Tag Archives: the walking dead

On Cliffhangers and the Season Finale of The Walking Dead

Spoilers below for the finale of The Walking Dead season 6. Be warned.

Stories are like missile launches. Somebody, somewhere, gets pushed out of their comfort zone, so they push a button. The symbol of their hurt feelings, anger, frustration or desperation goes sailing through this liminal space, there’s maybe some doubt about whether or not it will actually hit its target, then it either hits the target and blows it to holy hell … or it doesn’t.

That’s a story. Problem, struggle, solution.

Stories play with this simple but fundamental structure all the time, especially in the contemporary age of sequels and sagas and ten-book series and multi-season television dramas. Harry Potter, for example, hasn’t beaten Voldemort by any stretch at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone if you must) — that problem remains to be solved. He has, however, halted Voldemort’s plot in its tracks, found a long-lost magical artifact, and established himself as at least a passable wizard. Book one of Harry Potter sets up a lot of problems (is the stone real? what’s up with that weird professor? who were Harry’s parents and why did they leave him with the most horrible people in the world?). And Book 1 answers something like 90% of those problems (the answers are “yes”, “he’s possessed by Voldemort”, and “they were crackshot wizards themselves who died saving the world”).

To return to the missile metaphor, Rowling aims at the problem of becoming a wizard and finding out what’s up with this stone, fires, and obliterates her targets. Out of the rubble arises a new problemthough. The cliffhanger here is: Voldemort is not actually killed in the encounter with Quirrell, and he escapes to fight another day.

This is an acceptable cliffhanger. The critical moment has passed. Answers have been provided, and the cliffhanger establishes a new question that doesn’t need an answer right now, but rather gives us something to think about in the space between the book and its sequel (how will Voldemort strike next?)

Then, you have the unacceptable cliffhanger, like the one we saw at the end of The Walking Dead earlier this week. (You have seen it, haven’t you? This is the part where I cry SPOILERS and wave my hands frantically as you read on into the abyss.)

The entire season has revolved around a couple of questions: namely, can Rick’s group survive in their new community, and who the balls is Negan? Well, here comes our missile metaphor again: the writers take aim at these problems and push the button to deliver annihilation. Midway through the season, it seems the missiles have found their mark: a man claims to be Negan and the group kills him, and life seems to be stable (if not entirely safe) in the compound.

But then more threats are discovered, and we learn that the compound isn’t safe at all, and that Negan is probably still out there. This is well and good — we don’t mind that our missiles missed the mark, as we can always adjust mid-stream and launch again.

Which brings us to the finale. It answers our two questions, and thanks, at least, are due for that. Is Rick’s group safe in Alexandria? No, not even almost. Who the balls is Negan? He’s a leather-jacket-wearing, barbed-wire-wrapped-bat-wielding, ruthless but cultured sonofabitch. Okay, great, awesome. Targets fired at, and we have the answers to our questions, yay!

But then.

The ending.

Image is the property of AMC.

Negan beats the everloving hell from somebody, and presumably that somebody dies from his or her wounds (hard to argue otherwise from the camera angle that showed blood flowing into the victim’s eyes, not to mention that a blow to the top of the head like that — and I’m not a doctor or anything — seems like it would almost certainly shatter some vertebrae, if it didn’t simply split the skull like a vat of cottage cheese dropped from a tall building).

And we don’t get to see or know who it is. The show works really hard to establish that it could in fact be anybody who’s present at the encounter, except for Rick himself, who must bear witness.

That’s not a cliffhanger. It’s a cheap shot at the end of a boxing match. The critical moment is interrupted.

With the introduction of Negan, and the dire predicament that Rick and co. find themselves in, we have both the answers to the questions that got us here, and a question that will drive us forward into next season (now that they are so clearly outclassed, outmanned, and out-ruthlessnessed, how will Rick’s gang survive this?).

But then, the attack.

It pretends to be one of those questions that carries over to next season, but it isn’t. Because it’ll be answered in the opening minutes of episode 1 (or episode 2, the way this show goes — they’ll join some new ancillary character derping around in the woods for 90% of episode 1 then cut back to Rick and co. for two minutes before the credits). It isn’t a driving question, it’s a sucker punch to frustrate us and keep discussion alive through the off-season.

And I guess, at that, it’s functioning as intended.

Still, for a show that really handles itself well when it comes to surprising its audiences, this cheap shot feels especially cheap. Because you don’t need it. In fact, cut the episode either thirty seconds longer — showing us who dies to end the season rather than start the new — or thirty seconds shorter — leaving the attack as a shocker to open the new season — would be immeasurably more powerful, narratively speaking.

It feels like a flub, or worse, it feels like a calculated measure to frustrate the audience and get them trading enraged tweets on the net. It follows the Donald Trump election strategy — just get people talking about you, who cares if they’re saying good things or bad?

It sucks. It’s exploitative.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. They did the same thing earlier in the season, showing the apparent death of a beloved character and then cutting to alternate storylines for two episodes only to reveal that what we thought was that one guy getting devoured by zombies? Yeah, no, that was just sneaky camera angles exploiting our viewpoint, and it was the guy that our guy was hiding underneath that had his intestines ripped out, not our guy.

