Today I spent a substantial part of my day watching The Walking Dead. I had started Season 3 not that long ago after buying it on BluRay, but watching it one or two at a time on the weekend felt too slow. So today I decided to watch the last 6 surrounding errands and chores.
The bleakness has seeped all through the living room.
Every character has problems. Every one is broken.
I find the absence of a back-story for the zombie epidemic both a smart move (some things once explained limit the directions you can take from there), and a disconcerting one. Without an explanation, there cannot be a cure… and without a cure there are only two ways it can end, neither of which is particularly idyllic.
The Walking Dead is far from the only show on television filled with complicated, compromised and flawed characters. I haven’t gotten all the way through Breaking Bad yet, but closing on the end of Season 4, almost every one of the lead characters has a sizeable army of skeletons tucked away.
I’ve been desperately avoiding spoilers since the show ended recently, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see that there’s no room for a completely happy ending for everyone.
For some to thrive, others will need to die.
It’s just a matter of who is who…
And let’s not forget the adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, now probably better known as “Game of Thrones”. I would never have suspected it is possible to have an epic story stay coherent with this much slaughter of the leading cast. And yet, … there it is.
George RR Martin has often stated the reason for his approach is that he wants the reader to actually be in fear of his characters. Traditionally you can rely on the hero surviving, and therefore there is never any real danger. I think the flip-side of that coin is that I now find myself mentally calling for certain characters to die for obvious reasons, yet they never seem to.
And this level of bloody-mindedness has spawned a fascinating meme of video recordings of people watching their favourite characters die. I believe a search for “Red Wedding” on YouTube should give you all you need in that regard.
But of course… there is a point of origin for all this recent flawed-lead-character madness.
I barely could believe at the time that Dexter ever got made for US television at the time.
It seemed inconceivable to me that the country that spawned numerous cop shows and procedurals, all aimed at the inevitable bringing-to-justice of all and sundry criminals, could ever get emotionally invested in a lead that killed for a hobby.
Eight years of Dexter have proven once and for all, that once you allow an audience to enjoy a flawed character, there just isn’t any stopping that train.
I guess it just makes everyone feel better about themselves to compare themselves against characters they cannot ever imagine themselves being like.
And yet; Breaking Bad is already getting pretty close to the “one inevitable step after another” model that should be making some viewers more than a little uncomfortable. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend towards ever more subtly falling angels will continue for a while yet.
It’s a bit like horror and thrillers.
We’re all collectively daring each other to watch ever more morally uncomfortable shows… and loving every second of it.