Any unfortunate person who follows me on Tumblr has noticed that it’s lately become the repository for all my feelings about The Walking Dead (and for that I sincerely apologize to them). Most of it has been silly and more than a little odd, but one thing it’s been doing for me – and the games have done this as well – is get me thinking a bit more about storytelling and how it’s done and what it means.
This is something I wrote and originally posted on Tumblr, and primarily it’s about what I perceive as showrunner Scott Gimple’s missteps in the matter of how the mid-season finale went down. But it’s also about my understanding of storytelling and the obligations of anyone who wishes to undertake it in a serious fashion, so I’m reposting it here. There are, naturally, spoilers below, so take care.
Okay, I need to say something about this that has nothing to do with theories or analysis or flailing or Daryl’s arms or the brilliant perfect sunbeam that is Beth Greene. And it’s gonna get long, so get comfy.
I need to say something about storytelling.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my own feelings and my own reaction to this, as I’ve said in other posts. I’ve been thinking about the nature of the hurt I’m feeling and about the fact that technically it’s about something that didn’t “happen” (it did) and that wasn’t “real” (it was). I’ve been thinking about the pain I’ve seen in other people, about how – regardless of whether or not you think it’s stupid to get so worked up over a zombie TV show and whether or not you think everyone who’s worked up is messed up in the head or heart or something (like it’s your business, you judgmental prick) – if the show isn’t “real” that pain sure as hell is, and about the context of this particular character being taken away and in the way in which she was.
And here’s what I think right now: it’s cruel.
Doesn’t matter if she’s alive. Doesn’t matter if she comes back and she’s brilliant and glorious and amazing and single-handedly cures the zombie disease and ushers in a new era of peace and joy and prosperity and she and Daryl get married in a big frilly wedding and have a hundred adorable babies. It’s still cruel.
I’m a storyteller, and I’m one professionally, which means nothing more than that for me it’s a job so I spend a fuck of a lot of time thinking about and doing it. I spend a fuck of a lot of time thinking about what it means. What stories are and what they do. And the thing about stories is that they are real. Maybe not to everyone, because not everyone experiences the world in the same way or reacts the same way to powerful emotion, but for some of us, the line between fiction and nonfiction is rather arbitrary, and we feel fictional things very deeply. When fictional characters die, we mourn. When they experience joy, we experience joy with them. When they become wiser, we learn with and from them. For some of us – strange kids, queer kids, bullied kids, abused kids, kids who have mental illnesses, kids who are dealing with whatever shit they’re dealing with and the adults they and we become – these “unreal” things and people have literally saved some of our lives.
Stories have guided faiths, birthed religions, raised and destroyed and altered cultures, saved and killed, given and taken, strengthened and weakened, pushed the world forward and held it back.
Do not tell me that stories are just stories. Do not fucking ever tell me that.
The conclusion I’ve come to, as a storyteller and as someone who loves stories, is that storytellers need to understand that – if the stories they tell are wonderful and sharp and resonant and engaging – they hold the hearts of their audience in their hands. They carry those hearts with them, take them on journeys. Some of those journeys are perilous, some of them are painful, some of them are full of joy, some of them are full of suffering, some of them are full of love, some of them are brutal and lonely and sad. Many of them are all of those things, because life is all of those things, and the best stories are true stories. True fiction. True dreams.
As a storyteller, you can bring your audience through suffering and pain. You can take them into dark places. You can take them into the core of hopelessness. You can take them into the fucking void.
But you can’t forget that you’re carrying their hearts in your hands. You can’t forget that you have to be careful. You can’t forget that, in the end, you have to be kind.
Not merciful. Not comfortable. Kind.
I think Gimple, in how he did this, forgot that. I think, at the very least, he underestimated the power of the story he was telling, and that – for a storyteller – is a failure. Regardless of what happens next, this was needlessly, pointlessly cruel, and real people really got hurt. And as a storyteller, I’m not okay with that.
Maybe I’m making too much out of this. But they’re my feelings and I have them, and here they are.
Storytellers: Be careful. Be kind. Don’t forget what you carry.