There was a time when The Walking Dead was one of the most exciting shows on television. These days, fans can often find more to complain about than they can to get behind. As Season 7 drags on, formerly loyal viewers are wondering if TWD‘s ultimate payoff will be worth all the pain, suffering, and slowly paced storylines. This makes it easy for us to reminisce about the good old days, when the series was at its absolute best.
However, even when the series was killing it, it still had its low points. There were stories that went nowhere, characters that were intolerable, and some pesky structural problems that kept it from achieving its full greatness. Here are 10 times that The Walking Dead brought us to the brink of frustration — but we kept tuning in anyway.
1. When we had to hang around Hershel’s farm forever
Season 2 of The Walking Dead offered up some incredibly memorable moments. From the gang finally finding Sophia to Rick and Shane’s brutal final showdown, the season gave us our first real, sustained taste of the interpersonal drama that would become one of the series’ centerpieces.
But it also left TWD‘s characters, and us as viewers, stranded on Hershel’s farm for what felt like a very long stretch of time. It made sense from a storytelling standpoint — after all, they needed a home base. As the core group began to set down roots, relationships became more complicated and more than one struggle for power emerged. Unfortunately, even those dynamics ended up feeling redundant by the time Hershel’s beloved homestead went up in flames. What the series needed most at that point in time was a bit of momentum, and instead it felt like it was stuck in the mud.
2. When it kept killing off minority characters
Early in The Walking Dead‘s second season, T-Dog lamented to Dale that as a black man in a post-apocalyptic world, his situation was particularly precarious. At the time, it felt like a bit of tongue-in-cheek meta humor, but as the series has worn on, it has displayed a tendency to kill off its characters of color in sometimes disturbingly high numbers. As soon as a black convict entered the fray in Season 3, T-Dog, in all his self-awareness, was killed off. The convict, too, was soon killed when Tyreese became a major player. Sure, Michonne has been a long-standing major player, and Father Gabriel has inexplicably shown some real staying power, but that doesn’t excuse the seemingly never-ending revolving door that has sent many of the other minority characters off almost as soon as they’ve settled in.
The series faced a new wave of criticism after Glenn, perhaps the most high-profile Asian American character on TV, died an especially brutal death. There’s no question that The Walking Dead has consistently tried to represent a large variety of minorities in its ensemble. It would be really cool if they were just as dedicated to keeping those characters around for the long haul.
3. When Carl was feeling angsty
You have to give The Walking Dead credit for having the guts to make a little kid one of its central characters. It’s hard to predict how young actors will grow into long-term roles, and — let’s be honest — preteens can be really obnoxious.
These days, Carl has really come into his own. Since Season 4, he’s steadily become more mature, and has emerged as a potential leader in the fallout of Negan’s reign. Back in the day, though, he was the exact opposite. Moody, angry, and completely unwilling to follow his parents’ instructions, Carl routinely put his own life in danger. Plus, he had that horrible tendency to run off and get into trouble at the exact moment that all hell was breaking loose somewhere else. What was worse, though, was that his constant need to push boundaries and break the rules led to Dale’s death. Sure, growing up in a zombie apocalypse isn’t ideal, but his incessant jerkiness quickly became grating.
4. When Andrea made inexplicable decisions
In the comic books, Andrea is one of the longest-lasting and most beloved Walking Dead characters. On TV? Not so much. We may have raised our eyebrows a bit at her decision to cozy up to the obviously unstable Shane in Season 2. But when she doubled down on dating crazy and fell for The Governor in Season 3, it was hard to root for her at all. It’s one thing to want a little stability and comfort in the midst of chaos, but when you know that your boyfriend is actively trying to kill your former friends and allies, and that he’s probably not opposed to offing anyone that stands in his way, wouldn’t you want to start planning your exit strategy?
Watching Andrea get this close to killing The Governor, and then backing off, was one of the biggest yell-at-your-TV moments in The Walking Dead‘s seven seasons on the air. Unfortunately, she paid for her bad choices with her life.
5. When we spent, like, forever on the flu
Season 4 was a turning point for The Walking Dead. It forced the characters out into the wild, brought beloved new players into the fold, and signaled a turning point for Carol, Maggie, Rick, and many others when it came to how they would approach the world around them.
