The Walking Dead recently aired the sixth episode of its final season, and let me tell you; the best episode of the entire series.
Okay, maybe the top three.
Either way — “On The Inside” — is phenomenal television.
You don’t need to follow, or even know, The Walking Dead to understand why this is a sad thing.
For the sake of us both, I’m going to pretend you know nothing about this show as I explain this to you.
The Walking Dead is a comic book created in 2003.
In 2010, acclaimed film director Frank Darabont turned it into a TV show, hiring many of his friends — who worked at a lower rate just to work with their friend.
In 2011, the show was renewed; except the network wanted twice the amount of episodes but weren’t prepared to up the budget.
Darabont left and was replaced with Glen Mazarra — one cast member left in protest.
The second season was not well received, and the budget was increased for the 2012 season and the third season was released to critical acclaim.
At the end of 2013, Glenn Mazarra was dropped for unknown reasons.
2014 was the first season helmed under new showrunner Scott Gimple.
This is where things begin to get wild.
Season four saw reviews grow more polarised, with the first half of the season receiving fairly mixed reviews, and with parts of the second half receiving critical acclaim.
In this batch of episodes, one entitled “The Grove” saw the show lauded for its bold storytelling.
This culminated in the peak of the show — season five premiere “No Sanctuary”, which had 17 million viewers upon airing.
Season five, however, did not maintain this strong streak.
Characters were introduced that proved unpopular, the show seemed to crawl to a stop; and then came the Gimple-speak.
A term coined by fans during seasons 5, 6, 7, and 8, “Gimple-speak” is a dialogue that’s faux-deep, overly vague, and generally unrealistic.
Season six, released in 2015 and 2016, was the last truly good set of episodes.
Episode 2 — “JSS” — was a true breakout episode.
But all of this culminated in the last episode of the season.
The final run of season six had been shoddy, at best, but this was further compounded in the final episode, which saw the reveal of a highly anticipated villain but left the episode on a frustrating cliffhanger.
When the show returned for season seven, fans revolted; feeling that the wait was not worth it for the payoff, which was an overly gory death of two main characters with an inescapable sense of irritation at having to wait six months for this to be revealed.
From here, the ratings got lower, the reviews harsher, and the fanbase angrier.
This villain, and the characters fight against them, took two entire seasons to wrap up entirely.
Amongst this was the issue of pay.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that the initial showrunner hired his friends who worked for a lower rate?
Well, that wasn’t rectified for years.
This manifested when Lauren Cohan, a character wrapped up in the ongoing villain storyline, requested a pay rise before season 9.
The producers held out, and so Lauren Cohan walked.
This coincided with a final change in showrunners when Angela Kang was brought on to replace Scott Gimple, and with the lead actor Andrew Lincoln announcing his withdrawal from the show.
Come 2018, season nine comes on, and Angela Kang is saddled with the responsibility of cleaning up the story after two years of the worst received storyline in the history of the show, and writing out two leading characters and breaking from the comic book — running the risk of alienating fans of the source material.
The first five episodes of season nine could’ve been pure filler, but Angela Kang went to work at tying up all of Scott Gimples’ storylines; writing a fitting coda for The Walking Dead as it used to be.
At the end of episode five,
the reset button is hit, and the story jumps ahead six years; giving her a clean slate to create the show she wants to make.
This all brings me to Season Eleven, Episode Six.
This episode has a basic premise; a deaf woman and a man who doesn’t know sign language are trapped in a house — weird creatures stalking them.
The characters cannot clearly communicate with one another, and communication is the thing they need most to survive.
With the introduction of deaf/hard-of-hearing sisters Connie and Kelly; The Walking Dead has changed for the better.
From the sound design to the visual cues, to the characters utilising sign language, to the story being forced to adapt — and it’s doing so in strides.
The thing is; I feel like a less skilled showrunner would have hired an actress who would’ve played deaf for “a very special episode” and then have been written out.
That’s pretty much The Walking Dead formula, right?
Give a minor character a single episode to ingratiate themselves onto the audience, before they die a miserable death.
But Connie has been given time to grow and is one of the better characters on a show (now) full of pretty enjoyable characters.
In my honest opinion, Connie single-handedly serves as a microcosm for everything right about Angela Kangs’ The Walking Dead.
A clear, consistent, tone — one that’s bright, and peppy, without being saccharine.
It might not seem like much, but under Angela Kang; the cinematography is better, the characters are more interesting, the dialogue is significantly better, and the show is better than it’s been for quite some time.
I genuinely struggle to find a truly terrible episode among Angela Kangs’ lot.
Which, I think, belies the tragedy of Angela Kangs’ time as showrunner.
In 2020, Lauren Cohan and AMC reached an agreement on their pay dispute, and Lauren agreed to return to the show.
Returning at the start of season eleven, Lauren Cohan officially returned to the show proper; with her, the storylines that were supposed to have been wrapped up back in season nine.
I love Lauren Cohan as Maggie.
I love Angela Kang as showrunner.
I do not love season nine Maggie in my season eleven storylines.
Suddenly; a whole load of people are set back in their understanding of each other, old feuds reignited, two whole seasons of emotional progress undone.
By the end of 2022, The Walking Dead will be finished.
I can’t help but feel mildly wistful.
The Walking Dead has comforted me during some strange times in my life.
More, though, I feel annoyed on behalf of Angela Kang.
If I had my way, she’d’ve taken over halfway through season five — or at episode 12 of that same season.
It’s clear Angela Kang knows what she’s doing.
She’s got a clear vision for what the show should be, what it should look like and what it should sound like.
Her vision — and levity — was exactly what the middling seasons seven and eight needed, and it’s a shame it didn’t happen that way…