Shameful. Cheap. It insults the intelligence of the audience. I remember watching that moment and thinking, “I see intestines, and I see our character, but I don’t see the actual intestines coming out of his actual body. The show doesn’t shy away from stuff like that. What are they trying to pull?”

Audiences expect things from their stories. You play with those things at your own peril. And a cheap cliffhanger like this … that’s one you use before a commercial break to make sure folks sit through all the DiGiorno ads so they don’t miss the reveal. It’s not something you leave sitting on our stomachs for six months while we wait for the new season.

That’s long enough for audiences to decide they’re tired of your crap and move on to stories that don’t suck.

Like Star Wars VII. It’s out this week, did you know? I bought it twice, once for home and once for the office.

Dead Inside

Chuck’s challenge this week: Random Song Title.

My song was off of Muse’s latest album, titled “Dead Inside”. The story is not particularly based on the song, just the title.


Picture by zarrion101 @ flickr.com

Picture by zarrion101 @ flickr.com

Dead Inside

The sound of a million shuffling feet and untold thousands of voices clanged back and forth between the skyscrapers like the streets themselves were coming to life. Hundreds of strangers jockeying for position, shoulders nudging her this way and that, shoes coming down on her cold feet, soundless shouting in her ear.

It was enough to make Lara wish she were dead for real. Soon enough, she thought, and immediately pushed the thought out of her head. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion. She could survive today. She wasn’t even sure she was actually dead. The disease was still young in Lara: she had none of the usual symptoms, she even still had a heartbeat. The disease affected everybody differently, and — and this was the important part — it mutated quickly. There were over four hundred categorized variations of ZuF2 already, and another hundred projected already for the next week. It had sprung up so quickly, they didn’t even have a proper name for it. Who’s to say one of those variations might not be non-lethal? Who’s to say you couldn’t learn to live with it?

Spurred by the crowd, Lara inched forward, trying not to imagine the taste of the big, beefy shoulder in front of her. Shoving her appetite down into her feet was not easy; the man wore a tank-top, and in the ninety-degree sun a thin sheen of sweat glistened just there, so inviting she could practically feel her teeth sinking into it… but no, take a bite out of a human and she’d be dead within seconds, and probably kick off a riot besides. She could master the hunger. She might pass by the scanners undetected. She might be all right, as long as she could keep from eating anybody. And if they didn’t look too closely at her skin. The long-sleeved, high-necked shirt she’d put on was a gamble: it hid the shapes but it  would draw attention. Only the dead could walk around fully covered up in this heat and not sweat like sweltering hogs.


The beefy-shouldered man stepped to the side for his scan and the man in full tactical gear beckoned to Lara, reaching his hand out for hers with all the care and concern of a bus driver holding the door open for you at the end of a thirteen hour shift.

“Next. Come on, sister. Let’s go.” The crowd at Lara’s back began jeering too; ordinary, living and breathing folks, who wanted to get their negative scans and go back to their televisions and air conditioning. She felt hands shoving her forward, into the grasp of the guard. She did her best to stand up straight. As he was inspecting her left hand for signs of rot, she noticed a dark shape flit across the back of her right, a bubble dancing up through ice cubes in a cool glass of tea. She shook her hand briefly and then clapped it to the back of her neck.

“Hot, isn’t it?” Lara smiled at the man, who just glared at her through his visor filmed with sweat and condensation.

“Hands are clean. Eyes wide.” He held up the scanner, a forked device attached to a tiny touchscreen which he thrust toward her face.

Lara bit back a mouthful of vomit. A subconscious part of her had, just for an instant, meant to douse the man and everybody around her in bile, and had nearly succeeded. She told herself she had just felt repulsed by the scanner, and forced herself to keep her face neutral. It wasn’t difficult, actually. The bile hadn’t tasted of bile, but rather like a mouthful of sand: tasteless and irritating, but harmless. She wondered if that was a good sign or not.

Beep beep. The iridescent green flash from the console lit up the man’s visor, and he was already motioning for the next person in the throng. “Next.”

Lara was clean. She laughed out loud and threw her hands in the air, suddenly thankful for the sun on her skin, even if she couldn’t feel its warmth.

“What the hell is that?” A panicked, female voice cried from behind her.

Lara whirled to see the man who’d just scanned her advancing toward her, shouldering his rifle.

“What did you see?” He barked.

The girl was just a kid, fifteen or so, sweating through a loose purple-striped halter top, but she was pointing at Lara with unmitigated revulsion and terror in her eyes. “I don’t know, it was her arm… something moved!”

Lara’s heart stopped. She actually felt it beat its last beat. So she was dead, after all. The sleeves of her shirt had fallen to her elbows when she raised her arms toward the sun, and there, squirming like a mass of leeches, was a bundle of shadowy shapes beneath her skin.

“Infected.” The man whispered it to himself, then he shouted it. “Infected!”

