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Thanks For Spoiling ‘The Walking Dead’ Finale For Me, Mr. Know-It-All
March 29, 2016  | By Alex Strachan  | 3 comments
 

I hope you get a kick out of The Walking Dead’s season finale this weekend, I really do.

I myself won’t enjoy it — at least, not as much as I might have. A casual acquaintance of mine gave away the ending, you see. He trades in spoilers. Finding out what happens in popular TV shows and talked-about movies gives him status; it gives him power. It makes him feel like a somebody. It makes him feel like a Walking Dead insider.

He said it in an email, albeit in an offhand, indirect way, almost as if he didn’t know what he was doing.  He named a major character who is about to die — if not in the season finale, then at the beginning of next. He not only said who will die: He said how this character will die, and why. Not that any reason is needed: It’s The Walking Dead, after all.

He’s read the Walking Dead graphic novels, and he wants everyone to know that. His attitude reminded me of those Game of Thrones readers who constantly brag that they know what’s going to happen next — and then are peeved when show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss don’t follow George R. R. Martin’s books to the letter.

Spoilers are inevitable in a culture that revolves around real-time social media and a need for instant gratification, but there’s more at play here.

A weekly magazine that shall go unnamed, to protect the guilty and so as not to give it free publicity, that prides itself on revealing the inside skinny in the entertainment industry, gave away the key plot twist in Game of Thrones’ third season. In a full-issue season preview that appeared on newsstands months before the episode-in-question aired — okay, it was the “Red Wedding” (left) episode, if you really must know — the writer, perhaps wanting to show off that he’d been granted access to the Game of Thrones set during filming, recorded how the crew gathered in mourning and said goodbyes to the actor, “who’d been with the show from the beginning.” 

One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in comparative literature, or even to have read George R. R. Martin’s novels, to know who the writer was talking about; one only needed to have watched Game of Thrones up to that point.

Spoilers often say more about the person doing the spoiling than they do the TV show, or film, being spoiled. Those who trade in spoilers are needy post-adolescents, perhaps, or even serial thumb-suckers; their self-worth is based on what they know. 

And what good is knowing something if you can’t blurt it out and ruin it for everyone else? That way, you can take credit for being in-the-know all along, while casual fans, occasional viewers and that part of the audience that trusts in the storyteller enough to simply let him or her tell the story, are left out in the cold.

Critics — the people who review TV for a living — are often faced with a dilemma. Studios and networks often send critics screeners of two, four, six or even more episodes, often with a plea — one would like to think unnecessary — not to give out any key plot points. A film critic has the advantage of reviewing the entire film after first seeing it, in its entirety; the TV critic often has to pass judgment on an entire series based on a handful of episodes.

And yet, before binge viewing, most people watched TV the way writers write stories — from one week to the next. The whole point of watching a weekly thriller like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones is not knowing what comes next. When a story is as well crafted and well told as that in Game of Thrones, giving away secrets is criminal.

This is basic, fundamental stuff. Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas and the great storytellers of the early 19th century frequently told their serial stories in daily newspapers. Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo stretched out to 139 installments. Would the young merchant seaman Edmond Dantés, convicted and sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, ever be able to clear his name? And if so, how? And how many other people would he help along the way?

If readers knew how The Count of Monte Cristo ended — no, I’m not going to give it away here, even if it was published in, like, 1844 — they probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it.

Spoilers are easy to find — a simple Google search will usually do the trick — but not every program is susceptible to being ruined. It depends on the maturity of the audience. Downton Abbey consistently racked up some of the highest ratings in PBS’s recent history, even though entire seasons aired in the UK months before they aired stateside. The Downton Abbey audience was perfectly content to let Julian Fellowes tell his own story in his own good time.

Downtown Abbey’s considerable American following didn’t care, for example, whether they were the first or the last on their block to learn that Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham dies of consumption in the finale — hinted at in an episode leading up to the series finale, when he coughs blood all over the dinner table — and left the estate to Mrs. Patmore.

They didn’t care whether they were the first or last to learn that Lady Edith finally — and at long last! —  took an axe to Lady Mary, and will spend the rest of her luckless, unhappy life as a guest of His Majesty’s government, with full room-and-board until she’s led away to the gallows and hanged at the neck until dead.

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner famously took TV critics to task every time they revealed even a minor detail about an upcoming episode, let alone the season to come. Weiner argued that Mad Men’s audience deserved to learn things as they happened, not weeks in advance. Mad Men was especially vulnerable, Weiner argued, because it was not an action show full of car chases and shootouts; it traded in subtleties and dealt with the quiet interactions between characters viewers grew to know almost as well as themselves.

************

“I really don’t want any of this printed before the show comes on. I would like the audience to have the experience that you had. That is, to have their pulse racing when the theme-music comes on, to have no idea what comes next, and to have to put it together for themselves. . . . Please don’t spoil the show. I can’t implore you enough.”

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner to a gathering of international media from 32 countries, at a 2012 event sponsored by Lions Gate Entertainment, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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Better Call Saul, arguably the finest serialized drama on TV at the moment — it’s certainly the one I’m enjoying the most, by a country mile — would be considerably less compelling if you knew already how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman, how Hector Salamanca becomes a slobbering, drooling invalid at the Casa Tranquila care home, or how Jimmy ends upmanaging a Cinnabon in a later life, sporting really bad hair — or a wig — either down-and-out, or in witness protection.

The Walking Dead will draw a large crowd this weekend, perhaps even a record audience, if recent season-finales are anything to go by. Part of me hopes co-creator Robert Kirkman showrunner Scott Gimple and lead director Greg Nicotero throw a curve and state unequivocally that the spoiler-mongers and would-be insiders have it all wrong, and [so-and-so] will live happily ever after, outliving even the zombies. I’m not counting on it, though.

Click here for A Handy 10-Point Guide to Dealing with Spoilers

 
 
 
 
 
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3 Comments
 
 
Bob516
It seems the producers of The Walking Dead did throw a curve and ruined your attempt at a droll comment a about this seasons finale. Seems a couple people fell for your early April Fools joke.
That said , I do agree with your discussion of spoilers, and the obsessive need some have to find out before everyone else.
Apr 5, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Dennis
Some people are clueless, some people don't care, and some people are just spoilers.
Mar 30, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Sean Dougherty
If your friend was just referencing what happened in the comic books, that has pretty much no impact on how the show goes. The iconic scene in the second season when Hannah turns out to have been dead in the farmhouse all along? She lived in the comics for years after that. So if they are expecting that just because Nagin is in the episode and has his bat, that it's going necessarily to hit the same head it did during the comics, there is no reason to expect that.
Mar 30, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
 
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