The grateful dead

With the season 8 finale of The Walking Dead coming so close to being aired, I find myself thinking about how the series will end. Maybe there will be an epic attempt at a feminist reworking of the final scene in The Wild Bunch, whose finale had a quartet of male anti-heroes taking on impossible odds. The below image put my mind in that peculiar direction. It might not be those four women. It might be a mixture of women from a quartet of different communities – Alexandria, Hilltop, The Kingdom and Oceanside. On a more subtle note, I’ve mostly been thinking about how the series finale will instigate confusion-riddled argumentation that draws comparisons with The Sopranos (i.e. a protagonist before he may or may not get killed). Lauren Cohan, the actress who plays Maggie Greene, compared the season 6 finale to that. The only way that such a comparison could be justified would be if it was revealed in the season 7 opener that Negan bludgeoned Rick to death.

Picking him off would’ve reflected what may be true – Andrew Lincoln supposedly wanting to leave the series before it ends. Such a choice in victim would’ve justified a cliffhanger because most people would’ve thought that the series was coming to an end if they saw Rick get it in the season 6 finale. Fans may argue that you can’t kill the show’s soul, but that didn’t stop Scott Gimple (the current showrunner) in killing off Rick’s son in season 8. Actually, killing Carl off in the season 7 opener would’ve been more unpredictable and bestowed a layer of chilling menace to Negan’s remark about Rick losing his right-hand man. Before the season 7 opener, I predicted that Enid would replace Carl’s place in the comics. That will only become a full-fledged idea in the next season and onwards. That’s if the below TV ratings don’t indicate that the series finale will be the season 9 finale. The fact that there will be a new showrunner means nothing when there could’ve been a new one for season 8.

The horizontal line going through the ratings represents 10 million viewers. Season 7’s ratings makes me think that Pollyanna McIntosh was cast because of her resemblance to Milla Jovovich. The ratings make me wish that the series had a different showrunner per season quota since it would reflect the initial gimmick of each season having its own environment (e.g. city, farm, prison, etc.) as well as reflecting how Tom Cruise made the Mission: Impossible film franchise so fresh by having different directors. After the decline in ratings circa season 6, Scott Gimple should’ve been replaced by Vince Gilligan. When season 7’s ratings turned out to be mostly worse than before, there was always the pride-swallowing option of bringing back Frank Darabont, who was the reason why most people became interested and then invested in the series. It was probably the reason why the first cast members joined. It was actually him who is responsible for the series existing.

As for why he chose to leave after filming several scenes for season 2 (over a dozen minutes for the original premiere became deleted scenes), it was because the network (AMC) wanted to keep as much money as possible to themselves. They weren’t really in a bind for budgeting, especially with all the tax breaks which they were pocketing. Cutting the budget by approximately 35% was just so that they could be seen as more impressive than they were in terms of the broad ratio between recoup and ratings. You have to feel sorry for a great deal of the cast and the crew who were given a raw deal in that they weren’t allowed to express their creativity in a broader canvas (regardless of what the studio excuse-makers say about how the smallest brush-strokes make a bigger picture). In fact, there have been many workers on the series who were threatened to not speak out over what truly happened.

His plan was for the second season to start with a bang in the form of a flashback massacre that re-introduces some of the key characters. This would’ve served as a hook for newcomers to see the series. The soldiers have travelled for a dozen blocks but the scenario goes from secured city to insecure platoon. This would be akin to the first battle in James Cameron’s Aliens. Along the way, the ragteam team of soldiers encounter some familiar faces from the first season. The squad arrive at a manned barricade where some civilians are being held back from leaving the city on shoot-to-kill orders to stop the spread of contagion. In this crowd of desperate people, we see Andrea and Amy. The barricade gunners panic, the civilians start to get mowed down by machine gun fire, and the girls get pulled to safety by some old guy who they don’t even know. It’s Dale. He’s nobody to them, just some guy who saw the opportunity to do the right thing and reacted in the moment.

The first reel (or the cold open) would serve as a reminder to the dead soldier who we saw in the tank. The significance is that the first part of the premiere is seen from his POV. The end of the cold open would be a reprise of the scene from season one where Rick saw the dead soldier in the tank. This makes me think that there would’ve been a future season being set at a military base. Such a setting would be ripe for war subtext, sight gags and puns. It just seems that the TV network only wanted Frank Darabont as the showrunner for the first season so as to appeal to not just fans of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption but also The Mist – all adaptations of Stephen King’s work. The unstated implication is that Robert Kirkman is as worthy of being adapted as Mr. King. Most of all, Darabont already had horror cred because of his co-screenwriter credits on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, The Blob and The Fly II.

