By Richard Roeper
“THE Walking Dead Is Finally Getting Its First Totally Nude Zombie” — actual headline on Forbes.com.
Only the most popular and lasting TV shows garner headlines as fantastically goofy as that.
On Oct. 31, 2010 (Happy Halloween!), The Walking Dead debuted as a creative force with an intense and bloody good pilot episode that introduced us to a number of intriguing human characters — and, of course, all those creepy zombies.
It quickly became one of THOSE shows. The kind of series that leads to heated debate on social media, breathless online recaps after every episode, a spin-off, an “after-show” with a live audience and career-boosting roles for actors we knew (Michael Rooker, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and somewhat less familiar but singular talents (Danai Gurira, Jon Bernthal).
Like everyone else in this Golden Age of Television, I have to be selective about which hot-topic series I’ll watch, which ones I’ll never try, and which ones I’ll abandon at some point.
That last decision is always tough, right? You dedicate a season or two or three to a show, and you’re really into it, but there comes a time when you begin to doubt your commitment. Maybe your waning interest is due to the show killing off one or more favorite characters, or the plots becoming less plausible, or the feeling they’re just spinning their wheels.
As was the case with The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Shameless, among other shows, I’ve been with The Walking Dead from the start, and I’ve stayed with it.
There were times when my patience was tested (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD):
A few minutes into an episode, it would be clear the focus would be on just one or two characters, and we wouldn’t even see other main players. Ugh.
One of the show’s strengths has been that feeling of genuine jeopardy surrounding virtually every character. On any given episode, a favorite could take a bite or a bullet. I dug that, but losing Merle and Abraham and Sasha while the likes of played-out characters such as Carol and Morgan remained front and center was a source of frustration.
Also: The deaths seemed more and more arbitrary.
On Lost and The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and House of Cards, characters would meet their fate as a result of their own actions, or circumstances spiraling out of control, or a confrontation that couldn’t be resolved any other way.
That’s how it usually played out in the early years of The Walking Dead, but then we got to the point where a villain was literally playing a game of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” to determine who would be bludgeoned to death.
Then came the episode marking the beginning of the second half of Season 8. It was overlong, overwrought — and underwhelming.
When it was over, I realized: That was it for me.
As much as I’ve enjoyed Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s swaggering, grinning, barbed wire bat-wielding Negan as a villain, this particular plot has been extended and extended. And extended.
I’m not so sure we needed to see the same events experienced from a different viewpoint. And every moment spent with the Scavengers was just bad television.
Episode 9 of Season 8 was titled “Honor.” With the exception of a dream/fantasy sequence, Negan is nowhere to be seen. This episode was about the death of Carl — with detours to a couple of heavy-handed subplots involving Ezekiel and Gavin, and Carol and Morgan.
Accompanied by cheesy string music and sporting not the best dying-character makeup, the doomed Carl spends his final moments urging his father to take the highest road possible, to keep in mind there has to be something worth living for if and when all the madness ceases.
Onscreen, there was much weeping and despair and devastation and heartache. On my sofa… well, it would be an exaggeration to say I was an emotional zombie, but I could list at least a hundred TV episodes I’ve seen that have packed a more powerful punch for me.
If the demise of a sympathetic character who has long represented the promise of a better future doesn’t resonate, it’s safe to say I’d already checked out.
It’s not you, The Walking Dead, it’s me. I’m moving on, but I wish you the best. Maybe we’ll keep in touch.
But probably not. — Chicago Sun-Times/Andrews McMeel Syndication