How Can ‘The Walking Dead’ End On a High Note?

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV The Walking Dead
TV The Walking Dead

As The Walking Dead limps on — it’s currently well into its eighth season with no end in sight — audience figures continue to drop off. Not only that, but even die-hard fans are criticizing it for being frustrating/repetitive/ridiculous/all of the above.

The show’s creators have always been pretty evasive when it comes to discussing when the series might end. The Walking Dead marked its 100th episode last year, and showrunner Scott M. Gimple has been pretty vocal about the fact that he can see it running for another 100 episodes. At least. So how does it turn things around, to greenlight those additional seasons Gimple envisions while winning back the loyalty of the show’s viewers?

The Sense of An Ending

It needs to find a way of re-igniting interest in the characters and events. Other long-running series have proven that they can sustain the drama, the intrigue and the tension required to keep viewers tuning in. Soap operas manage it, and series like Law and Order and NCIS have found the formula to keep going. Is that what we want from The Walking Dead? Probably not. It’s a show that feels like it should have an end point in its sights — like Game of Throneswhich is due to end in 2019 after its eighth and final season.

The Walking Dead is a different kettle of fish. Unlike a series such as Law and Order or soap operas, we expect it to come to an end; we don’t anticipate that it will carry on ad infinitum. We want to see a resolution, and TWD has always been positioned as a series with a beginning, middle and end. That’s partly because of its subject matter, its cinematic scope and its high production values — and also because of its story arcs.

The Walking Dead upped the gore stakes in Episode 10 of Season 8 in this meat grinder scene.

The Walking Dead is less about everyday relationships and human drama, the way a show like NCIS is set up to be, and more about raising the stakes when it comes to gore and shocks. And viewers can only maintain interest in this for so long before it feels convoluted and pointless. For The Walking Dead, its high concept premise has become the show’s only real story, rather than it providing a backdrop against which to explore other narratives. In the beginning, you might have argued differently as it explored Daryl’s complex relationship with his brother, and the love triangle between Rick, Lori and Shane.

It’s often the human element of a series that keeps us engaged over any length of time. And with so many other new and exciting series competing for our attention, if a show veers off course, it’s easy to give it up and write it off if we can’t see where it’s going. Because of all of this, TWD needs to start working towards a conclusion.

Negan Needs To Die

Negan in a shot from the Season 7 premiere.

So how can The Walking Dead steer itself back on course? Well, it can start by killing off Negan. Although Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the character, is a charismatic actor who has proved himself a hit with many fans of the show, the character of Negan has been problematic. He’s the main reason the show has become increasingly difficult to watch.

He initially brought the series a necessary injection of extreme brutality – of the likes we hadn’t seen from the series before. The show built up to his introduction with panache. His threat was felt long before his face was seen. Then, when he did arrive, he made his mark in that incredibly savage Season 7 premiere, in which he bludgeoned both Glenn and Abraham to death — and drove Rick right to the edge.

From Brute To Caricature

Negan-Gabriel-The Walking Dead
Negan opened up to Father Gabriel -- another example of him acting out of character.

But then Negan became a caricature. All sing-song delivery, self-conscious lip-licking and scenery-chewing, two-dimensional villainy. If he had a moustache he’d have twirled it. And now, after all they did to build him into their version of the ultimate bad guy – the kind of man who forces women into polygamous relationships with him; who is prepared to kill a son in front of his father; who remorselessly smashes in the skull of a man as his pregnant wife looks on – they’re trying to turn him into someone who both elicits and feels sympathy?

Do we buy this turnaround? How convincing is it that he suddenly has all the feels for Carl? The heart-to-heart he had with Rick over the radio lacks credibility, to the point where it’s laughable. His reign of terror has gone on far too long, and he needs dispatching ASAP. He should have gone at the end of Season 7 and spared us the drudgery of repetition, unlikely scenarios and tortuous plotting.

Getting rid of Negan is the fastest and best way to get TWD back on track, to start focusing on new perils, fresh adventures and a renewed sense of purpose as the show starts to draw to a close. Maybe leaving ridiculous moments like the gratuitous meat grinder scene behind to concentrate on advancing the story purposefully is a good idea too…

So What Could Happen Next?

Siddiq-The Walking Dead
Siddiq has now joined the group -- and has medical experience which could prove handy.

In Episode 10, the notion of a helicopter has been reintroduced. Simon mentions the helipad that’s hiding within Jadis’s junkyard. That could be used to play into what happens next. It could enable the characters to explore further afield. Maybe they could discover an infection-free zone. It’s possible. Then the show would be heading in an entirely new direction.

Working towards the discovery of a cure feels like the best possible scenario for The Walking Dead to go out on a high. It would re-energise the show, giving it a new focus and fresh feel. Infection-free zone aside, if they can leave a walker bite victim alive long enough before putting them down to discover that there is such a thing as immunity to the infection, this could be the impetus that leads to the development of a cure.

They’d have to meet someone with the necessary expertise. Unless, of course, they’ve already met him. It was revealed in Episode 9 of Season 8 that Siddiq has medical experience. All they’d need then would be to find a lab with the requisite equipment and start experimenting with a vaccine, the show could then end with hope as they start rebuilding the world.

However they choose to proceed, let’s hope that when new showrunner Angela Kang starts her tenure in Season 9, the show stops meandering and floofing around with the tiresome Negan storyline and starts focusing on the finish line to bring some purpose and invention back to a show that has become stale.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.