The rule of thumb, no matter how sore, for any genre is that you have to appeal to the demographic of the hardcore genre fans before you work your way into the minds of the mainstream audience. Darabont was used as bait and then lowballed so that he had no choice but to quit, hence why there were reports of him stepping down instead of being booted off. Jeffrey DeMunn wanted to quit as a sign of loyalty (since he had previously worked for Frank as an actor), but his death scene was too hastily written. I think that they should’ve killed him off when Rick, Hershel and Glenn are trapped in the bar. One of Randall’s evil gang members could’ve easily dispatched him, thus making Hershel become the group’s moral compass (a role that he was going to take up anyway). This would’ve foreshadowed the trope of having a black man killed off before being replaced by another one. It’s almost like the showy showmakers are wanting to appeal to the racist South (where the series is filmed).

Because of Jeff’s departure, the journey of his comic book character was to be evened out between Hershel Greene and Bob Stokey. However, don’t be misled by this. After reading each volume of the comic series, I realize that the TV series is as much of a revisionist history as an adaptation. With Frank in the fold, season 2 could’ve sporadically consisted of brief flashbacks where Glenn delivers pizza to Shane, who wouldn’t remember Glenn because he is just one of many delivery guys in a life full of events. The most crucial difference is that Rick stops a fight between Carol and Ed, which would’ve foreshadowed Shane intervening in their spousal abuse. Different cops responding to the same thing in different ways. This would’ve created irony when it’s revealed that Rick is the one who Glenn gladly gravitates to instead of Shane. Had the AMC network wisened up, they would see how awkward that it was to have season 2 consist of 13 episodes instead of what became the annual 16.

The only upside is that it would be tempting fate to binge-watch all 13 episodes on any given Friday the 13th in any given month. Before he was alienated, Frank’s sensibility to the material reminds me of David Simon working his magic on The Wire because both men preferred diegetic music and scores. To explain this involves explaining the alternative i.e. scenes supported by music in a way that used to be compared to a music video before being compared to the concluding montage of almost any given Grey’s Anatomy episode. The Walking Dead has become an increasingly corny TV series with all the folk ballads and hipster rock songs. The flagging ratings don’t seem to stop the finales from having cornier music. The stage is now officially set for a series finale with the corniest music. With Darabont on board, we would have a decayed person who is as tall as a basketball player or as a big as a bodybuilder.

Without Frank, season 2 is still the best season because the finale’s revelation about the virus makes you think twice about why Rick did what he did in some scenes. In a world where Frank rules the series, Rick would still be criticized for being a lousy leader but people would realize that if he was a better leader then he would be criticized for being a perfect hero. To provide a bit of comedy relief, seeing Emily Kinney on the verge of tears about leaving the series on The Talking Dead makes me think that thespians are like music stars who spend too much money early on because they overestimate their future income. A TV series like The Walking Dead doesn’t really guarantee longevity no matter how many seasons that you’ve been on. Her final season (#5) could easily have been improved by having Rick’s group live in the hospital without knowing what’s going on until it’s too late (à la the season 4 finale). This would be adhering to the initial gimmick of a new home per season.

The ratings in season 6 could’ve been avoided by having Glenn sacrifice Nicholas to get revenge for Noah and himself while he escapes by going up the blocked fire escape of the nearby building. This act of betrayal would’ve allowed fans to compare the scenario to the tragic scene involving Shane and Otis in season 2. The season 6 episode (titled Thank You), on the other hand, is also flawed because Michonne should and could’ve easily provided a piggyback ride for the injured Annie. For comic book fans, the season 6 finale is nonsensical because Negan doesn’t kill children or women. If it wasn’t for the cliffhanger ending of season 6 (whose closing shot reminds me of a non-CGI POV of a bleeding Jet Li in Wong Jing’s High Risk), there could’ve been a time jump that would’ve allowed Jeffrey Dean Morgan to pile on the muscular pounds with the unstated explanation being that it was because of the food that he was pillaging from the docile Alexandria community.

As for the upcoming finale, there should be a scene where Morgan fights Negan after the latter cripples Rick in the same handicapping manner that took place in the comic. If Morgan does fight Negan, there will be articles titled Morgan versus Morgan. It may become its own trope. At this juncture, I should point out that seeing Negan fight Simon in the penultimate episode reminded me of when Rick fought Shane in the season 2 finale. Here’s the thing – Rick might end up tricking Negan into surrender like he did with Shane, but if he does give mercy then Daryl will end up being his antagonist much like Dwight in the comics. It’s not, at all, a coincidence that Daryl has the same initial and crossbow style. In an ideal world, the showrunner (or higher-up executives) could’ve killed off Daryl in the season 6/7 cliffhanger/premiere since he didn’t exist in the comics. Again, this goes back to what I said before about AMC not wanting to alienate the nitpicky hicky South. In general, there would be a revolt.

