Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Literary Inference and Negan’s Victim in The Walking Dead

by Guest Blogger, Megan McClendon

I'll start by assuring readers there will be no spoilers from either the comic series or from the upcoming Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead (TWD), but (Warning!) for those not yet caught up on previously aired episodes from Season 6 and before, you may not want to read on.

For avid fans of the TWD television series, the frustrations that accompany each mid-season and season finale may be anticipated, expected even, but that doesn’t mean they grow any less frustrating, accustomed as I may be to the inevitable cliffhanger. Who lives? Who dies? Who goes to a darker place than viewers ever imagined possible? Remember, “Look at the flowers, Lizzie…”

The desire (or the desperate need, in my case) to predict what’s to come leaves viewers meticulously sorting through the evidence presented through the season’s storyline and binge watching previous seasons in hopes of identifying patterns that may allow us to infer even the smallest detail or predict the next tragic outcome.

Inference as a literary device is about drawing conclusions from evidence in the text. Likewise, the same method should be  employed to draw conclusions in TV and film. As far as TWD is concerned, fans of the show know that in the spring, showrunners left us hanging from the highest cliff yet with the new Big Bad in town, Negan, promising to “Beat the holy hell…” out of a member of our dearly beloved band of survivors.

The finale episode left watchers inches from their televisions, agog, only to watch the screen go black in front of our very eyes with a six-month wait ahead of us until the show’s return. Now, here we are. With only days to go until the Season 7 premiere, let’s take a closer look at my prediction as to who Negan’s ill-fated victim will be based on literary inference.

While showrunners have promised a departure from the storyline in the comics, they’ve also been known to toy with our emotions in the past. Despite the sound bites, the clear inference is that our hearts will break right along with Maggie as Glenn falls victim to Lucille, Negan’s souped up baseball bat and weapon of choice in the Zombie Apocalypse. Here’s the evidence to support it.

In the second half of Season 6, we saw Glenn grappling with the morality of slaying another group of survivors in their beds. [Side note: The fact that this played as an internal morality war should be a fairly good indicator of how far our protagonists have fallen.]

Glenn’s internal struggle between adhering to the loyalty he feels for his comrades and for Rick and his fears about raising a child in a world where such actions are acceptable regrettably allows us to infer that Glenn can no longer survive in this post-apocalyptic world and must hereafter exist only in our hearts and memories as the most recent moral martyr.

Indeed the source material predicts Glenn’s death, but stepping outside the universe of the comic books, the show has provided patterns and evidence for us, foreshadowing Glenn’s death as well. Essentially it comes down to one major problem with the character: Glenn is the last remaining moral compass from the original members of our group of survivors.

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1) Time and again, TWD has shown us that being good equates to being dead. Such deaths are more often than not conveniently timed to pull the other characters back, if only slightly, before they lose the last shred of their humanity. We saw this with Dale in Season 1, Andrea in Season 2, Hershel in Season 4 and Reg in Season 6. As soon as a character begins to question aloud what it means to be human and what it means to be ‘walking dead,’ it’s essentially time for them to be among the latter.

2) The show is exploring the question of whether Rick and team are the good guys or the bad guys, and Glenn was just too clearly good. Taking the Grimes squad down the rabbit hole to a point where even the most loyal viewer questions whether our protagonists are inherently good or bad at this point in their journey lays the groundwork for a fabulous juxtaposition between Negan’s clan (with the addition of Rick’s group) and The Kingdom (the group that rescued Morgan and Carol).

3) New sources for morality have been introduced. Last season we saw the reintroduction of Morgan and the introduction of Jesus. Both characters, while they can see the underlying good in the people and the ends espoused by Rick and his team, question the means the Grimes’ group uses to find the safety they seek. The end of last season also portrayed a desperate Carol who would rather meet her end than go on living and killing as she had. Developing these three characters as moral compasses and a part of the seemingly still moral Kingdom community sets up Season 7 nicely for a storied battle of good vs. evil and may leave us all wondering where our beloved antiheroes will ultimately end up.

The challenge with inferences from evidence in both literature and film is you just never know whether you, as a reader or viewer, have plucked out the right tidbits, especially if the end is not yet in sight--as it surely will be on October 23rd.  As a fan of Glenn myself, I can only hope I’m inferring all the wrong things from all the wrong evidence and that the most beloved of our band of flawed protagonists lives to see yet another day. Literature, including film and television, is, after all, ambiguous, subject to multiple interpretations, but reasonable conclusions can be drawn from evidence within text, and I’ve just provided some. Let’s see what Season 7 brings, shall we?