The Walking Dead as Pain Porn.

The season finale of The Walking Dead disappointed for many reasons, not the least of which were Rick’s, Daryl’s, and Carol’s illogical choices leading up to and including the last episode of the sixth season. Their choices unwound five seasons of character development. Carol devolved from the tough survivorship she earned over an evolving character arc to the simpering guilt-ridden coda that moved her away from the central action of the finale. Daryl lost his backwoods warrior status to emerge as an urban action figure who wouldn’t know how to track neon targets in a paintball park.

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Crazy-eyed bloody Rick.

And Rick. Well, Rick has become my least favorite character. I understood and pumped my fist in agreement when he ripped the jugular from the much deserving Joe in the season four finale, “A.” Outside of a few moments when he has acted like a leader, he has seemed less like someone in charge and more like a mentally unstable horror movie victim. I was hoping he would be killed in the season finale. Instead, we know he and Carl are alive. But in “The Last Day on Earth” he became more deranged than even after his wife Lori’s death in the season three episode “Killer Within.” He knelt and drooled while Negan pronounced the rules of survivorship under his realm. I kept thinking, if I were Negan, I would want this idiot alive. He’ll keep everyone in line he’s so terrified. HA HA HA. He’s their leader! Well, I got it made then.

Even Carl, Rick’s son, showed more gumption as Negan said one of them would have to be sacrificed. As we all know, no one knows who Negan and Lucille murdered. But who cares? I mean, what is there to care about? The Walking Dead is not about relationship and community; it’s become only about how much pain can be inflicted on characters and audience alike.

The Walking Dead is pain porn. It’s not the only show on television that trucks in this brand of entertainment, but it’s the one that needs it least. The group is living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. There is not much you have to do to make the world seem horrific. And yet, Scott Gimple and crew continue to push the boundaries of sense in order to feed some insatiable need to watch people suffer.

Why do Daryl and Rosita need to be caught so easily? They are both trained survivalists. They would never have approached Dwight’s camp from the same angle once they found it. And how would they not have heard Dwight coming? Daryl has super sonic woodsman hearing. Besides the fact that Daryl would not have gone out on his own knowing what it would cost the group, this story arc seemed to only been written so Daryl, Rosita, Michonne, and Glen meet Negan at the same time as the crowd in the RV.

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New power couple of the apocalypse: Carol and Morgan?

As I wrote about in an earlier post, Carol’s decompensation has made even less sense (and clearly my prediction was wrong about why the producers and writers had done this to her). The only plausible reason for her exit from Alexandria is so she is not with the group when Negan meets them. More than any other character, her 360 turnaround has felt like a betrayal–of character and gender development. She went from an individual who would kill anyone or anything who threatened the group, to someone who felt guilty for even thinking someone might have to be killed. Her continued mental breakdown seems designed simply to put Carol and Morgan together. Why? Why not have it happen more organically instead of making Carol have a nervous breakdown?

And Rick? How did he not figure out that the Saviors were shutting down every avenue of exit for him and the group in the RV? They were driving in CIRCLES for hours! And if not him, what about Abraham? He’s a trained Army sergeant who knows tactical maneuvers. Rick would never have fallen for this action before the Governor and none of them would have after Terminus.

It’s not just the characters that seem set up. During The Talking Dead where Jeffrey Dean Morgan made his The Walking Dead debut, he spoke of the series’ actors and how committed they are. JDM said the actors in the scene didn’t need to be there the entire time, but they stayed with him during 15-hour shoots and cold temperatures. He talked about how they knelt and responded to everything he said, no matter how many takes, no matter how many shots in which they would not appear. He said, they gave 150% and never complained. He said, they were the most dedicated actors with whom he’s worked. Reedus sat next to him, proud of their accomplishment. I was struck by other actors, like Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yuen, who speak of The Walking Dead as a family. In light of JDM’s praise, I can’t help but think that the actors sound like children in an abusive, alcoholic environment. Pain is the norm for everyone whether they are on or off camera . (There have been a few actors who have not engaged with this kind of conversation. Note Merritt Wever‘s absence from The Talking Dead after her character Dr. Denise Cloyd’s death and Melissa McBride‘s silence regarding Carol’s changed mind. Perhaps not everyone is on board with the pain porn environment, but remember, I’m just conjecturing here.)

From Glenn’s almost death in “Thank You” to Carol and Maggie’s girl fights in “The Same Boat” to Denise’s arrow to the eye in “Twice as Far,” this season has felt like one great big F-U from Scott Gimple and crew. “The Last Day on Earth” was simply the latest in abusing actors and audience alike. It’s a bit like the current presidential election season. Insufferable, solipsistic, and painful.

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