Did The Walking Dead Jump the Shark?

Like most of America – hell the world – I waited with bated breath for the reveal of who is “IT” in Negan’s sick game of “Eeenie, Meenie, Minne, Moe.” I am a spoiler follower, so I knew the characters who were not victims based on sightings of them during filming. I had narrowed it down to two possible victims, Abraham and Glenn, but when reported sightings of Steven Yuen on set began to trickle in, I figured he was safe and being hidden from public view.

But then the rumors.

Two victims, the rumors said. And renowned spoiler sites began confirming these rumors as facts. And even leaked photos of both victims the day of the airing entered my mailbox. But still I wouldn’t believe it.

Two victims make no sense.

The Lucille moment is such a pivotal one in the comic book. Not only does it highlight the end of a beloved original character, it introduces the horror of a new villain and marks the first time Rick is truly broken. His hubris is revealed and causes his fall. This is possible because of Glenn’s death, someone who saved his life, someone who has been with him since the beginning, someone who was the heart and soul of the group.

Not to diminish the television Abraham, but he was never the “right hand man” that his comic counterpart became. He was at times comic relief, the voice of the obvious, and at times almost cartoonish. He was beloved, yes, but not in the way the comic Glenn nor the TV Glenn was.

Abraham’s death by Lucille could have still been a pivotal moment, but instead of that iconic scene getting the respect it deserved, and the character getting the emotional response he deserved, it was completely diminished by the almost immediate and surprise death of Glenn, once again by Lucille. Two victims, one on top of the other, lessened the impact of the first death, the moment we viewers have been waiting months to see. Abraham’s last stand and heroic facing his end was forgotten within moments and overshadowed by an even more emotional death, a death that every comic book fan had been waiting for and yet dreading at the same time. Even the cast reactions to the second death was more profound than Abraham’s. In essence, Abraham’s death became minimized.

It appeared to me that Abraham became IT as a “placeholder” or a red herring to distract and deceive the audience until the “real” death occurs. Once Negan fell on Abraham, the audience assumed Glenn was safe. All that foreshadowing of him with bats, his viewing the photos of Negan’s victims on the wall, and his cheating death under a dumpster (WTF was that all about in hindsight?) were all just teases. Glenn survived. His TV character has taken a different route. He would live to see his baby born.

Then, just as the horror of Abraham’s death starts to set in, just as we are about to mourn him and process how he accepted his fate, the story strays from the comic story line. Instead of the obedience such a head bashing would inspire, we were witness to an inexplicable moment of defiance on the part of Daryl who attacks Negan for taunting Rosita. Where the hell did that come from? Daryl tends to fly off the handle, but given what just happened I would think some thoughts of “oh shit, he just bashed my friend’s skull in. Perhaps if one of us acts up, he’ll do it again” might just pop up. Nope. Daryl goes suicide squad on Negan, but instead of getting the bat or even a crossbow himself, Negan turns on Glenn, giving him his comic book end frame by frame except it’s in response to a Daryl outburst.

I’m a firm believe that Glenn deserved that iconic death. The impact of it brought Rick into complete submission in the comic book and is one of the most famous scenes in the series. The producers have teased us about it for two seasons, foreshadowing what could be his eventual end. But somehow, having it follow another death, having it not be as random, and having it be a result of Daryl’s defiance didn’t sit well with me. If Glenn was going to get his big moment, he should have gotten it all to himself, not at the tail end of a “fooled ya!” moment.

Likewise, if the producers saw fit to give Abraham that scene, then he too should have had the scene all to himself so that the impact of it could set in. Instead, his death was diluted and nearly forgotten after the “real” victim Glenn was killed.

The fact that the producers did this bait and switch after already making us wait half a year for the death reveal is unsettling and some would say was a jump the shark. They went for shock value and tricking the audience rather than for full impact. This is the first time I’ve seen the producers switch out quality for “gotcha.” I gave them a pass on the cliffhanger gag figuring the payoff would be worth the wait, but it wasn’t. They tricked us not once, but twice. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice…..

If the producers really wanted two victims, really wanted to make each death mean something, and really wanted to trick the audience into thinking Glenn was safe just to pull the rug out from under them, then they should have done what Dashiell Driscoll recommended in his article on the finale: “You know what would’ve been awesome and unexpected and perfect? If season six ended the way it should’ve, with us seeing Abraham die sans dumb cliffhanger, and then season seven opened with Glenn’s death. It would’ve been really shocking!” That to me would have saved us all a lot of headache. It would have also provided us with time to mourn Abe properly, to digest the depravity of Negan and the situation Rick found himself in, and still could have given us the shock of Glenn’s death on the return of the season. Each death would be a moment instead of both deaths being rammed into 10 minutes.

That all being said, the deaths themselves were well done. The gore, although criticized by some, was necessary to unsettle the audience and highlight that this villain is like none that Rick has ever seen before. It’s not so much the presentation of the episode that upset me, but the structure of the episode and the intent of the producers to trick the viewers. When a series goes for “shock” rather than awe, that usually gets the label of “jump the shark.” Of course, a shark is only jumped if the series suffers in ratings after the stunt is pulled, so time will tell if people will look back at those two deaths as the beginning of the end of a truly great series.

 

 

 

 

 

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