Benjamin Franklin famously said that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. The idea being that both are delightful at first and can be enjoyed for a while, but in time you will begin to tire of them and at a point you will really not want to be in the proximity of them. Three days for guests and fish. 7-8 seasons for most successful television shows.
The television show expiration date is one that can be manipulated somewhat, depending on the show’s premise and the ability for the scope of the show to expand without losing credibility. Signs of impending doom for a show include the addition of a major character and a large change to the premise of the show. These are both indicators that the writers have used their best ideas and are frantically searching for more.
—– SPOILER ALERT: THE WALKING DEAD —–
I have been watching The Walking Dead since my son suggested I watch Season One on Netflix in preparation for Season Two. We binge watched that first season in a weekend and I was completely hooked. I had never watched any zombie shows or movies before, save the Scooby Doo show as a child and had very few preconceptions about zombies to begin with, so this show was able to set the table for me.
This new world that Rick Grimes woke up into was populated with animated corpses that would attack any living beings they encounter and eat. There were very few survivors and your best hope was to find others and look out for one another, raiding the stores and homes that were suddenly vacant for food and supplies. Season one was more about the zombies in the beginning, but quickly shifted toward being more about the human interactions with the ever present danger of zombies prodding the humans to keep moving.
As the seasons progressed, the zombies became less and less the worst threat in this world. Reduced resources and the resulting conflict between groups of survivors became a bigger problem. This is why the Prison, Woodbury, Terminus and Alexandria became such interesting arcs. The addition of the Hilltop added intrigue as a potential friend or rival with Alexandria. The survivors began to reclaim a sense of civilization.
Up to this point, everything was feasible, if you allow your acceptance to include a world overrun by corpses that walked around seeking living people to consume. Under that premise, it was believable that people would raid stores and homes, that some groups would try to be agrarian and defensive while others would be more apt to fight and raid even the other survivors to their benefit.
The show has been in a really good place for several seasons, but ratings have slipped a bit. The premise of the show cannot continue to be one of lather, rinse, repeat forever. Even compelling storylines and characters cannot keep a similar concept going indefinitely. The story has to be kept fresh and has to continue to advance. And sometimes the only way to do this is to kill off a major character and build up new characters to change dynamics. You can do this in a post-apocalyptic story.
—– SPOILER ALERT: NOW I’M SERIOUS! —–
The current season has the survivors fighting a group that calls itself “The Saviors.” This is a group that finds the nearby groups of survivor communities and runs a protection racket on them. Each understanding they come to is unique to that group. In the case of Alexandria, they are to give half of everything and all of their guns, which makes long term survival in this world unlikely at best.
The first half of the season did two things.
- It built up the Saviors so everyone would know that they are the big dog on the block. They killed two major members of Rick’s group, both strong fighters and they did it in cold blood. They are too strong for our main group of survivors and too ruthless to be allowed to continue.
- The other thing the first half season did was introduce the viewers to other groups in the area. These groups are generally unaware of each other, though they are all fairly well established. And that’s where the bounds of belief begin to stretch.
The Hilltop is a group that lives on the grounds of a living history museum. I could see that. The Kingdom? Some dude convinced other survivors that he was a king like Hamlet who had a full sized pet tiger, and they should wear armor made from motocross gear and act like knights? A group of women who kill any outsiders on sight and their community has no men whatsoever, even if it was the Saviors who killed all of the men? And now a community that lives in a garbage dump maze and who have somehow lost their ability to speak coherently with others in just a few years?
The gameplan for Rick is to try and convince these groups to band together and kill off the Saviors once and for all. In the years his group was without a home base, when they would scout from one area to another, hunting and foraging as they went, they did not see any of these other people, and now they’re tripping over them? And these groups had no knowledge of each other? Every group has been making attempts to provide fresh food for themselves, but every group has also been raiding the canned goods as they go. But only the Hilltop and Alexandria had any real knowledge of the other? And the Saviors were unaware of Alexandria all this time?
I’m invested in this show. I either want the show to return to feasibility or I want it to come to a logical and conclusive end. I don’t want to see it fizzle out the way so many others do. Fonzie jumped a shark on water skis while wearing his leather jacket. Roseanne won the lottery and the story changed from one of a lower to middle class family just trying to pay the bills to one of a recently widowed millionaire. The audience could no longer relate and the show was cancelled.
The Walking Dead is now it its seventh season and an eighth season is in the works. The writers claim they have enough material to produce an additional 5-7 seasons. If the show doesn’t return to a look at society under a lens where there is no universal government, law or order, if it doesn’t become the Western that apocalyptic shows really are, then I don’t think we’ll have a season nine.
I hope you’re still reading. I hope you keep reading this.
Side note: this can also happen in a Christian context. The newness of one’s faith may begin to fade and they are desperate to return to that feeling once again. Sometimes the person will change churches. Sometimes they will change denominations. Sometimes they will begin to incorporate religious practices that are inconsistent with Christianity! As often as not, these people are rooted in their own feelings instead of Christ. This is idolatry in your own feelings and in your own self and is detestable before God. I am not saying that these people cannot be true Christians, though it is possible that they may not be. I am saying that these people need to repent of this sin and turn to Christ as the only satisfying need in their life.