Story Spotlight: Anticipation, Gratification, and “The Walking Dead”

I read spoilers for the Season 6 finale of “The Walking Dead” around two weeks before it aired. I don’t know why I did that exactly. I guess the anticipation was killing me. I knew from the comics that two major characters were going to die before the end of the season, and I was feeling strangely nervous over who they were going to be. As such, I knew ahead of time that Denise bit it and that Negan’s entrance was going to leave off on a POV shot from his victim, thus creating a frustrating cliffhanger for six months. I was pretty annoyed when I read that, but I held out hope that the spoiler might be wrong.

It wasn’t.

A lot of people are pissed off about the finale, and I can understand that feeling. However, when I watched the episode, I found some interesting storytelling that shed new light. In the end, I don’t think they could have wrapped up the season any other way.

The whole episode created an uncanny tension with outstanding performances from the cast that made me feel like things truly were falling apart all around. Rick and co. were hoping beyond hope that they had some other way out, that the signs pointing toward inevitable doom were somehow wrong. They felt hope, but also fear. I felt the same way. And much like the story’s characters met with complete catastrophe and were powerless to do anything about it, so were the viewers. And when the cliffhanger ending hit, it was scarring, it was tragic, it took away hope, both for the characters and the audience. That’s a good story, plain and simple–to make the audience feel what’s taking place.

But as it turns out, I think the show’s story had an even greater impact because I knew the comic’s story. I felt a growing unease throughout the season, knowing that someone would meet the bat by the end of the year. At times, I felt hope that it wasn’t going to be one of my favorites. But I also felt afraid in a sense, even powerless. At the least, I hoped to have a resolution by the season finale. So when I read about the show’s cliffhanger ending, I felt even more dread. There was going to be too much left unresolved. They had taken away my last hope for the season.

Which makes me wonder. Did Scott Gimple intend to use spoilers to help tell his story?

From what I’ve read this whole season, a lot of people also knew that Negan was coming and that he was going to scar everyone. I wonder if the show was using our foreknowledge of his arrival to drive us in the direction they wanted, much like what happened to the characters in this episode. Did Scott Gimple want us to feel that dread throughout the season? Did he want us to know through every episode that no matter how good things appeared, they were going to get really bad? Did he even want people to know the cliffhanger ending? If any of that is true, then this was a brilliant use of breaking the fourth wall to enhance storytelling. If not, it was still a great episode, especially considering how frustrating the cliffhanger was.

So while I haven’t been very pleased with the season so far, this episode was very well done.

5 out of 5 stars

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