Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Open Letter to AMC and the Writers of The Walking Dead: Please Stop Taking Your Viewers for Granted

I never bad mouth writers in social media. It's not professional. If I don't like a story, or if I disagree with how the plot plays out or the characters behave, that is a matter of personal preference on the writer's part and should not be criticized by a colleague. I don't even give a bad review on Amazon unless the book is so grammatically unstructured and tedious to read that I feel the need to warn readers not to waste their time and money, and that has happened only twice. However, recently the writers on The Walking Dead have shown a dreadful sloppiness in their craft that I want to bitch about... er, I mean address.

Let me preface this by saying that I think The Walking Dead has some of the best writing on television. My favorite episode from a writing perspective was the mid-season finale for Season 2 ("Pretty Much Dead Already") when Shane, in  a show of bravado, opens up the barn on Hershel's farm to release the walkers and discovers that Sophia has been turned into one of the living dead. That scene is brilliantly crafted, with each character having a nuanced reason for his/her response. For example, Glenn looks to Maggie for permission to join in the killing of the barn walkers, showing that he is torn between his loyalty to his group and his love for Maggie, and Maggie grants that permission, indicating she is coming around to the hard reality of the world. It is one of the most emotional episodes from all six seasons. That brilliance has been slipping the past two years.

For me, the flawed writing began at the beginning of Season Five. When we last saw Rick at the end of Season Four, he and his people were trapped in a rail car at Terminus, and Rick issued the warning that the Termites were screwing with the wrong people. Season Five opens ("No Sanctuary") with Rick, Daryl, and Glenn (the baddest asses in the group), tied up and bent over a trough, about to Neganized for food. A good writer never makes a plot promise he can't keep. The only reason Rick and his group survived was because Carol showed up in the nick of time and had terminus look at the flowers.

Jump to the mid-season finale of Season Five ("Coda") and the death of Beth. There was nothing about the situation in the final moments of the episode that would logically lead to Beth's death. Beth was not a violent person and Dawn knew that, which was why Dawn still had her gun holstered when Beth approached. Beth's attack on Dawn, stabbing her in the shoulders with a pair of scissors, was entirely out of character. Beth would never have hurt anyone out of anger, and if she intended to kill Dawn, she knew to aim for the heart or the eyes. Rather than follow logic, the writers had Beth perform a random act of uncharacteristic violence, and suddenly Dawn 's weapon is miraculously unholstered and she reflexively shoots Beth in the head. Beth's death was poorly contrived by The Walking Dead's writers to create a highly-emotional "Holy Shit" moment to end the mid-season. They succeeded, but at the expense of good writing.

Which brings me to Season Six and the main point of my diatribe. I'm all for being creative as long as you keep the plot steady and strong, but this season the writers' attempts seem amateurish. They have allowed too many major plot flaws to seep into their scripts. If I or any other writer had done the same thing in our novels, we would be savaged on Amazon more brutally than Nicholas was by walkers, and rightfully so. Let me cite the three most glaring examples.

The I'm So Glad Everything Fell Into Place Perfectly Device. There was a lot to criticize in "Always Accountable" (S6E6), but I'm referring to the last three minutes after Dwight and Sherry steal Daryl's crossbow and motorcycle and abandon him in the woods. How fortunate for Daryl that he happened to stumble across a well-hidden gas truck that happened to be working, and that he drove his fortunate find to the nearby town where he happened to track down Abraham and Sasha on the first try (who earlier had happened to stumble across several rocket launchers), and now they're all driving back to an Alexandria invaded by walkers. Why do I have a feeling that the gas truck and rocket launchers will be critical to resolving the walker crisis in the latter half of season six?

The Build Your Own Plot Device. At the end of S6E3 ("Thank You"), Rick is trapped in a stalled RV after having gunned down members of the Wolves, and is surrounded by a horde of walkers. At the beginning of S6E5 ("Now"), Rick is running toward Alexandria with the same horde of walkers on his tail yelling for someone to open the gate. This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the plot line and an episode cliff hanger, and somehow The Waking Dead's writers left its resolution out of the script?

The Let's Break Up the Action for a Contemplative Moment Device. I admit that "Here's Not Here" (S6E4) is brilliant writing and beautifully tied together all of Morgan's loose plot points and fleshed out the character, and that this episode sets up the inevitable and awesome confrontation between Morgan and Carol. However, there was no justification for placing that episode in the middle of a multi-episode action sequence and interrupting the flow of the action when it could just as easily been placed after Rick's return to Alexandria. That's Writing 101.

