“The Walking Dead” has created a new television genre

“The Walking Dead” has created a new television genre

April 04
14:04 2016

Tyler Hicks | Contributing Writer

The Walking Dead has never been easy to watch, but how much misery can we handle?

Sunday’s season six finale, “Last Day on Earth,” confirmed what I had suspected for a long time: no show on television aims to shock, disgust and depress its audience quite like this series.

At first, the blood and guts was mostly fun and games, and most of us probably watched with the understanding that our favorite characters were always safe. We firmly believed that, no matter how bad the situation appeared, Rick and Co. would always survive the endless onslaught of hungry “walkers.”

We were dead wrong.

The Walking Dead doesn’t just settle for killing off major characters — it wastes them, often in gruesome and ghastly ways that leave dark clouds of terror and angst hanging over every moment of following episodes. This show is just as painful as it is entertaining, and, for that reason, it has launched a brand new genre for the silver screen: misery television.

Misery TV is like the news: almost always depressing, yet you watch it because, hey, staying up-to-date is important. Likewise, The Walking Dead lures us in because it feels like necessary viewing. It is quality television that still manages to stick out in an age of television where great programming can be found on your TV, your laptop and your phone.

Furthermore, fans of great TV have probably noticed that pervasive dread has been a major theme on the small screen ever since Breaking Bad premiered in 2008. Shows like Better Call Saul, Mr. Robot, Bloodline and Game of Thrones all make their audiences squirm with discomfort and despair, and it all adds up to an often depressing, yet entirely riveting viewing experience.

But nothing can touch The Walking Dead when it comes to creating elated discontent, and no other show in history has the moxie that Dead has displayed time and time again.

Unfortunately for my fellow fragile fans out there, this moxie has brought about an increasingly wretched TV-watching experience.

Like many of you, I have stuck with the show through a group of cannibals who ate a man’s leg in front of him, a young child forced to kill his mom to save her from zombification, and now, a charismatic bat-wielder who chortles and mocks as he crushes his victims’ skulls with a barb-wired bat he calls “Lucille.”

Regardless of what this bloody, brilliant show has thrown at us, we keep coming back for more. Just like Rick and his motley crew, we persevere, even if we don’t completely understand why.

But with this season’s finale, both our resilience and our heroes’ resilience faced its biggest test yet.

From the frequent run-ins with the murderous “Saviors,” to the pounding heartbeat that served as the soundtrack to the opening scenes, the events of “Last Day on Earth” epitomized “misery TV.” We knew that Negan was coming, and, worse yet, we knew his arrival would bring about the death of one or more major characters.

Ultimately, the writers swerved, ending on a cliffhanger that was more brutally effective than any blow from Lucille.

After a tantalizing game of “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe,” Negan chose an unidentified character to bludgeon to death.

Through the eyes of this mystery victim, we watched helplessly as the bat came crashing down for hit after hit after hit. All we heard was the cracking of bones and the cries of our loved ones.

Until this point, we’ve viewed the suffering from a safe distance, like onlookers in a terrible highway accident. But now, if only for a few moments, we were the victims. In the ultimate metaphor for Walking Dead fandom, Negan was beating us to death, and we couldn’t take our eyes away from the horror.

But it can’t get worse than that, right?

It probably can. I’ll lie to myself all summer long, and repeatedly say that I won’t tune in when the show returns in October.

But of course I will. Like all misery television, The Walking Dead is good and hellishly entertaining, and I’ll stay with it ‘til the bitter end.

Or at least until Daryl dies.

Featured Image: Courtesy | Bing Images

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