No one doubts the capacity of the creators of The Walking Dead to create real drama and tension as we watch a group of survivors struggle through a zombie-filled dystopia where the most dangerous thing walking is not the endless horde of undead cannibals. But when season six ended with the seminal moment where the villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arrived and marked his territory by bludgeoning one of our heroes to death, there was a twist: we saw the bludgeoning from the perspective of the bludgeoned. Fans were outraged! But don’t worry because Robert Kirkman says it will never happen again.
The creator of the comic book Walking Dead and executive producer of the AMC series said to Entertainment Weekly that he was surprised by the negative reaction to cliffhanger, but having said that, he has heard those objections. “Look, I think as a creative person I have to acknowledge that all responses are valid, so I definitely have to take note that there’s a seemingly significant portion of the audience that wasn’t happy with that direction, so in that respect I think everyone on The Walking Dead creative team has taken note of that, and I don’t know that I would expect a similar cliffhanger at the end of season 7,” Kirkman said.
Kirkman further explained that while he’s heard the anger over how he and the other writers left off at the end of season six, the group is always concerned about doing what’s best for the story, and that sometimes means not being psychic and knowing how the fans are going to react to any given development. “I mean, we have to look at those kind of options, and to be honest, that’s kind of when you throw it all out the window and just do what you think is the coolest and best for the story,” he said. “Gauging fan reaction while you’re writing a story is a progress killer, and an enthusiasm killer, because you can never anticipate… I mean, we could’ve never anticipated the uproar that happened on the internet over the cliffhanger. We’re always just sitting down and trying to tell the best stories and do the best job of adapting my material from the comic.”
He’s not wrong about that, but it seems as though Kirkman is ignoring the fundamental truth of the mistake in doing the cliffhanger: it *was* dramatically the wrong choice. The point of Negan’s action is to show how cold and ruthless he was, and just what kind of adversary the group was facing in a man that callously and brutally beat someone to death in order to teach the rest of the group a lesson. It was no whodunnit? Or rather it was no dunnittowho? Turning into a mystery box robbed the moment of its emotional resonance, a beloved character was killed for no good reason. How Kirkman and the others thought turning it into a guessing game was a good idea remains unexplained.
The Walking Dead returns this October on AMC.