When io9 co-founders Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders hired me as a Senior Editor back in 2012, I never expected to still be at the site a decade later. I certainly never expected to recap The Walking Dead the entire time, and now that the show is over, I have no idea how to feel about it. But I’m pretty sure it’s not good.
And when I say a decade, I mean 10 years almost exactly. Annalee and CJ made it very clear that one of my tasks upon being hired would be taking on recaps of the then-incredibly popular zombie series. So on my very first day at io9, November 19, 2012, I wrote about the previous night’s installment, “Hounded,” the sixth episode of season three and the 25th episode of The Walking Dead overall. If you remember it, and I know you don’t, you can read my ancient recap here or take my word it’s the one where ghosts keep calling an increasingly unstable Rick on the phone. It was a pretty good episode!
Sunday night, November 20, one day after my 10th io9 anniversary, the final episode of The Walking Dead aired, titled “Rest in Peace.” AMC didn’t send out a screener until Monday, but I got sick so I wrote it Tuesday. The show ended on 177, which means 153 Walking Dead episodes have aired since I started here and I’ve written about almost all of them, minus a few Germain Lussier had to cover when I was sick or on vacation. I feel confident I’ve recapped 148 of them over the course of a decade and three days.
If you’ve stuck with io9’s Walking Dead recaps through my tenure, you know I’m obnoxiously verbose. I have utter confidence that the vast majority of these recaps clocked in at least 1,000 words, and many of them hit 1,500. At an estimated 1200 words per recap overall, I’d say I have written over 177,000 words about individual episodes of The Walking Dead. That’s not counting TWD news articles or trailer write-ups, which I’ve also done the vast majority of, because I’m io9’s Walking Dead guy.
This staggers me. I’m 45 years old, which means I have spent 2/9ths of my life on this Earth not just watching but professionally writing about The Walking Dead, a show that has occasionally been great but much more often been awful. I mean, terrible. This is an extraordinary amount of time watching a show I frequently disliked.
I mean, when I began recapping the series, it was entering its heyday. The Walking Dead was never more consistently good than the second half of season three through season five, including the series’ high point, “Clear,” and the heartbreaking “The Grove.” Even the season five finale, “Conquer,” where Rick (Andrew Lincoln) appeared to have lost his mind and uttered the famous/infamous line “I’m wondering, how many of you do I gotta kill to save your lives?” was excellent, showing the protagonist as a man who had been pushed too far by a brutal world and had lost his way. The Walking Dead seemed to be Rick using to ask if survival is more important than humanity, a fascinating question that the show was uniquely positioned to explore.
And then… it didn’t. In season six, it turned out Rick’s brutality was apparently the correct answer. Well, let me clarify—Rick’s way wasn’t necessarily the right way to go, because there were usually consequences for his violent actions, it’s just that maddeningly, no one on the show ever mentioned this or confronted him about his actions. The show gave tacit approval to things like Rick’s pre-emptive assault against the Saviors’ outpost, even though it made Negan and the Saviors aware there was a new colony ripe for the picking, which led to repercussions not just for the protagonists, but the show itself.
It was March 2015—more than seven long years ago—when The Walking Dead, in an astounding act of hubris, decided to end season six with a cliffhanger after promising for months that the finale would feature the most shocking, brutal moment of the entire series. Like his introduction in the comics, the villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) should have immediately murdered someone upon his arrival—except instead of showing which character died, the episode ended with a point-of-view shot from the victim of Negan’s bat.
It was infuriating then, but it also gave the show’s then 14 million viewers (still an astonishing number) more than six months to speculate who died, thereby ensuring whatever the result, it would be expected to some degree.
More than 17 million people watched the season seven premiere to discover who the victim would be, only to discover it was Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), a second-tier character who wouldn’t be missed much. Still, fans gave a collective sigh of relief that Glenn (Steven Yeun), the beloved character who Negan killed in the comics and was the heart of the soul of the show, had been spared. And then Rick shot his mouth off and Negan beat Glenn to death as well. It may have been surprising, but it was also infuriating—and more than anything, none of it worth waiting half a year for.
Since then, The Walking Dead has hemorrhaged viewers (to the point that less than 1.5 million people watched the show’s penultimate episode). Sure, it didn’t help that star Andrew Lincoln left the series early in season nine, but it also didn’t help that the “war” with Negan and his Saviors was drawn out to three excruciating seasons. I spent so many of the middle years of The Walking Dead furious at the lack of character development, furious at how padded out the episodes were, and how there was almost no one to root for because the protagonists kept murdering people in cold blood. Then, my partner Loree told me something that has stuck with me ever since: “It must be as exhausting for people to read your angry recaps as it is exhausting for you to write them.”
She was absolutely correct, and I changed my outlook immediately. I tried to find the positives in each episode. I tried to merely point out problems instead of ranting about them. Mostly, though, I just tried to not care about what the show did or didn’t do. That sounds harsh, but what I really mean is that I tried not to let the show affect me or my mood, and to meet it on its own terms. The Walking Dead was gonna Walking Dead no matter what I wrote, I figured, so why should I get worked up over the seemingly permanent reality that the show wasn’t as good as it used to be? Hilariously and predictably, I have had commenters mad at me for both being too nice and still too mean to TWD, but I’ve also slept a lot better on Sunday nights.
But I’ll sleep even better this coming Sunday night, knowing that I will never have to recap an episode of The Walking Dead again… well, at least until the Rick and Michonne miniseries comes out, if it ever does. (I have already told my io9 compatriots that I won’t be recapping the Dead City or Daryl Dixon spin-offs, no matter what they pay me or threaten me with.) Having spent 10 long years watching this damned show, I feel chained to it enough that I need to find out what happened to Rick after he was airlifted by helicopter with Jadis (Polly Walker), the leader of the late Garbage Dump Performance Art Troupe.
Looking back at a full decade of recapping The Walking Dead, I can’t help but feel oh my god how did a spend a decade of my life watching this show that overall I don’t think I enjoyed. The fact that it overlaps almost exactly with my tenure at io9 complicates things immensely for me, since overall I’ve enjoyed my time here, minus a real-life supervillain or two. The two experiences are inextricably linked for me, and will be for a while, I suspect. But right now, I have no ability to truly understand what I’ve done or has been done to me. I’m insensate. Numb. Listless. Lifeless. After 10 long years, I am the walking dead. But if nothing else, The Walking Dead has given me one piece of advice to help guide me through this difficult transition in my life, all the way back in the very first episode that aired on October 31, 2010:
Don’t dead. Open inside.
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