On Finally Quitting The Walking Dead

For some reason, I can’t quit The Walking Dead.

I’m well aware that the show was never great. Usually it’s not even good, and even in its best season — the fourth — the show is wildly uneven episode to episode.

George A. Romero was right on the money when he called it “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally.” And something is seriously wrong if you’re a show about zombies and not even George Romero wants anything to do with you.

Yet time after time, I’ve come crawling back to the basic cable behemoth, watching with crossed fingers, praying that the show won’t string me along on another pointless tour of Sadlands, Georgia.

Maybe this episode won’t waste my time with prolonged pauses between conversations.

Maybe this episode will make me care about What's-Her-Face Rosita.

Maybe this episode will be GOOD.

It’s wishful thinking, and I know this. So do a lot of other people, apparently. People are ditching The Walking Dead in droves.

Judging by the numbers, the exodus is mostly in response to that awful season seven premiere. 17 million people tuned in for that one. Only 12.5 million stuck around for episode two. The numbers have steadily declined since then, but the show is still holding millions of us hostage. I can't speak for all of us, but I know exactly why I’m still watching; his name is Rick Grimes.

Or more specifically, Andrew Lincoln’s insane portrayal of Rick Grimes.

I honestly can’t get enough of this psycho. At this point, he's become a caricature of himself. A grizzled, force of nature, wish fulfillment, testosterone monster that communicates almost entirely with grumbles. The way Lincoln helms the show is still Adrenalin-inducing.

And it's addictive. I tune in just to see him grimace for an hour. It's a strange relationship.

But these days, you can flip a coin on whether Rick will even make an appearance on any given week. In season seven, the writers have doubled down on devoting whole episodes to secondary and even tertiary characters to the point that Rick feels like a side note on his own damn show.

I mean seriously, Tara got her own episode. Tara. A character whose continued non-zombified state on the show is still mind-boggling, given that every character she's ever had any serious interaction with is now dead. But hey, at least we got an hour explaining how she got those snazzy glasses!

Cool...

The main cast is still mostly located in Alexandria, but instead of moving their stories forward, the showrunners have opted to move them outward, expanding the world of the show by introducing several new groups of survivors.

This was interesting for awhile, but by the time the group encountered the fifth new group of characters — a stoic clan of dumpster-diving, garbage people, who I will forever call the Garbage Vulcans — I was ready to call it quits. I put The Walking Dead out of my mind.

Living in a garbage dump is highly illogical.

“My name is Sage, and I haven’t thought about the Walking Dead in a whole week,” I’d say to a meeting of fellow Zombie-holics.

But every Sunday night, Rick and his motley crew come sneaking back into my thoughts, invading my mind. Once nine o’clock hit, I’d start thinking, “It’s on right now. I could go check in. See what Rick is up to right now. There’s nothing stopping me.”

Quitting cold turkey was practically impossible. So I came up with a compromise. A strategy to wean myself off the show. My own personal TV rehab.

Here it is:

Step One: Fast Forward through every episode instead of watching them.
Step Two: Go do literally anything else with my life.

I’m happy to report that this immediately improved the quality of the show tenfold. Spread out over an hour, the show is meandering and tedious. Pack it into a 3-4 minutes and it’s suddenly punchy.

By speed-viewing, I could still glean the general plot of the episode before boredom set in. Rick and Michonne spent a few days together. Rosita’s still mad. Tara’s about to spill the beans. Got it. It’s enough to satisfy my curiosity, to quiet that part of my brain that exists to ask, “What’s Rick doing now?”

Quitting a TV show these days feels almost impossible. If you can resist the relentless advertising and social media storm, there’s still that part of your mind that years for closure. Part of The Walking Dead is accepting that closure will never come. The show will continue to plod along until it’s finally cancelled due to poor ratings, swinging from one repetitive plot-line to the next, without every really cohering into something great.

Which is why I won’t give it that hour a week anymore. It gets 3-4 minutes of speed-viewing instead. Nothing more. Nothing less…

…at least until the finale, cause those episodes are usually crazy! And then there’s the mid-season finale which I might watch too, and if I’m going to watch that then…

Sage Hyden is a freelance writer, author and video producer. Check out Just Write on YouTube, a video essay series on writing techniques.