En 11 seasons and 12 years of existence, The Walking Deadadapted from the excellent comic book series signed Robert Kirkman, attracted the crowds, but also the wrath. Initially adored, it gathered at its peak more than 17 million viewers, to drop to 4 million for his penultimate season. On the occasion of the broadcast, Monday on OCS, of the last episode of the final season, a return to the origins of the show to understand the reasons for its success – and disenchantment.
Remember the first images of this post-apocalyptic series, in which humans must face a terrible zombie virus. In the first episode of season 1, a policeman, Rick Grimes, wakes up in a hospital room, after a coma of several weeks. The flowers in the vase have faded, the water in the carafe has evaporated, no one is at her bedside.
A world of fire and blood
Somehow leaving the deserted establishment, he soon finds himself confronted with the unthinkable: yes, this little girl with a gaunt face who shows him her teeth suffers from a deadly rage and ardently wishes to transmit it to him by biting it. Everything changes in one shot: Rick Grimes becomes a warrior, climbs on horseback and finds, in the suburbs of an Atlanta on fire and blood, his wife Lauren, his son Carl and his best friend Shane (who, in the meantime, seduced his wife, who was a few weeks pregnant – but by whom?)…
Gathering around him a group of survivors (among them the very tough Carol, one of the few characters to survive through the seasons, and the very rock’n’roll Daryl, mainstay of the series), Rick traces a path among the dead to the CDC (the Center for Desease Control) in Atlanta… which ends up in ashes, reducing to nothing the hope of a treatment against the dreadful virus.
The survivors take refuge, in season 2, in a farm where Maggie, another key character in the series, enters the scene. Cherishing the hope of a pastoral life governed by the rigorous principles of Hershel, patriarch and owner of the farm, the group sees their dreams shattered when a horde of zombies descends on the farm. But a mythical couple has formed: that of Glenn and Maggie, who sealed their love during a raid of condoms in a disused pharmacy. Ass sequence.
The survivors settle in season 3 in a prison invaded by “walkers”, make it an almost cozy habitat, when the character of the Governor, a psychopath with the air of an attractive guru, comes to mess with them. The war begins, as another powerful woman enters the lives of the survivors: the ferocious Michonne, armed with a slender katana and two zombies on leashes. She is accompanied by Andrea, evaporated after season 1, who has a rather warm relationship with the Governor – bad pick.
We had to wait until season 4 to see the Governor fall, dragging down Rick’s prison shelter and his large family. Dispersed, they head in small groups towards Le Terminus, a so-called sanctuary where a fate awaits them even more atrocious than death by zombie bites. The final scene of the season is a pinnacle of success in terms of action and violence.
Season 5 is a season of wandering and starvation, led by a frankly uptight Rick, breaking away from the democratic ideals he sought to cultivate in his previous attempts to remake a society. Everything works out (a little) end of season 5, when the survivors land in Alexandria, a former complex of posh residences with boho tendencies, fenced and independent in terms of resources. They bring along the priest Gabriel, half-archangel, half-bastard, who will long remain a model of ambiguity in the series.
Only then, Rick Grimes, a real problem magnet in a world in disrepair, is quickly flushed out by the very brutal but charismatic villain of the series: Negan. Armed with a wire-turbaned bat, he offers his “protection” to the survivors of Alexandria, in exchange for serious plunder of their resources and downright bloody harassment.
From success to misfortune
Season 6 ends with a mythical cliffhanger: to put down the rebellion of the Alexandria group, Negan brings down his famous bat on the face of one of the characters. But which one? The question torments fans during the six months that the production lets pass before season 7, whose first episode garnered 17.02 million viewers in the United States – his second recordafter 17.25 million curious people for the launch of season 5.
Alas: for AMC’s goose, it’s also the start of the descent into hell. Many fans take the tangent in front of the violence of the introductory scene of this season 7, which sees two of our unfortunate heroes, the crushed face, the whole embellished with a few pieces of brain. Set in Alexandria, focused on the standoff between Rick and Negan, seasons 7 and 8, written by showrunner Scott Gimple, took on the air of soft belly, endlessly stretching and recycling bloody bickering, low blows from all horsehair and dialogues raplapla. Only Negan and his cruel valves bring a little salt to this meat soup. Meager pittance.
A final battle resembling a medieval duel closes (finally!) this endless fight by putting Negan out of harm’s way for an entire season. Too bad: the big bad wolf all dressed in leather was, of course, highly immoralbut also distinctly more caustic, and ultimately more complex than Rick Grimes, whose ideal of life borrowed from the Pilgrim Fathers and his endless talk of the beauty of family life had rendered vaguely pontificating.
