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The Walking Dead and I are taking a break.

Like any relationship, the dynamic between a TV show and its viewer can at times get tense. Most of the time, these bumps in the road lead to one of two decisions: either the viewer accepts the show’s flaws and rides it out, or decides the magic is gone and makes a clean break. Between myself and The Walking Dead, however, things are unsurprisingly messier than a black and white description allows.

Here’s the thing. Season 1 of The Walking Dead, although only six episodes long, was very good. In the pilot, we saw the real world as we currently know it, and each episode beyond it felt very close to something plausibly relatable. The apocalypse was startling, and very tangible. Now, three seasons later, it’s impossible to remember that fresh feeling. 30-plus episodes of nonstop zombie (and human) carnage have rotted away the innocence and hope of the first season, leaving only despair, broodiness, and an ever-turning carousel of secondary characters.

Carousel is a morbid word in this context, but strangely, the humans in this show have become just as disposable as the lifeless zombies they slay by the dozens. Since the beginning of the show, well over half of Season 1’s regulars have been killed off, replaced by Woodbury citizens and alumns of The Wire. You’d think this would make the prison packed and seemingly full of life, which it is at the outset of Season 4. But of course, whenever we rejoin these characters in the apocalypse, everything goes wrong, and this season has been no different, with a deadly flu wiping out a solid chunk of characters new and old just five episodes in.

Coupled with the gleeful obsession The Walking Dead has with finding inventive ways to slaughter zombies, this human turnover rate is troubling. There’s no doubt that the make-up artists, costume designers, and graphic design personnel on the show are ridiculously talented. It’s just that placing such a heavy emphasis on those talents leaves the show devoid of any forward progress in narrative, which in this case makes hope pretty much nonexistent.

What’s going on in other parts of the world? How many survivors are really out there? Is there a cure, and if so, how can it be obtained? These questions have rarely, if ever, been touched upon, and it seems like a no-brainer (GET IT???) to have them play center stage in a post-apocalyptic world.

Of course, I’m not the expert here, and since 16 million viewers tuned in for the Season 4 premiere, more than the best episodes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad have ever achieved combined, the model is unlikely to change anytime soon. Why is everyone so content to keep circling the drain with these characters, though? Will it take the demise of a fan favorite like Daryl to turn these viewers against the show? Interestingly enough, beyond Daryl, there’s arguably no real frontrunner for second place in the beloved characters department. Rick, supposedly the lead of this drama, actually spent half of Season 3 in a catatonic state. Perhaps acting clinically insane with little-to-no dialogue is Andrew Lincoln’s specialty, but either way, was it necessary to let it drag on for so long? Every other character on the show got over deaths of their loved ones in less than an episode. Rick left Zombieland for nearly eight.

Then there’s Carl. Poor, sweet little Carl. He and Homeland’s Chris Brody have been neck and neck in the race to bland teenage boy supremacy for some time now, but Carl has arguably jumped ahead since the return of both shows this fall. Other veterans of the zombie-hell include Glenn and Maggie, who found love in a helpless place but I’m still not buying it; Hershel, who draws oft-ignored wisdom from either his beard or his fake leg (or both?); and suddenly murderous/exiled Carol, among others.

Where’s the depth in any of these characters though? Without anything to look forward to, each of them is a hopeless, one-dimensional body, as interesting to watch as the group of zombies banging their heads against the prison gate. Credit must be given to Robert Kirkman for creating the original comics, but his influence over the show now is far too strong—I’ll cite there being three showrunners in four seasons as evidence of that fact.

What is his plan with this show? Comics can go on for decades, but TV series of this nature aren’t supposed to have that sort of longevity. Can any fan of the show now honestly say they’d be just as invested in four seasons' time if nothing of positive consequence has happened? Maybe I’m the outlier here, and the ratings seem to suggest that. But just because a lot of people watch a show, doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near good. When the Governor showed up again at the end of last night’s episode, I knew it was time to take a break. He almost single-handedly took down this show in Season 3. It’s hard to believe his return will bring anything positive to a show pleased with recycling the same storylines of fear, near-death, and actual death.

If America just wants to stick to an endless pile of bodies, blood, and gore, that’s fine. Perhaps Hershel’s pleas for everyone to keep holding on run deeper than hope for medicine to keep them alive in an otherwise hopeless world. Maybe there is an endgame that results in happiness—but just like I don’t want to watch Ted Mosby take nine years to explain how he met his wife, I’m not going to watch this band of survivors continue to lose all hope until probably finding some kind of human oasis. Just get to the point.
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