Alternative title: When a TV show rips your heart out and stomps all over it, the end.
Earlier this week, I had my heart broken. And yeah, once again, it was from a fictional character. As many of you know I’m a big Walking Dead fan, so if you haven’t seen the Season 7 premiere, you might want to skip this post because there are SPOILERS ahead. If you’re not a Walking Dead fan, bear with me. This post isn’t just about the zombie apocalypse, it’s about our intimate relationship with story.
In the Season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, we were left with the certain knowledge that some was going to die. Horribly. There was a certain amount of deliciously-awful speculation and anticipation among TWD fandom, and I wasn’t exempt. In fact, when DH and I visited Senoia in Georgia this year where a lot of TWD is shot, there was a fever pitch of excitement palpable in town, with the local TWD tourist shop telling us that everyone was buzzing about the cast keeping everything so hush-hush. Who would die? One of my favorite characters, or a secondary one that while I was fond of, wouldn’t be terribly missed?
I diligently avoided spoiler sites, and on the day of the premiere, kept away from social media in the afternoon NZ time (which was when TWD screened in the US). Still, someone managed to accidentally ruin it by letting it slip that two characters apparently died. That’s when I knew, from a storyteller’s point-of-view, that TWD writers would probably kill off one minor and one major character. A double, unexpected whammy.
I admit, I’ve become pretty desensitised to violence after watching so many horror movies in my time, and shows like TWD and Supernatural. This episode, however, profoundly upset me. Unlike horror movies, where as a viewer I’ve never really connected with the characters, or in Supernatural (at least the first 11 seasons) where it’s an insider’s joke how many times Sam and Dean Winchester have come back from the dead (FYI, I still cried every time they died!), this episode was different. Yes, TWD is set in a post-apocalyptic world and characters (sometimes main characters) have died horribly – both by walkers (zombies) and by other people.
But Abraham and Glenn’s death? God, it crushed me and wounded my muse’s sensitive heart. So horrifically violent – and to those who called their death’s ‘epic’, IMO there’s nothing epic about being beaten to death with a baseball bat and showing it explicitly…just because they have the special effects and can. It made me feel physically and spiritually sick, because of its realism. With all the real life violence in this world, books and movies and TV are my escape. I watch for the characters stories. I don’t love TWD or Supernatural because of the special effects and realism, and even the coolness of a zombie apocalypse. I don’t want to watch the ‘people’ I’ve come to love have amazing character arcs and then die horribly. And yes, I know, in these sorts of genres sometimes people do die–but I don’t want to see their deaths rendered so graphically that it gives me nightmares. But bravo to the writers and the director if that their goal was to make a fandom both love and hate them, because they succeeded.
But onto Glenn Rhee, for a moment. Secretly, Glenn was my favorite character. I never told my fellow family & friend TWD fans – because it always seems to come down to ‘Do you love Darryl or Rick more?’. But Glenn was everything a hero should be. IMO, he was the glue that kept Rick’s motley crew on the straight and narrow. Even after all he’d been through, he never lost hope, never lost his heart for his ‘family’, never lost his goodness. Never lost his love for Maggie.
We watched Glenn’s story arc over 6 seasons – from smart-assed pizza delivery boy whooping it up in a stolen Dodge, to falling in love with the beautiful Maggie, to nearly dying from a disease, to taking on the Governor and his horror and guilt over not being able to protect Maggie. Once we were even convinced he was a gonner and devoured by walkers. But. The scrappy guy still survived! Only to be left helpless and then beaten to death in front of the woman who was carrying his baby.
Doesn’t it sound as if one of my friends were just murdered? Well, that’s the visceral feeling that comes over us when we become deeply invested in character. We laugh when they laugh, we love when they love, we hurt when they hurt, and we die a little when they die–or when a book/movie/TV series comes to an end.
To move away from TWD for a moment, and onto one some of my favorite books, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve read all of her books, most of them twice, and I’m dreading the end of the novels if Diana chooses to let either Jamie or Claire die. I totally get her right to do this as a fellow author, but I won’t be reading any more of the series if she does.
I love these people, they are real to me. Jamie and Claire’s love for each other gives me hope and I don’t ever want them to be separated by death. Yes, in life one spouse outliving the other happens more often than not. This is why I don’t consider The Notebook to have a tragic ending–sad, yes, tragic no. Allie and Noah had a lifetime of love together and died peacefully in each other’s arms. What more could you ask for?
And so this circles around to why I love the romance genre. Why I continue to read it, why I’ll always write it. Love is death-defying. Friendship and family are death-defying. Love and family and friendship in fiction are death-defying too–watching/reading it gives us hope for the future.
Will I keep watching the series? Yeah, I will. Because I’m absolutely invested in the characters’ remaining story. Will I continue to get my heart broken? Most likely. I just hope TWD writers will throw their viewers a little hope for Rick and his band of survivors.
I’ll leave you with one more screenshot from TWD.
I know how Darryl and Beth felt, and I choose to believe Glenn and Maggie will one day have their happily-ever-after, even if it’s only in my imagination. He will find her. (And now I’m crying again!!!)
Let me know your thoughts below. If you’re a TWD fan, what did you think of the premiere? If you’re not a fan, what are your thoughts about emotional investment in fictional characters? I love hearing from you!