It’s a shame that they didn’t have the stones to bump him off since he was more of a right-hand man than Glenn was (regardless of how Glenn turned out to be Rick’s saving grace in the pilot). Back to the season 6 finale, if Glenn died in what’s now known as the dumpster episode then Negan would’ve spared somebody else’s emotional outburst. Also, it would’ve been poetic justice if Rick’s group were told that they just screwed with the wrong people – a Karmic throwback to the season 4 finale when Rick tries to spur his fellow kidnapped allies. If I wrote the season 7 premiere, I would have Negan kill Michonne, Abraham and Glenn so as to make Rick too fragile for revenge. Michonne, especially, because it’s often been said that behind every great man is a great woman. Sparing Aaron, Carl, Maggie, Rosita and Sasha would’ve meant that Negan is making Rick feel like an athlete who is left with the worst teammates. This would be like when he lost his sanity in season 3 because of his wife’s death.

The kidnapping of Eugene (future bullet maker) and Daryl (who Rick once described as his brother after he saved Carl from being raped) would add to Rick’s vulnerability even more than in the current incarnation. About the All Out War story arc, it would’ve been fitting if Maggie and her baby suffered the same fate as a pregnant Lori losing Judith in the Made to Suffer issue. Robert Kirkman (the comic creator) and Steven Ogg (who plays Simon) said we would’ve been on Negan’s side if the series had followed him from the beginning. The law of utiliarianism dictates that if a group has too much food then another group has too little. I wonder if Negan’s followers bow in his presence because he saved them from an army of White Supremacists who dabbled in rape, theft and racially fueled murder. Despite the ratings in declining health, the series is good at referencing earlier episodes in a discreet manner.

Dwight shooting Tara by firing his crossbow so that she can be spared a crueller fate makes one think twice about the time that Dwight shot Daryl by firing his gun in the penultimate season 6 episode. Likewise, Carl getting fatally wounded while trying to help Siddiq is a stark reminder of how Rick told Carl not to help a bespectacled man who was surrounded by walkers in the season 4 finale. I’m surprised that Henry Rollins wasn’t cast as Negan. In 2016, his net-worth was 12 million dollars (which is now 13), whereas JDM’s net-worth was 4 million (it’s now 8). Michael Chiklis (with a wig) would’ve made a better Negan than J.D. Morgan (who looks like Brad Garrett). Many have complained about J.D. not looking as tough as he did in The Watchmen, so Henry would’ve been critic-proof. Many fans of the comic have complained about Henry being snubbed, since Negan was based on him.

If he had been cast, J.D. would not have been derisively referred to as Freddie Mercury. The reality is that Henry hasn’t been in as many famous movies and TV serials like J.D. has (thus more name-dropping in articles). Like Mr. Morgan, Lauren Cohan was in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like Mr. Rollins, she has been in B movies (she was in Death Race 2). J.D. is very good (8/10) whereas Henry would’ve been great (9) as long as he was told that he had to alternate between calmness and chaos. The below image symbolizes what this series was heading to before the written-out Carl strangely decided to be a pacifist (all because Chandler Riggs turned 18). Rick was becoming the new Shane with Judith being the new Carl, whereas Gabriel is the new Hershel – a role that would’ve been fulfilled by Morgan if it wasn’t for his mental instability. In this reality, Maggie will become the new Shane when she finds out that Negan will be spared as a show of faith to the surviving Saviours.

Jesus might be Glenn, but Daryl will still be the equivalent to himself – a redneck bandit who will be all for killing Negan like how he was with the whole Randall situation. Daryl might happily amply give in to his torturous nature. When I had first read that Lennie James was going to leave the series to be on Fear the Walking Dead, I thought that this would be a way to slowly have more characters leave the sinking ship. It has been speculated that the protagonists on that series were going to turn into the Whisperers – sheep in the skin of wolves (a more fitting metaphor for murderous marauders who lack conviction without the added layers). Speaking of wolves, we already had those and they were short-lived. However, the Whisperers theory would only work if Fear the Walking Dead was to be little more than a set-up for season 9 of The Walking Dead – cloud nine or nine inch nails.

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