You know when you first start watching a series, and someone ahead of you says you won't believe how different things are, and how far characters have come when you reach the season they're on? It seems The Walking Dead is made of that situation, and with Season 6 fast approaching, it's worth questioning if it will ever break out of this model of never ending story.
So The Walking Dead Season 5 is wrapped up, and it was in this season that Rick's famous "we are the walking dead" speech was brilliantly adapted to screen. It was one of the most iconic moments in the comics; where Rick Grimes himself comes to realise the entire theme of Robert Kirkman's work, and cements what makes The Walking Dead different from everything else in zombie fiction.
What's odd is that, in the comics, the "we are the walking dead" line was framed more as a judgement; a condemnation of what the group had become. In the show, it has more of a hopeful air, and seems to be a coping mechanism. Paradoxically, Rick and the group can keep pushing on so long as they're still able to be killed off without mercy. In a way, that's how the show itself works. So long as it's characters can die, it will live on.
One has to wonder, then. With the show fully realising itself, and functioning on this almost nihilistic sensibility, where does it have to go? Perhaps we should be asking not so much what Season 6 of The Walking Dead will bring us, but how Season 6 can perpetuate the show's drama?
Warning: Huge Comic Spoilers to Follow!
How much Season 6 of The Walking Dead should really adhere to further events from the comic? I'm not saying this because I don't like where the comics go, but because they expose the hollow nature of what drives The Walking Dead. It's become a shooting gallery for Robert Kirkman to revel in his own fatalistic premise.
I'm not suggesting that the entire series should end after the "we are the walking dead" speech, or that Season 6 shouldn't even happen, but let's play a game. Name a zombie apocalypse product with a satisfying ending that doesn't end with every character dead or with them moving towards some vague element of hope. It's hard to do, and it seems as though the Walking Dead is perfectly comfortable in just not ending, at least if the trajectory of the comics is to be believed.
So what if Carl loses a chunk of his face to a stray bullet and begins to lose his sanity? So what if a veritable war begins with another group of survivors believing themselves a master race? So what if Glenn gets beaten to death in one of the cruelest most sadistic scenes put to page? Once The Walking Dead has burnt up its stocks of themes and statements, it turns to its alternate fuel. It's own characters. Yes, there are plenty of events for people to look forward to in Season 6, but is The Walking Dead burning through it's own drama faster than it can conjure it?
This is one reason why Telltale Games' The Walking Dead game is so widely revered. Season 1 doesn't end with the bleakest of bleakness, nor does it end with the characters walking off into a sunset that symbolises some vague happy ending. It's simply a self contained arc of a few characters you're made to care very much about, and doesn't outstay it's welcome beyond the compelling drama it's able to create... until they went and made Season 2. Dammit I was making a point!
Game of Thrones seems to have the same problem too. So much of what people find interesting about the show is the way it can throw curveballs and screw with audience expectation, but it's been doing this to such a degree that the overall endgame of the show becomes obscured. How can this story possibly have a satisfying ending when it's entire appeal is based upon being in flux and the state of characters being uncertain. This is the mind I'm in going into The Walking Dead Season 6 with. There's only so much you can play around with the stakes before those very stakes stop meaning anything.
Maybe the Walking Dead will just be accepted as an ongoing zombie show that is not designed to end. A show like The Simpsons doesn't end because it's very premise doesn't necessitate it to, so perhaps The Walking Dead Season 6 will realise it can just be a post apocalyptic equivalent. Or if anyone gets tired, they can just use the Shawn of the Dead ending, and have everything go back to normal suddenly. I'd be down with that!