, at best.

    @FredV, the TWD articles are, by far, the most popular things I've written on this blog, and I draw a lot of abuse from the harder-core fans for writing them. There's always going to be a certain segment of fanboys who behave that way, but it's disappointing to see people whom I know have much better horse-sense also try to defend this absolute rubbish, instead of demanding better. The creators of TWD are relieving themselves all over their viewers, and many of those viewers pretend as if it's cake, and just ask for more.

    It looks as if FredV and Kevin got the wrong idea about GINO's plan for the prison--he wasn't going to use the prison to hold zombies. He just wanted to exterminate the group that was there and "let the biters move back in, so no one will be the wiser" (that's a paraphrase, so don't hold me to the exact wording). He isn't interested in taking over the prison and using it for anything.

    @Unknown, I've been going to that board for a long time. I get a lot of heat, there. Last season, it wasn't uncommon for threads that sprang from my articles to run over 500 posts. This season, it has mostly just been a lot of insults. There were plenty of insults last season, too, to be fair, but they were attached to an actual substantive point a lot more often than now, and I don't mind those.

    Thanks to everyone who has commented. It's always nice to get feedback.

  12. Why do you keep referring to the Governor as GINO? Is there something I'm missing here or does one have to be a regular reader of the drivel to get some nonsensical inside joke you're trying to make?

  13. governor in name only = GINO

    dont strain yourself thinking too hard.

  14. Learn to punctuate. It would make reading this a lot easier.

  15. You're probably right. I'm of the opinion there really aren't any creative ideas left, especially in Hollywood. While the writers may not be developing a truly unique plot, I do watch and find myself looking forward to The Walking Dead.