Tuesday, April 5, 2016

WAS THE REAL VICTIM OF NEGAN'S BAT ON "THE WALKING DEAD" ITS AUDIENCE?

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan in THE WALKING DEAD.

The power of an outraged people can be seen everywhere this election season, giving rise to candidates that most of the press and powers-that-be-wrote off early on. And the same can be said of audiences stymied by what’s going on with beloved franchises on both the big screen and small. The outcry over how misguided and tin-eared BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE was has tainted the entire DC docket slated for the next few years and is causing worry inside Warner Bros. A box office drop-off of 81% from first week to next will do that to a studio. And on television, the outcry over Sunday night’s cliffhanger on THE WALKING DEAD has turned the producers'  season-end victory lap into a real PR problem.

Those responsible for the show probably thought that it would be exceedingly clever to hide the identity of which recurring character was killed by the wrath of the big bad bat of its new villain character Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and that they'd be able milk the guessing game across the summer months. Unfortunately, the tease has resulted in blowback that has been swift and brutal. 

Negative reactions trumped positive ones on Twitter by 9 to 1 in the aftermath of Sunday night's finale. And the web has lit up with even more outrage since then. Fans and press alike have taken the producers to task all over the web for yet another egregious taunt this year, after the fake-out of Glenn’s death earlier in the season, and it’s left showrunner Scott Gimple complaining about the lack of trust from the fans.

Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reeds) on THE WALKING DEAD
It may have been one tease too many. When Glenn’s fate was toyed with for a few episodes, the ruse even went so far as to expel the name of Steven Yuen, the actor who plays Glenn, from the opening credits until his beloved character returned. It was great for creating buzz, but it started the show down a dangerous course of playing a PR game and not playing fair with its storytelling. Fans started to feel they were being trolled. 

At times, it has seemed that this season of the show has been specifically designed for the program THE TALKING DEAD which follows each episode on Sundays. There, host Chris Hardwick discusses what happened on the proceeding episode with various cast members, producers and special celebrity guests. The coy attitudes of those from the show has continued the trolling in its way and again, the drama should really be on the show, not in how information is parsed out to fans afterwards. 

THE TALKING DEAD on AMC network
And with all that, the show continues to seem to be more and more designed for talk value rather than disciplined narrative. In the penultimate episode this season when Daryl (Norman Reedus) was shot, his blood splattered all over the camera lens, breaking the fourth wall. The fact that the makers of the show chose to do the exact same thing with Negan’s bat in the season finale added insult to such injury. Not only was it the same camera trick, but now it served its intent of turning our POV literally into that of Negan’s victim. Even more so, it became a metaphor for how the show has been brutalizing its audience with all the tricks and scams.

Now, audiences will have to wait some seven months until its return on October 9 to see whom Negan has clobbered. As it turns out, the death scene hasn’t even fully been shot. The showrunners say that they’ve chosen who died but apparently, the cast members are just as much in the dark as we are. Are the actors now being trolled too?

Wouldn’t it have been easier to show the death scene, be honest about it, and show everyone's reaction on the season finale to make it truly eventful rather than such a shocking letdown? And wouldn't season seven benefit from starting with the aftermath, and the new life that the survivors will now have to forge under Negan's rule? Why go over the same material again, especially when it's an awful murder scene? 

Granted, a show like THE WALKING DEAD has never pretended that it wasn’t mean, cynical, and ferocious in its depiction of the ruins of a world overrun by a zombie apocalypse. And week in and week out, it pushes the limits of violence on television. But as the last few seasons have started to push the zombies more and more to the background, preferring instead to paint man as the true monster threatening survival, it seems the show was truly moving forward. Now, with this fake-out, and that of Glenn's death earlier in the season, the show's producers seem too preoccupied with parlor tricks.  

Negan wields his bat in the original comic book of THE WALKING DEAD.
And do the producers think they can truly keep the identity of Negan's victim a secret  for six months? On-set spies and paparazzi will be watching closely to see which actor is no longer on the call sheets. And if you don't think such things can be readily found out these days and quickly spill out all over the web,  check out the spoilers Reality Steve has been ruining ABC's THE BACHELOR with over the course of the last few years. 

Those making THE WALKING DEAD may have miscalculated on what how much the fan base is willing to take, particularly when it comes to PR stunts versus cogent storytelling. The cautionary tale of how quickly an audience can turn is there in the debacle that was BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN two weeks ago. We'll see how the ratings for THE WALKING DEAD are affected it returns in autumn, and whether or not the furor will take a toll on the ratings.


And if Daryl is the one who bites the dust because of Negan's bat, then the makers of THE WALKING DEAD will have really stepped in it. And their fans will eat them alive. 

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