Obvious Comic-Book Spoilers
Based on the opening sequence of tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Not Tomorrow Yet,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. Carol made cookies from acorns and beets, flirted with Tobin, and had an intense conversation with Morgan, where it is revealed that she didn’t rat on him for housing the Wolf. The cookies and the jaunty Parsonsfield song, “Weeds or Wildflowers” suggested a Carol and Morgan episode, or at least one that took place mostly in Alexandria.
However, we also know that Negan’s introduction to the series is imminent, and anyone who knows anything about The Walking Dead knows that Negan’s arrival will bring with it a major character death. It’s Glenn in the comics, but Scott Gimple has led us to believe it may be someone else in the television series.
We don’t know exactly when Negan will arrive, however, nor do we know who he will kill, and the series has taken enough departures from the comics lately that what’s coming and when is just as much a mystery to the comics readers as anyone else. However, everything that’s happening on the show right now is being colored by Negan’s introduction. Michonne sleeps with Rick, and we worry that Negan may kill Michonne. Abraham gets caught up in a love triangle with Sasha and Rosita, and we worry about him. Carol kisses Tobin, and suddenly, we’re afraid for her, because we understand how television works. Writers want to build sympathy and affection for a character before they kill that character off, because the more we love them, the more it’s going to hurt.
What the writers are doing that’s so smart right now, however, is playing to our fears. When Rick decided to take a crew to the Saviors’ compound, our first thought was, “Is this the episode in which Negan will be introduced?” The last half of the episode was almost unbearably tense, because we never knew at what moment Negan might avail himself. Would it be while Tara and Father Gabriel were talking? Would it be outside the compound, when Maggie and Carol were arguing? Would he jump out of a hidden passageway inside the compound with his baseball bat and kill someone?
Even when it looked like Rick and his crew had killed everyone and secured the Saviors’ compound, there was still that nagging concern that Negan would make a last-second appearance and quickly kill someone. Just knowing that he’s coming heightens the tension in every scene. That’s smart.
There was a study done two years ago that said that spoilers are actually good for us, that they improve the viewing experience. This The Walking Dead episode illustrates why that’s often true. We know what’s coming, but we don’t know when or exactly how. The fear of that moment drives the intensity in every scene right now. We know the bogeyman is hiding around the corner; we just don’t know which corner it is, so it makes approaching each corner terrifying.
It’s savvy writing. Scott Gimple is using our knowledge of what’s coming to prey upon our fears and raise the stakes on every moment of the series, because we’re just not sure which moment will be the last for Glenn, or Maggie, or Carol, or Daryl, Abraham, or Michonne. The way things are going right now — with that sense of dread pervading so much of The Walking Dead — when Negan finally unleashes Lucille onto someone’s skull, it may actually come as a relief.