The trailer for the forth season of The Walking Dead is out, and I am excited. It looks like we’ll have more side-characters for the zombies to munch on; a change of location; and Tyreese might actually get a few lines. But beyond the visceral, ponderous madness that is the show, I have a problem.
I always know what’s going to happen.
The Walking Dead Spoiler-palooza
I have a pre-show ritual: I delay watching for a day, go to Wikipedia, and gorge myself on spoilers. Wait, stop yelling; put down the pitch fork that you’re wielding menacingly at the screen (why are you doing that anyway); call off the hounds, I’m going to explain.
I have trouble enjoying the show otherwise. Funnily enough, I find the emotional weight of a post-apocalyptic world in which characters are counting down until they are ripped limb from limb to be too intense. It’s not the ultra-gore that makes my heart flutter, it’s the underlying feeling of inevitable doom.
That constant anxiety ruins it for me, and I don’t think it’s the point of the show.
TWD obviously uses death as a narrative crutch, but the emphasis is on, “who will survive”, rather than, “what are they surviving for”. When a character’s grisly demise is the point to which the episode is hurrying, we ignore its meat.
The locations, make-up, and special effects of the show are second to none on television and should be appreciated as such, but when you’re too busy guessing which unlucky soul will will be purchasing their one-way ticket to a zombie’s stomach, you forget to stop and smell the blood-stained roses.
When an episode like last season’s critically-acclaimed “Clear” comes around, which was literally four people talking, we remember that narratives can be driven by characters’ lives rather than their deaths.
The show realized that it can be excellent, without having to make the audience gasp. And it’s hard to spoil good dialogue for yourself no matter how many articles and reviews you read – that’s the sort of thing you can still watch and enjoy.
There may even be some method behind my madness. In 2011, Psychological Science published a report in which it detailed a group of test subjects who had been given stories, which were then “spoiled” for them:
Reading a story with foreknowledge of its outcome may be analogous to perceptual fluency, in which perceived objects are processed with ease, an experience that is associated with aesthetic pleasure […] positive affect […] and story engagement’
For the majority of the subjects, knowing what was going to happen allowed a deeper connection to the incidental details of the story. It was easier to process the elements, and the overall experience superseded the alternative.
“Spoiling” something changes the way we interact with a story, and may also have a knock on effect of refusing writers the ability to rely on cheap twists right (something TWD is sometimes guilty of), instead concentrating on complex narratives that don’t build to one, ultimate crescendo