As a show, The Walking Dead has lately suffered a bit from the fact that there’s only so much you can do when civilization has collapsed and the world is full of zombies who only care about eating every living they come across. You can set up a little community of the living, one that will inevitably collapse because death is an unavoidable part of life and all it takes is one zombie to start an outbreak. You can keep moving, which might keep you alive for a little bit longer but still, death is inevitable. Or you can go batshit crazy and set yourself up as a dictator, which means that you’ll soon be as dangerous, deadly, and feared as the undead.
The lack of choice when it comes to what to do during a zombie apocalypse is one of the key parts of the genre and the best zombie films — like Romero’s Dead films for example — explore what happens to people when they find themselves in a hopeless situation. From Night of the Living Dead to Survival of the Living Dead, George Romero always remained consistent in that the undead were ultimately going to win. You simply can’t outrun death.
The first few seasons of The Walking Dead managed to capture that feeling of inescapable doom perfectly. However, now that The Walking Dead has started its eleventh season, it’s hard not to notice that there don’t seem to be any new stories left to be told. The Walking Dead has done it all and the series now often feels as if it’s just repeating itself. Last night’s episode was well-directed and well-acted (particularly by Lauren Cohan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Josh McDermitt) but it just all felt a little bit too familiar.
Once again, we had Maggie and Negan coming to an uneasy truce while seemingly trapped in an inescapable location by a bunch of walkers. Even Maggie’s decision to leave Gage to be killed by the walkers felt like a replay of the same stuff that Rick used to do in almost every single episode. I felt sorry for Gage but I could see Maggie’s reasoning, just as I could understand Negan’s reasoning for leaving her behind last episode. It’s a dark world where only the ruthless and unsentimental survive. We already knew that, though. A few season’s ago, Gage’s death would have been shocking but, after 11 seasons, everyone watching should have known Gage would eventually end up dead. Darryl, of course, saved everyone because that’s what Darryl does. At the end of the episode, we met a new group of masked villains, the Reapers. And, again, we’ve been through all this before. There’s always a new group of villains showing up and they always announce their presence by killing a minor character. Sorry, Roy. The plot mechanics demand that you die.
Meanwhile, Eugene, Princess, Ezekiel, and Yumiko have been accepted as citizens of the Commonwealth which …. hasn’t this happened before? Again, it all felt very familiar and rather expected, right down to the sudden introduction of a woman claiming to be Stephanie, the woman that Eugene was trying to find. At this point, it’s pretty obvious that the woman is not really Stephanie and Stephanie probably doesn’t exist but was instead an elaborate ruse that the Commonwelath came up with to trick Eugene.
The sad truth of the matter is that all shows eventually run out of stories to tell and they end up recycling. Just think about the final three seasons of The Office, where everyone was suddenly developing an unrequited crush on a coworker in an attempt to recreate some of the Jim/Pam magic of the first four seasons. Running out of new stories to tell is especially likely to happen when your entire show revolves around how impossible it is to avoid death. As well-directed and well-acted as last night’s episode was, it still left me with the feeling that The Walking Dead has run out of new stories. The actors will always hold my interest but, from a narrative point of view, it’s definitely time for this apocalypse to come to an end.