Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On zombies and who Negan killed (not just a theory nor a spoiler)

Joe Puente
(post-zombie apocalypse)
For the most part, I would not say that I’ve been a big fan of the zombie genre. The only time I ever saw “Night of the Living Dead,” it was an abbreviated version over which comedians improvised new dialogue—with a completely different plot. It’s also interesting to note that of all the zombie movies ever produced, more than half of them were created in this century. I couldn’t keep up with them if I wanted to.

I’ve had a few different reasons for not being interested in seeing most zombie movies. My go-to excuse is that I have no interest in seeing pointless violence in the form of people killing other people that, technically, are already dead. The real reason I haven’t watched too many of these movies is because… well… I think zombies are scary. There. I said it.

Who wouldn’t be creeped out and downright terrified by a hoard of creatures that kinda look like people but can’t be reasoned with? They just keep on coming after you despite your best efforts to evade them. Like a mall kiosk salesperson who won’t take “No” for an answer, it’s horrifying! Okay, at the very least it’s creepy and makes you uncomfortable despite the fact that they’re essentially harmless. The zombies, I mean—because they’re not real. I can’t say the same for the kiosk salespeople.

The slow, staggering zombies are scary enough. Fast zombies like the ones in “28 Days Later” are even worse. I don’t like running! But at least I know that I could outrun a slow zombie. The ability to run seems like a majorly unfair advantage to give to those things.

I totally understand why zombies are so popular as villains. What they lack in thinking ability they more than make up for by instilling fear in others, especially when facing a hoard of the undead. That’s probably why the Borg were such effective villains in Star Trek. They were basically space zombies.

It’s odd to consider characters like the Borg or the White Walkers (occasionally just called "walkers") from “Game of Thrones” as variations on zombies. The “modern” zombie is itself is derivative of the original zombie concept. Am I the only one who remembers “The Serpent and the Rainbow”? (I’m not saying that it’s definitive, I’m just wondering if anyone else remembers that Bill Pullman was in that movie). Remember that one scene that made every guy who watched it cringe and snap his legs together?

As I stated above, MOST zombie movies don’t interest me. Obviously there are a few that I found intriguing.

I did enjoy “Shawn of the Dead” though I only saw it years after it had been in theaters.
That the producers of “Warm Bodies” were able to pull off a Zombie/Romantic Comedy mashup was quite impressive. Of course, making the audience sympathetic to traditionally unsympathetic characters (i.e. zombies) was quite a challenge. The filmmakers’ choice to present part of the story from the zombie’s perspective as well as to contrast them with a different type of zombie that was simply even more unsympathetic (the Boneys) was very effective. Of course John Malkovich’s character did the human population of the film no favors as far as endearing the audience to them which, of course, made the “friendly” zombies easier to root for.

There was a time when I was dismissive of the entire zombie genre but that changed when I saw the first trailer for AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” At first, I was indeed dismissive of it. “Great!,” I thought. “More zombies. When is this zombie fad going to just go away?” But I kept watching and there came a brief moment in that trailer that really got my attention:

Seeing Morgan’s determination to rid the world of walkers seemed apropos for the genre but this is followed by a look of utter devastation when he recognizes the creature that used to be his wife among the hoard. That moment made it very clear to me that “The Walking Dead” was not just an action-packed tv-show about zombies. It was a dramatic series about people and how they live in extremely difficult circumstances and made me think, “Okay, this is something different and I think I need to see it.”

I’ve been watching the series ever since and have really enjoyed seeing how these disparate characters have evolved in this strange world over the course of its run. While I have not taken the time to read the comic book it’s based on, I have read about it in the interest of knowing how the television show has both followed and deviated from the source material.

The original Negan and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan
(Photo: Twitter Photo Section/@JoBlo)
I recall learning about the new villain “Negan” and how he was supposed to be the worst person Rick Grimes and company have encountered so far. Between the Governor and the “Termites,” I thought that was going to be pretty difficult to pull off but Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s brief introduction of the character at the end of season 6 has certainly made me reconsider that preconception.

Of course, the major mystery of the season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth,” is just which of the beloved main characters was murdered by Negan with his weapon of choice, a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named “Lucille.”

The identity of Negan’s victim in the comic books has been known since 2012 when Glenn made his last appearance in issue #101. However, since the television series has never shied away from deviating from the comic book storyline, this particular outcome isn’t set in stone. There are several characters who have been killed on the TV show that are still alive in the comics and vice versa.

It’s reasonable to assume that most fans of the show have their theories about how any one of the main characters got to meet Lucille up close and personal. Some have even painstakingly analyzed the audio and visuals from the show to try and find clues. I personally don’t have the patience to break down the final moments of the episode frame-by-frame nor am I particularly invested in any of the characters to be heartbroken if they’re let go from the series.

Nevertheless, I’m just as curious as anyone else who wants to know who died and what will happen next but instead of trying to analyze audio, video, characters arcs or potential hints from the source material, I thought it would be interesting to try and look at the situation from the point-of-view of the WRITERS on the show.

So, as I imagine myself sitting with the other series writers, I have to ask them a couple of questions:

Writing Staff Question #1) “Who should be kept alive and why?”

I wouldn’t kill off Rick because he is the show.

I’d keep Carl around because watching him grow up in this world is just too damned interesting.

