Though ratings for The Walking Dead have eroded over the past two seasons, I have not been one to sound the alarm bells on the series. Fans need not freak out about the ratings; the show is doing very well relative to everything else on cable television, and the season-ending crossover event with Fear the Walking Dead, which can be seen in theaters, should help boost numbers for the spin-off.
With that said, there’s a reason ratings on the show have dipped, and there’s a reason that Fear the Walking Dead has been a creatively better series of late, and that reason is this: The Walking Dead has been mired in the same storyline now for nearly two-and-a-half seasons. Part of the reason The Walking Dead used to be so much more fun was there was always a new development around the corner; a potential new villain; or a new community. Arcs typically lasted 8 episodes, 16 tops. The Walking Dead, however, has been preoccupied with Negan and The Saviors now for 36 episodes. The series spent half a season working up to the introduction of Negan; a full season watching Negan demoralize the Alexandrians, and now we’re finally in the stretch run of The All Out War.
This all started in November of 2015. It’s hard to remember when this show wasn’t about Negan. It’s hard to remember when there was another threat besides the Saviors. In fact, apart from taking away three beloved characters — Carl, Glenn, and Abraham — the interminable Negan storyline has essentially sidelined another two: Daryl and Carol. The series hasn’t been about building relationships in over two years; it’s been about killing off characters and adding more fuel for revenge. Carl was right: These characters desperately need to get back to who they used to be before Negan came along. For 36 episodes now, The Walking Dead has been about anger, fear, and grief. It’s been a long time since hope or even a sense of humor has entered the equation. This is exactly what happened in the later seasons of another hit show, Sons of Anarchy. which became so preoccupied with shifting alliances and revenge that it completely lost its sense of self.