I wasn’t going to watch it. Ever since the (pathetically weak) Season Six finale of The Walking Dead last Spring, it’s been clear that the show was determined to re-enact the storyline that made me stop reading the comic book. I therefore vowed that I would skip the Season Seven premiere, read about what happened on Facebook, and then decide if I wanted to watch.
But my wife Renee and my son Christian wanted to watch, so I grabbed a beer and a stack of comic books, and said, “Okay, I’ll be in the room with you.” Before the show started, we had our weekly Facetime session with my son, Ethan, who now lives in South Carolina. He wasn’t sure if he was going to watch, but, since we were, he fired up his AMC app and got ready to join the fun. Understand that the four of us have been Walking Dead fans since the series first aired. In Ethan’s case, he’d read the comics for a couple of years before that.
We signed off with Ethan and turned on the show.
My promise to be in the room lasted 21 minutes, including commercials. When Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character chose his victim and lashed out with the first strike of his stupid, “named” murder weapon, and then began to recite his character’s sickening words from The Walking Dead comic book, issue #100, I left the room.
I haven’t moved my entire library of old blogs from LiveJournal to StevenHWilson.com, but here’s one from back in 2012 that’s relevant tonight. The Season Premiere of The Walking Dead was a shot-by-shot adaptation of issue 100 of the comic series. It seems fandom is split on whether this was a good or bad show. I made my decision four years ago, and I stick by it. The words I wrote then, when I stopped reading the comic, apply tonight, as I stop watching the show. And here they are
I try to avoid negative reviews of works. This time, though, I think there’s a lot of intellectual meat in a discussion of a work I had a very bad reaction to, and why that same work has been overwhelmingly popular. Here we go. Below are vague spoilers. No names mentioned, but some events described.
I’ve been behind on the graphic novel series The Walking Dead. Way behind. Volume 17 is due out next month, and, as of last week, I had read through Volume 8. Ordinarily, I’m not normally one of those comic readers who waits for the graphic novel to come out. There was no such thing as a “graphic novel” when I was growing up. Comic books came out monthly or bi-monthly, and you read each issue as soon as you had it in your hands. There was no waiting for the trade paperback edition to come out a week after the last part of the story was published, and stories were not designed to flow better as 144-page novels than they did as 24-page chapters. Now the creators are so conscious of the release of six or twelve issues at a time that reading a single issue seems almost pointless, like reading a page of a novel once a month. Nothing happens, and you lose the thread of the story.
So last week I gave a rundown of how four different SF stories used cannibalism in their plots. Most prominent were the first few episodes of this season of The Walking Dead, less obvious was an episode of the almost-forty-year old Space:1999 series called “Mission of the Darians.” Less well-known to those who think science fiction was invented in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry are two of Robert Heinlein’s works, Stranger in a Strange Land and Farnham’s Freehold.
All use cannibalism as a metaphor. In the two TV storylines, it’s a metaphor for denial of the importance of the individual. In Freehold, it’s a metaphor for oppression of one group by another. In Stranger, it’s a metaphor for strangeness, alien-ness, and acceptance of the universe. It’s also used as a gentle poke at Western Christians who consider themselves more civilized than the heathens who go around rubbing blue mud in their bellies.
As with most of my blog posts, this one has grown out of many intertwined roots. The first was the featuring of cannibalism as a theme in the opening episodes of The Walking Dead’s fifth season. The second was my reading, at the same time, of Robert Wood’s well-researched volume Destination: Moonbase Alpha, a re-visitation of the making of one of my all-time favorite SF series, Space: 1999. (A show which many in the SF community hold in utter contempt. 1999 fans long ago learned to stop caring in the slightest.) The final contributing factor was my participation at PhilCon, only days ago as I began writing this, in a panel discussion about William H. Patterson’s authorized biography of the Dean of American SF, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. This was a well-attended discussion moderated by author Michael Swanwick.
PhilCon was before Thanksgiving, and The Walking Dead has already reached its mid-season finale for this year. As you can tell, this discussion has been brewing for a while.