Like the tide going out before a tsunami, the crowd withdrew from her: she was standing all alone as eyes of all shapes and colors and guns of all sizes trained themselves on her. “Wait. He just scanned me, I’m not –” But the first bullet came quickly, tearing through her upheld hand and entering her head just below the eye. Others, which she did not feel, riddled her body in the space of a heartbeat.

But she didn’t die. Rather, it was like her consciousness passed through a prism. She suddenly felt like she had split into thousands, and each facet of herself rushed toward an onlooker with all the haste of a hawk in a prey-dive.

The body of Lara exploded like a bag of beef stew, and out of the gristle and gore leapt thousands of tiny dark blobs, wingless, legless roaches on the wind. They splattered into the crowd, squirming into noses and eyes and mouths as gunfire erupted throughout the throng and previously civil people began trampling each other in a panic.

Lara was the last mutation of ZuF2. Or at least, the last one that mattered.

Father’s Day, and Social Media is Still Special

Father’s Day is one of those weird times of year where weird things happen and I just roll with it. Okay, pretty much every day of the year is like that, but Father’s Day is more so. Because really, think about your father.

All he really wants is to be left alone to watch some football or read or play some video games, depending on how old he is. Give that to your dear ol’ dad, and he’ll be a happy camper. But here we have Father’s Day, wherein you’re supposed to buy ties and wallets and tools and goofy t-shirts and cards for the old man, and don’t get me wrong, he’ll appreciate the gesture, but he doesn’t need any of it. He gets the joy of watching you grow up and do silly things and take first steps and be decent human beings and make him laugh, and occasionally he’ll photobomb you or take you to school in his bathrobe, but you forgive him for that. Because it makes him happy.

That’s what Father’s Day is about. Make the old man happy. But don’t do anything for him that you wouldn’t do on any other day, because he probably doesn’t like being made a big deal over.

Maybe I just speak for myself. But my Father’s Day consisted of staying home with the kids, taking them for a walk in the park, the 1-year-old having a screaming fit for about an hour before she passed out for a nap on my chest while I watched some Football (that’s proper football: the Women’s World Cup is on — and the Americans play tonight — you know), then wrestling with the kids, going out to the grocery store when the wife got in from work, cooking some hamburgers for the family’s dinner (yeah, I cooked, and I chose it!), and having a refreshing adult beverage before bed.

Not pictured: the screaming fit that made me want to die.

Not pictured: the screaming fit that made me want to die.

In other words, a day more or less like any other day. And you know what? It was pretty sweet.

But a weird thing happened this Father’s Day. I’ve been a dad for three years, and this hasn’t happened before. Strangers were saying “Happy Father’s Day” to me. In the park, pushing the sprouts in the double stroller: “Good job, dad! Happy Father’s Day.” Chasing the sprouts around on the playground: “Oh, I know you’re having a Happy Father’s Day.” In the grocery store, carting the sprouts around: “Why are you shopping on Father’s Day?” And it’s not like I crave or even want recognition for doing dad things — that’s just what you do — but I can’t lie, it perked me up and made me walk a little taller. I dunno if there’s something different about this year or different about me or the kids, but those little moments of recognition kinda made my day. (My wife pretty much wrangling 100% of the kids’ nonsense when she got in from work was awesome, too.)

So, there are good things in the world for dads.

But then, there are dumb things, too.

This is Matt McGorry:

He’s an actor on Orange is the New Black (among other things) whose character has done some unsavory things in the wake of fathering a child on a prison inmate (no spoilers beyond that, okay? sheesh.) His character has left a bad taste in the mouth of lots of fans, to the extent that real life fans started harassing the real life actor in real life about things his character did on the show.

He fired back on Father’s Day with a pretty hilarious tongue-in-cheek response on his Instagram (seriously, he and I seem to come from the same school of dubious wit), but it really makes you stop and think. There are people out there watching this show who think that attacking Matt McGorry is the way to resolve their feelings about what his character has done on the show.

As if McGorry has anything to do with what the character does. (Sorry, that would be the writers and the producers.)

As if McGorry would do anything like what his character does in real life. (That’s what “acting” means, boys and girls.)

And as if an irate tweet from @JoeBobDerpSalad266 would have an impact on what McGorry is going to do in his real life, regardless of whether he’s behaving like his character or not.

Similar things happened to Sarah Wayne Callies, of The Walking Dead fame:

Her character was so hated, people would come up to her on the streets to tell her “I [fargoing] hate you.” Because actors actually become their characters when they act.

The people who can’t make this distinction are probably pretty normal people. They have jobs. They have friends and families. They probably look exactly like normal people, except that they lack the ability to distinguish between what’s real and imaginary.

But they have access to social media, which allows them to bring their special variety of crazy into the rest of our lives at any time, without warning, and without remorse. I have a twitter where I tweet intermittently, but this kind of crazy makes me think everyday about just deleting it, and leaving Twitter to burn interminably in the smoldering dumpster fire it is.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Happy Father’s Day.

%d bloggers like this: