CS Soapbox: The Walking Dead’s Panic Button Is a Negan Sex Scene
One could say storytellers hit a metaphorical panic button when things just aren’t interesting anymore; they throw stimuli into the mix to shake audiences out of apathy-blood, gore, explosions, and sex scenes. No television show has been better at these types of Hail Mary tactics than The Walking Dead.
The midseason premiere of The Walking Dead panicked and gave Negan a sex scene. Well, it wasn’t a sex scene; however, butts were seen. AMC’s uneven zombie drama, which now finds itself in its ninth season, has made a habit of curb-stomping horrific imagery into a viewer’s brain. Discombobulation often comes as a result of violently used samurai swords, baseball bats, flowers (not really) and Rick Grimes’ teeth. This habit of using gore to move the story forward has become the show’s panic button in recent seasons. When the show is at its best, it is a perfect blend of survival horror and characterization—using trauma to tell a cautionary tale about the idiosyncrasies of the human psyche, our ability to be cruel as well as to adapt and heal.
In Marvin Gaye-esque fashion, the series has used romance to heal…of course, that’s before lovers are killed or written off into another bankable property. The most memorable hookups in The Walking Dead are that of Shane and Lori, Glenn and Maggie, and Rick and Michonne, until now. A good sex scene should move the plot forward. This latest hookup doesn’t do that.
In the 9th episode of Season 10 entitled “Squeeze,” Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has officially infiltrated/assimilated with the Whisperers’ camp. Alpha (Samantha Morton) wishes to thank him for tipping her off to the possibility that one of her followers isn’t loyal. She tells him to disrobe and then turn around. After our lovable yet sadistic outfielder strips, it is revealed that Alpha is also naked, except for her mask made out of human skin. “You’re a crass man…I reckoned you might want a crass reward,” says Hannibal Lecter’s wet dream. Unsurprisingly, Negan digs this (as long as she doesn’t cut his head off praying mantis style). The camera then zooms out and we see the two’s rear-ends as they embrace.
Spoiler Alert! In Robert Kirkman’s comics, Negan infiltrates the Whisperers to kill Alpha and bring her head to Alexandria as proof of his loyalty. This, of course, starts a war. The only reason to have the two characters hookup in the show would be to make this twist more surprising. Except it won’t be surprising. What would be surprising is if Negan is sincere about his Whisperer conversion. Except he isn’t.
It’s unlikely that AMC cares about how fans immediately took to social media expressing their disgust and outrage at this grotesque scene. However, the pointless Negan and Alpha “sex scene” did wonders to help raise the show’s ratings. The viewer numbers for “Squeeze” were the highest they’ve been this season; according to Deadline, 3.5 million people tuned in to see three faces suck face simultaneously. It’s also worth saying that the mid-season premiere was still the lowest-rated midseason premiere in the series’ history. This particular love connection and its subsequent reflection on ratings are not unlike various bait and switches of The Walking Dead’s past.
Season 6 of the show threw a lot of cliffhangers at the audience. There was Glenn’s dumpster-dive in episode 3 that made it seem like he at drowned in a sea of walkers, episode 15 ended with Daryl getting shot (the blood-splattered scene insinuating that he had been killed), and the season finale’s major tease: whose brains had Negan bashed? After spending the whole off-season annoyed by such a trite cliffhanger, fans were baited again in the Season 7 premiere; everyone assumed Glenn would be Negan’s victim (because he had been in Kirkman’s comics) but Abraham was the first one to meet Lucille…then Glenn. Two victims instead of one. The goriest episode in series history had a lot of longtime fans pushing their panic buttons and leaving the show for good.
The Walking Dead is turning into a dark and dreary exercise of rinse and repeat. Last week’s episode saw Daryl and the main group Alexandrians trapped in a cave. Why? We’ve seen our heroes escape worse situations than this before. If that wasn’t dull or dark (in a Battle of Winterfell way) enough, the writers have tried to dup us once again by pretending Connie and Magna are actually in trouble/dead. Prediction: Connie’s absence will be dragged out while Daryl deals with his feelings and ultimately disrobes in the woods with her when she returns.
This is not to say that the show isn’t still popular and it’s worth mentioning that the 10th episode of season 10, “Stalker,” was fantastic. However, with what seems like an equal amount of hits and misses, AMC has a lot of faith in The Walking Dead brand. The new spinoff called The Walking Dead: World Beyond is set to premiere this year, more seasons of Fear The Walking Dead are on the way, and Rick Grimes will star in his delayed theatrical trilogy (if it actually happens). The mothership series doesn’t seem to have an end game in sight even though the comics have since concluded. It’s not unfair to wonder how a show with no overarching narrative/objective will be capable of AMC’s perceived longevity.
The show isn’t the cultural phenomenon it was when it came out in 2010. With its now 16 episode seasons, the show contains an inordinate amount of walking and talking. A low point of the series was season 4’s walk to Terminus; the episodes inside Terminus were great and maybe they were worth all of the melodrama that preceded it. However, there’s no denying the fact that the show is just really really dull at times.
The Walking Dead is one of the few shows on television that has been given too much time. Everyone wanted more Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones because it felt like there were more stories to tell. The Walking Dead is doing everything in its power to find stories, often in the most depressing and nonsensical way possible.
The Walking Dead’s tendency to hit the panic button could be enough to keep it going or it might not be. Kirkman’s comic has since ended and while it did so gracefully, there weren’t any huge “big picture” revelations for AMC’s writer to draw from. Once the show exhausts every big bad from the comics, it’ll have to start coming up with new antagonists. Maybe those antagonists will be great. Maybe they’ll find a cure for the zombie apocalypse (or at least the coronavirus)—the biggest narrative departure from its source material so far. The show can find an excuse to continue forever if it wants to. As long as people continue to tune in, we’ll get to see the backside of every character.