Walking Dead: The fan relationship with The Walking Dead

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Norman Reedus speaks onstage during the Comic Con The Walking Dead panel at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on October 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for AMC)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Norman Reedus speaks onstage during the Comic Con The Walking Dead panel at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on October 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for AMC) /

Some Walking Dead fans want to give up on the show–does the relationship have to be over?

“I’m done.” How often have we heard that from fans of The Walking Dead? After Hershel died. After Glenn died. After Glenn’s dumpster adventure. I agree, TWD has had some ups and downs, but enough for fans to end the relationship completely? Really?

Let’s compare the TWD/fan relationship to the stages of a relationship with another human being. An article by Marian Stansbury, PhD, on Goodtherapy.org, describes three phases of a relationship: romantic love, the power struggle, and mature love. Here is part of what the article says about romantic love:

"“We just experience the attraction and feel the chemistry. We discover all the things we have in common and minimize, if we even notice, the differences we have.”"

With TWD, the romantic love phase is during Seasons 1 thru 3. In S1, we were so excited about this new show! We experienced Rick finding the “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” doors, met the one and only Daryl Dixon, watched Shane start to question Rick, and talked about existential philosophy with fellow-fans after some characters decided to stay and get blown up at the CDC. We couldn’t wait for the next episode to learn more!

In S2, we realized that this relationship had the potential to get serious. We were not just having fun; we were developing trust. With TWD, it was trust that this story would take us on a terrific ride. At the farm, the ride included Glenn going down the well, Rick shooting Dave and Tony in the bar, and of course, Rick’s fabulous “This is not a democracy anymore” speech. I saw in a tweet that one fan’s TWD relationship moved from “like” to “love” when Sophia came out of the barn as a walker.

In S3, we realized that this was different than anything we have experienced before. We met the Governor. We lost more loved ones when Lori, T-Dog and Andrea died. But we also met Michonne, Tyreese and Sasha, and learned that Morgan was still alive. And the music was…completely…fabulous. Through it all, we were there. Basically, at the prison, we got hitched.

In S4 and 5, we started moving into the power struggle phase, which includes the following:

"“In the second stage, you start noticing each other’s differences…The relationship may feel like a lose-win or win-lose.”"

We started to notice some flaws; moments and choices in TWD that maybe…possibly…weren’t what we hoped. I know that some fans didn’t like the back half of S4. I loved 4B, because it brought us “The Grove”, Beth and Daryl at the cabin in “Still”, and the S4 finale, “A”. I was less crazy about the flu and Beth’s storyline at Grady. All fans are different. Some fans left at this point.

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In Seasons 6, 7 and 8, deep into the power struggle, some issues are bigger. The move to Alexandria was cumbersome for some fans, and Glenn’s fake death caused others to leave. Many didn’t like the depiction of Glenn’s death, and more found that All Out War didn’t live up to their hopes. Not to mention the biggest blow–the departure of Andrew Lincoln.

So what are we to do? Goodtherapy.org says that in the mature love phase:

"“We have learned the skills and tools of dialogue so that we can listen and hear each other. We understand that we have differences and how those differences make sense. We have compassion for our partner. We are less reactive and more intentional. We communicate our wants and needs more clearly.”"

In the TWD world, the writers and producers need to listen to fans and it’s their job to keep things fresh, but we also need to have compassion for them. As the characters become accustomed to dealing with walkers and predatory humans, we get accustomed to them being accustomed, so it’s harder for writers to surprise us. Plus, not every episode is going to be “The Grove”. We need to get over expecting perfection all the time.

Finally, for me it is also about hope. Even now, approaching S9, we could discover and fall in love with new TWD characters. One of my faves, Father Gabriel, joined in S5–long after some fans had already given up.

Next: Five underestimated men of The Walking Dead

It’s up to each fan. But we don’t know what lies ahead, and there might be wonderful characters and storylines still to come. Why give up that possibility?