The Walking Dead only worked as a metaphor for the Great Recession

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

When science fiction becomes very popular, it is typically because it can be read as a metaphor for current events. The 1950s “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” worked as a metaphor for Communism. The early 1970s Planet Of The Apes worked as a metaphor for how whites felt about race relations in the USA. In counter-point, Star Trek was an endless series of metaphors about the increasingly multicultural society that people found themselves living in.

The Walking Dead started in 2010, just after the peak of unemployment caused by the Great Recession. I’ve heard it described as a metaphor for the collapse of small town life, but that isn’t totally correct. Small urban centers in the USA peaked in the 1920s and collapsed in the 1930s. What we’ve seen since 2000, and especially since 2008, is the decimation of the (once middle-class) suburbs, brought about by deindustrialization and the concentration of wealth. A generation came of age that had to postpone adulthood because there were no jobs that would pay for an adult existence, and many people collapsed into hopelessness, indulging in various distracting and compulsive behaviors, including everything from drugs to video games.

But the nation has been healing. For a show to continue to ride the zietgiest, it would have to reflect that healing. The Walking Dead could have chronicled the collapse of society, and then its resurrection, but it has decided to stay with the collapse, and to try to burrow deeper into the depravity of collapse. As such, it has become a show that has outlived its time.

Vox has a nice write-up:

The Walking Dead has never been a great show, but it used to be one I did enjoy watching. It was always a little too eager to cater to its most bloodthirsty fans, but it threw in plenty of material for those of us who were more interested in the story of building a community in the post-apocalypse. Now, it’s just a show about spilling blood, which is fine and all but never as compelling as the writers want it to be.

Consider just how long The Walking Dead has spent on this accursed Negan storyline — most of the sixth season, all of the seventh, and now at least part of the eighth. And then consider how little sense Negan’s character makes within the context of television; on the show, he’s played charismatically by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in a way that only serves to underline how he’s just one dude, not the supernatural entity he could seem to be in the source comics (where I already didn’t like him). But the show bet heavily that what viewers wanted, most of all, was to see Negan lay waste to several regular characters, to say nothing of the self-confidence possessed by those whose lives were spared.

And thus season eight begins with an episode about the opening salvo in the war against Negan, an episode that seems to go out of its way to obscure the characters’ plans for waging said war. It gets around to more or less explaining them eventually, but for too long it leaves us furrowing our brows, because the only way The Walking Dead knows how to tell stories anymore is to pointlessly extend them, decompress them to the point where what would have been single scenes in earlier seasons now fill entire episodes, and then jostle the timeline for no particular reason. The concluding “inspirational” speech from Rick mostly made me say, “Wait, why is this happening now?”

It doesn’t matter how good the action sequences are — and there are some good ones in “Mercy” — if I don’t give a shit. Which means that finally, at long last, after sticking with The Walking Dead through good times and bad, after complaining about it but continuing to watch, after occasionally loving it, after wishing it would be better, I have won victory over myself. I no longer give a shit. Maybe you still do. I’ll see you somewhere down the road, when you, too, realize that nothing about this show is headed anywhere interesting.

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