When I heard that The Walking Dead was nearing its eleventh season, I thought, “Really? That’s still on the air?” It was quite a sad thought, too, as The Walking Dead used to be my absolute favorite show. Based on the comic books of the same name by Robert Kirkman, the show follows Rick Grimes, a deputy who emerges from a coma to discover that the world has been overrun by zombies, and his struggles over the ensuing months and years as he searches for a safe place to call home . Well, it used to follow Rick, but that’s besides the point. For a while now, the show has been progressively declining in quality, and I think I know the main reason why: it’s because of the plot I just described to you.
Allow me to elaborate. Everyone even passingly familiar with dramatic structure has heard of the plot triangle, right? You have the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action and then the conclusion. Why am I telling you this? It’s because every story needs an overarching quest. Whether it be a MacGuffin that the main character needs to acquire, an enemy that the main character needs to defeat, or a place that the main character aspires to reach, every story needs a long term, tangible goal for their characters to achieve.
Let’s use The Road as an example. Written by Cormac McCarthy, The Road takes place after an unknown apocalyptic event, and follows an unnamed man and his young son as they journey across what’s left of the United States, avoiding roving gangs and surviving off what little food they could scavenge, hoping that life would be better for them at the sea. Despite also being a story about survival, The Road still has a clear mission that the characters are striving to accomplish.
In The Walking Dead, the goal of “just trying to not die” is far too nebulous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that can’t make a good story. Hatchet by Gary Paulson was a book I really enjoyed as a kid, but it was also only 195 pages. The Walking Dead has been going on for almost a decade now, and every desperate attempt they make to complicate their plot only makes the show feel more stale and repetitive. (First we had the Governor, then we had Negan, and now we have the Whisperers? How many post-apocalyptic dictatorships are going to try to kill our protagonists?)
Most shows eventually overstay their welcome, and it’s the unfortunate truth that The Walking Dead had too flimsy of a concept to last very long.