Please don't get me wrong. It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback (or, in my case, a  late Sunday night ghost writer). I'm critical of The Walking Dead writers because they are excellent at their craft and have produced some brilliant episodes in the past, and as such they should know better. These are the mistakes a first time writer would make.

What concerns me is that the lapses in writing are merely symptomatic of a much deeper criticism I have with the franchise as a whole. I've watched AMC turn The Walking Dead from a TV phenomenon and cult icon into a cash cow to be milked. In my opinion, AMC created Fear the Walking Dead in the hopes of doubling their profits/viewership, which would be acceptable if the show was of the same quality as The Walking Dead. I am not a fan of Fear the Walking Dead. I think the plot is tedious, the story line drags, and the characters are unlikable. If it was an indie film I had downloaded from Netflix, I never would have sat through it as long as I did. I also think the franchise is taking gross advantage of the fans through the Walker Stalker Conventions. Some of the prices they charge to meet the actors are outrageous. In Atlanta earlier this year, the convention was charging $250 for a photograph with the original TWD cast. At Spooky Empire in Orlando, some of the actors signing autographs were charging $25 for a selfie. What I'm afraid of is that the merchandising of The Walking Dead is taking priority over producing a consistently high quality show.

I really do hope I'm wrong and that these lapses are merely the writers being overworked (how many writers, including myself, have gone back and read one of our own books, and wondered what the Hell we were thinking putting that scene in there). In either case, I urge AMC and The Walking Dead to stop taking the fans for granted. You'll wind up butchering your cash cow, and the fans will wind up losing something very dear to us.


  1. Wonderful points here! As a fan, I have been saddened by the lack of quality and lazy writing TWD has produced over the past few years and like many others, watch with constant frustration. Thank you for this excellent essay, which I tweeted and will share with others. Thanks for saying what needed to be said. High ratings do not quality television make although I fear AMC has the "if the ratings are high, it ain;t broke and needs no fixing" mindset. I know many former viewers who left the fandom because the writing quality dropped and who lost patience after years hoping writing woudl improve. I am struggling to keep watching right now.

    1. I sometimes wonder if the show is suffering from Joss Whedon Syndrome (who is a major influence on me, so that's not meant to be derogatory). I remember that when he was working concurrently on Buffy and Angel, every season one show would suffer while the other shined.

  2. Since the beginning of season 5 I've been on the fence as to how I feel about TWD. Mainly because I see what a lot of other viewers see; an issue of continuity with plots as well as with film editing. This article clear explains and articulates my exact sentiment. I'm not a big fan of FTWD and my feeling is that AMC is planning for the near future in that TWD will not make it past the "All out War" story, but that's just my personal opinion.
    However, this season thus far has become sooo very predictable and anytime that the average viewer can predict what will happen next for the stories and its characters then the show is probably in decline.

    The "Glenn Death" fake out comes across as weak storytelling (this so far will always be a "jump the shark" moment for me).

    In addition, this absolute need to follow the comic has become tiresome at best; I completely understand the need/want to recreate pivotal moments from the comic but its not necessary to follow it exactly. Some of the story lines that the show is forcing on the audience only work organically in the comic.
    The story between Rick and Jesse Anderson only worked in the comic because readers were constantly aware of Rick's recurring PTSD with him talking to his dead wife on a non-working phone.
    On the show there's been no "obvious" recurrence of Rick's PTSD so his mental breakdown appears forced as does this infatuation with Jesse Anderson.
    I completely understand the need for angst in a tv series such as this but, angst should never be at the expense good story telling.

    1. I've been reading the graphic novels since they first came out, but sadly don't remember many of the story arcs other than the prison and Negan. I need to go back and read them again.

      I admit it's tough to maintain a quality show for six seasons, especially when you have to show some measure of faith to the graphic novel. I think the show is strongest when it deviates from the original books (for example, I loved the way David Morrissey portrayed the Governor and the entire Daryl-Merle dynamic). I will be very interested in how they portray Negan.

  3. Completely agree, though I would say the issues started in season 4, it seemed like they started to let the popularity of the show affect the writing. For example: Daryl LITERALLY had a fan in the show, and they tried to use him to get us to care for Beth, it didn't work (except for on the tweens). The 2nd half of that season was a mess aside from that grove episode. This season may be the worst so far, from the Glenn fake-out, to that extremely forced Morgan/Carol fight which was so over the top. Don't get me started on the episode 8 cliffhanger, these guys are lucy with the football, they have no respect for their audience all they care about is ratings & money, they could care less about writing a quality, emotionally satisfying show.

    1. I hope we're wrong, and that the drop in quality in the writing is just natural fatigue after doing this for so many years rather than taking advantage of the franchise. However, I don't think that's the case.

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