Anxious to seduce viewers, whose number was reduced by more than half during season 8, the production entrusted the reins of seasons 9 to 11 to showrunner Angela Kang, more efficient and dynamic than her predecessor. This brings the very lousy Whisperers into the scene, bards of the end of the world, whose strategy consists of blending into the mass of zombies by donning masks of flesh torn from walking corpses (bon appetit!)
Characters without qualms led by the chilling Alpha, shaved head and piercing gaze, the Whisperers terrorize the survivors of Alexandria, who have nevertheless managed to graze their ideal of peaceful autonomy, cultivating tomatoes and potatoes in a serene city, in the basement of which a Negan is languishing out of harm’s way.
This ninth season is that of leaving rick, who disappeared in very strange circumstances, but also that of the (very) slow return to favor of Negan, whom confinement led to introspection and remorse. The Whisperers come full circle on the moral concept of the series The Walking Dead by embodying the absolute failure of humanity in the face of zombie voracity. Lowering themselves to the rank of a herd, living among the dead, they represent the exact opposite of the ideal pursued by Rick and his friends: to remake the world and move towards life.
Except that to be declined too much, the mechanism of the series ended up wearing out, and the talent of Angela Kang was not enough to restore her health. Season after season, the Manichaeism of The Walking Dead took hold, turning the script into a tiresome mechanic, pitting the good guys against the bad guys in a world where zombies are little more than decorum.
The cliffhanger, whose seasons 5 and 6 had offered models of the genre, has become a must, putting on the chopping block of the audience, with each episode of ” mid season » (this very frustrating break of a few months dividing the last seasons into two parts) or in each final episode, the head of one or more beloved characters of the public. A sadistic trick, effective, but a bit easy, and often free.
The disturbing Alpha and his colossal minion Beta have stood out from the crowd, bringing to the series a venomous subtlety, viewership figures continued to fallplummeting in season 10 to 4 million viewers – it must be said that the chapter of the Whisperers, as well shot as it was, would have benefited from occupying only one season instead of two.
And season 11? Gone is the Whisperers, who didn’t leave without leaving behind them a lot of trauma and some interestingly thick characters – like Lydia, Alpha’s daughter. The series continues to bridge the gap with the comics that inspired it by introducing the Commonwealth, a seemingly healthy and reassuring system, reproducing the social classes of yesteryear in a flourishing city.
For better and for worse
Behind the Commonwealth, ruled with an iron fist by Governor Pamela Milton, all in fake blonde hair and severe suits, hides a not very clean system of oppression, violence and injustice. Bringing to light Pamela’s schemes, the heirs of Rick (who still hasn’t reappeared) embarked on their latest crusade, the most interesting, because the most nuanced.
Breaking away from the age-old “savage post-humans versus nice Robinsons” model, this final season tackles fairly subtle ethical and societal questions. Worn by an ever more touching Negan, a Daryl rougher than ever (love it or hate it) and familiar characters that we love to see evolve (thank goodness they didn’t kill them all), this finale mixes the worst and the best of the eleven seasons of The Walking Dead.
The worst ? The last sequences of the last episode, syrupy to perfection, exalting as never before the cereal atmosphere that the inhabitants of Alexandria have always called for, which resemble a very long clip for an insurance company. A fireproof Manichaeism, which slowly turns into a cream pie angelism, sadly bland compared to the first seasons. And an increasingly cheap aspect: the zombies seem to have come out of a primary school Halloween parade, the special effects are rarer and less well done.
The best ? Faced with the snapping jaws of the hungry hordes, one has the heart beating. And when a well-known character gets bitten, it’s unstoppable, that same heart bleeds. From the height of her 12 years, Judith Grimes, Rick’s daughter, perfectly embodies the new badass generation of this zombified America, and makes you want to look at the side of the multiple spin-offs planned for the coming years: after Fear The Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyondthe channel announced for 2023 the series The Walking Dead: Dead Cityfeaturing Negan and Maggie, The Walking Dead: Rick and Michonne and The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon. When there are no more, there are still some (full or too much, it is to be seen).
The icing on the cake: the cult characters are more cult than ever. Special mention to Daryl, who manages to hack a motorcycle more than ten years after the end of gasoline. In short, there is still in this show a rather clear idea of what a great show is. So much so that once the last episode swallowed… we may have grumbled, we would recover well, to see, the very first.