Michonne can’t die. I won’t allow it. ;-) Okay, it would really suck for Rick to lose another love interest so soon after losing Jessie. He had just gotten to a place where he felt he could be with someone after losing Lori in season 2.
Update: It was brought to my attention by a friend familiar with the comics that 
"Negan doesn't kill women with Lucille... Because of that, the women are safe (IMO)." (emphasis added) 
To clarify, my friend didn't say that Negan doesn't kill women. Only that he doesn't kill them "with Lucille." So, I'm not sure how safe women are around him in general. Taking that into consideration, one must ask if this policy will cross over to the TV show or not. One never knows.
Daryl, the only surviving Dixon brother, is way too valuable to the show to let go through the business end of a repurposed baseball bat. Of course, there’s also that whole riot threat to consider.

Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee
I would prefer not to have it be Glenn. If, for no other reason, than to be different from the comics. That whole expectant father in the apocalypse angle is also something to consider. HIs relationship with Maggie is another thing that keeps people watching the show.

Abraham and Sasha just started their romantic relationship so it would be a pity to see that come to a quick end.

Eugene has come a long way since his “Scientist on a mission to D.C.” ruse fell apart. It could be argued that he needs more time to put the karmic balance in his favor before he can be killed off. Especially since he failed so horribly in his efforts to bait the Saviors away from the rest of the group.

Writing Staff Question #2) “Who’s death would have the most profound impact on the rest of the group (and by extension, on the audience that empathizes with them)?”

Obviously, if you killed Rick, you break everyone’s heart (especially those of Michonne and Carl). Though it would be interesting to see how Carl’s character develops without his father’s guidance.

Norman Reedus already has another show on AMC to fall back on—and I’m sure a backlog of other film and television offers to choose from should Daryl meet an untimely end. Part of what makes “The Walking Dead” so great is the fact that no one is ever off limits when it comes to character mortality, even if they’re the most popular on the show. Let the fans riot!

Which brings us back to Glenn. I don’t think Glenn’s death would be all that impactful. While there would be disappointment on both sides of the fourth wall, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to the audience since it’s known that Negan kills Glenn in the comics. Sure, Rick and company would be devastated to lose one of their own—especially since Glenn is thus far one of the longest-surviving members of the core group—but he wouldn’t be the first husband/father/leader to be lost. This is the point where the reader chimes in with, “What about Maggie? They’ve been through so much together! She’s already lost her parents and she’s pregnant with his child. Losing Glenn would certainly have a profound effect on her.”

To which, I respond, “You’re right. What about Maggie?” She wouldn’t be the first widow or single mother on the show. We already know that she’s a strong character who can survive just about any challenge thrown at her. Losing Glenn would be tragic for her and the audience but she has already proven herself capable of enduring such tragedies.

This begs another examination of the second question posed to the writing staff.

Dare I answer that question with a question?
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene

 “What about Maggie?”

Murdering anyone in cold blood for completely arbitrary reasons is awful enough. When that person is an ill, pregnant woman and is also adored by companions and audience alike, it becomes extra tragic. Make said pregnant woman the spouse of an equally admired character—to say nothing of being one half of a fan-favorite couple—and the dramatic stakes are raised even higher and that’s just in the moment. Consider the impact a pregnant Maggie’s death would have on Glenn.

Glenn’s story has been played out in the comic. A good guy in a rotten world whose life ended tragically and without purpose. By changing Negan’s victim from Glenn to Maggie, there is potential to explore parts of Glenn’s psyche that no one has seen before. Not just over losing the woman he loves—he’s considered her loss several times before, though I imagine he usually thought of her succumbing to walkers. While there were certainly situations where Maggie was in danger from other humans, add to the encounter with Negan the factors of her pregnancy, the danger her life and the life of their unborn child are already in as they try to get medical attention and the thought of her being murdered in cold blood and you have a constellation of circumstances that I think could make the otherwise thoughtful and cool-headed Glenn just snap.

By making Maggie the victim of Negan’s sadistic initiation of the group into the Savior collective, the writing staff has an opportunity to take Glenn’s character to places they may never have considered before. Glenn will have lost everything. Not only the world that he shared with Maggie—despite how frightening and uncertain it was—but also their future, the potential that was their child and the hope they may have had to try and raise a good person in a broken society. In this scenario, Glenn has nothing else to lose, except his own humanity. Yes, it would be tragic (dare I say more tragic than the initial loss of his family) but for dramatic and story-telling purposes it gives the writers a lot to work with. How would Glenn process this profound loss? Do the new circumstances he finds himself in even allow him an opportunity to grieve?

As a writer, I would relish the opportunity to explore just how Glenn channels his anger. To figure out how he might avenge the death of his wife and especially to see if his moral compass remains intact throughout. It would be much more interesting (and probably more realistic) if his need for revenge means not allowing anything or anyone—even the people he has survived with—to get in his way. Perhaps even to the point of betraying the people who are, for all practical purposes, his family all so that he can exact vengeance.

Of course, at the end of that journey, the writers would also have so figure out what would become of Glenn in the end. Dying in the attempt would seem anti-climactic. To see Glenn succeed, defeat Negan and then find himself alone because he may have also destroyed what was left of his original group in the process, would be the ultimate challenge. What would that do to the psyche of anyone? Would there be any humanity left within him to redeem at that point? And, if so, how?
N.B. I’m totally calling intellectual property "dibs" on this alternate history. If any comic book artists reading this would like to collaborate with me on a one-off/what-if Walking Dead issue that explores these ideas, let me know.
Revised 4/27/16, 1:51 PM MST

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