Far be it from me, a man with only one novel to his credit, to criticize the brilliant writers of the Walking Dead. But that is what I am going to do today. Last night’s cliffhanger was nothing short of manipulative bullshit. I don’t feel that they needed to do that in this story, and it does not achieve anything for the series.
First off, they have already left us with cliffhangers twice this season (at least). The mid-season finale that seemed to show Glenn’s death was actually right on the verge of manipulative in my opinion. Glenn is a favored character who dies around this time in the comics (we will get to this later), so there was some genuine consternation around his death. His ability to survive that moment was a stretch of my suspension of disbelief, but possible. I try not to judge other writers’ choices and accept the conflict they have created, and I was able to do so with the Glenn mid-season story. Additionally, in the penultimate episode, we saw Daryl get shot and were left to wonder if he was okay. It seemed like a clear shoulder wound, so I wasn’t too worried, but it was also the normal use of a cliffhanger to increase anticipation of the next episode. In my opinion, this was a good use of the construct.
Last night, trying to decompress, I did what I always do. I watched the most excellent “The Talking Dead”. On the show, the guests included Robert Kirkman (creator) and Scott Gimple (show runner). The reasoning they had for the cliffhanger was clearly a rehearsed answer, because they both said the same thing word for word. “This season’s story was not about who got killed, that is next season’s story”. (Okay, that is not word for word, but what they said was, I just shortened it) Kirkman also talked about how one does something like this in comic books to make sure people buy the next issue. But, let’s face it folks, we were all going to watch next season anyway. No one who likes that show was about to say, “Well, I think I have seen enough of the Walking Dead.” So, I call bullshit.
So, let’s take a moment to talk about cliffhangers in general. Contrary to some of what I have read from fans this morning, they are not always about making money. Honestly, I don’t think that was the case in this one (regardless of Kirkman’s comments). Cliffhangers are a narrative construct between the writer and the audience that builds tension and crescendo into the story line, which draws the audience in and makes them care more than ever about the story. It causes the audience to have what are now known as “fan theories”, which engages the audience ever more. And, this is where I think they went wrong. With all of the Hub-bub about John Snow this year (I am not buying your bullshit either, Kit Harrington, I am confident RT+LS = JS; you will be back), I think the writers of the Walking Dead wanted some of that John Snow love. I think they will find, however, that the conversations over the next six months will not be as much about who got killed as they will be about how the fans feel manipulated by the show. I am disappointed by their choice on this one.