Before most of this happened, though, we had to endure the super flu. For several episodes at the beginning of Season 4, the central focus of the series was on a virus that tore through the prison, taking out its inhabitants left and right. On one hand, it gave Hershel the chance to be a real hero, and to get to know Glenn a little bit better. On the other, it took so long for the illness — and the story — to run its course. By the time a potential cure was finally on its way, The Walking Dead felt more like a post-apocalyptic version of Grey’s Anatomy than a series about the dangers of living in a zombie apocalypse.
6. When it spent a huge amount of time on characters we didn’t really care about
In The Walking Dead‘s early seasons, there were only a handful of characters to keep track of. As the series’ world has expanded, we’ve gained dozens of new characters to know and love (and sometimes hate). In some ways, that’s great — it gives us a chance to see TWD‘s complicated universe from multiple perspectives.
The series hasn’t always done a great job of getting us invested in its myriad players, though. On more than one occasion, The Walking Dead has tried to expand a characters’ presence in the series by devoting an entire episode to them. There’s nothing wrong with that — except when it happens at the expense of another storyline. On multiple occasions in Seasons 6 and 7, the series has left us hanging in a major way to spend an hour with Enid, Morgan, and Tara. This has backfired in a big way. Instead of getting us to like those secondary characters more, we end up becoming frustrated with them because it feels like they’re single-handedly keeping us from getting the answers we’re after.
7. When Nicholas existed
Often, antagonists and antiheroes can be some of the most interesting characters on a TV show. That’s definitely been the case with The Walking Dead — heck, Rick himself has been way more intriguing in latter seasons after he started to go dark.
But that wasn’t the case with Nicholas, the Alexandrian who routinely dropped the ball. He was obviously supposed to represent a section of that sheltered community that simply couldn’t deal with the realities of the new world. But the series went overboard in showcasing his lack of preparedness. Nicholas’ actions throughout his run on the show weren’t just problematic for the other characters; they were agonizingly obnoxious. It seemed like at one point, the series wanted him to be sympathetic, but he never got there. We would have been glad to see him go if it weren’t for the fact that his death led to an equally frustrating and drawn-out Season 6 subplot.
8. When we had to wait forever to find out if Glenn was still alive
Remember the days when The Walking Dead would routinely put Glenn in danger, but not actually kill him? Yeah, those were the good days. Except for the time in Season 6 when it looked like our favorite former pizza delivery boy was being eaten alive by walkers, and we had to wait a few weeks to discover that he’d managed to survive.
Glenn’s non-death was arguably the worst kept secret on TV, largely because of the way that TWD‘s writers rolled out the revelation that he was still alive. By leaving us hanging for weeks, they gave fans a chance to analyze the clues that the series left us with. We didn’t see him dead, Nicholas could have landed on top of him, maybe he hid under the dumpster? All of these fan theories turned out to be true, so instead of his return feeling like a huge plot twist, it felt like an irritating inevitability.
9. When we had to wait even longer to find out who Negan killed
There’s nothing wrong with cliffhangers, if they’re done right. On multiple occasions though, The Walking Dead‘s sixth season provided a crash course in how not to leave fans hanging. For weeks, the much-hyped finale promised the introduction of Negan, and the brutal death of one of our favorite characters. It delivered on both, but only sort-of, and therein lies the problem.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s foul-mouthed, violent villain definitely made an entrance, and he quickly went to work at putting Rick and his friends in their place. But we didn’t get to learn the identity of his victim for months. By pulling a fast one on fans, The Walking Dead‘s showrunners were likely trying to create a watercooler moment for the ages. Instead, they enraged fans who felt as though they had been duped by the series one too many times. It’s one thing to try and create momentum for an upcoming season. It’s entirely another to manipulate fans into tuning in.
10. When we finally found out who Negan killed
You’d think that the long-delayed revelation as to who was on the sorry side of Lucille would have been a huge relief for The Walking Dead fans. But for many of us, the Season 7 premiere, in which we learned that both Abraham and Glenn met their grisly ends by Negan’s hand, actually created more distress. The episode marked a turning point for the series in many ways, and not necessarily a good one. The grotesque level of violence that befell two of our favorite characters was too much for some. For others, the episode was frustrating because it toyed with our emotions for a solid chunk of time before finally showing us the crucial scene we’d been waiting for. No matter how you cut it, by hinging the success of Season 7 on the shock factor of Negan’s brutality, The Walking Dead made a huge gamble, and it’s one that hasn’t paid off yet.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox
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