Currently residing in the Pacific Northwest, Greg blogs about his upcoming books in The Sy'Arrian Legacy Series. His posts also explore the creative process and what feeds our imaginations.

Creative Liberties

As we transition from 2017 to 2018, I find a topic progressively at the forefront of my mind. I am not one of those New Year’s resolution types who makes the same or similar promise to myself at years end to only proceed into a new year and continue doing the same thing, while expecting a different result. I find the whole concept a generator of unrealistic expectations and, dare I say, a tad silly. What is not puerile is the sheer lack of respect for established and iconic storylines from content creators.

In my Expectations: Pragmatic vs. Idealistic post, I refer to wearing two hats; one of creator and the other of enthusiast. This post is intended to follow-up on an evolutionary practice amongst content creators, especially those in the motion picture and television industries, where firmly cemented and beloved storylines are molested for the sake of what appears to be self-serving interests.

Let me throw out my standard caveat before proceeding; I have not performed a thoroughly exhaustive amount of research on this topic. What I did find focused mainly on what artistic and creative license means; Artistic license (also known as art license, historical license, dramatic license, poetic license, narrative license, licentia poetica, creative license, or simply license) is a colloquial term, sometimes a euphemism, used to denote the distortion of fact, alteration of the conventions of grammar or language, or rewording of pre-existing text made by an artist in the name of art. Although I will not be discussing this definition in detail, I nonetheless wanted to provide it for additional context.

In an effort to illuminate my premise, I will capitalize on the fervor surrounding the recent death of a prominent character from AMC’s The Walking Dead. This is not a reflection on the actors or the plethora of talented individuals who work their asses off to bring the series to life. It is the most fresh and recent example of a standardized approach by content creators to produce an aura of edginess in hopes to maintain viewership. I feel picking an example from my distant past would lose some and possibly affect the relevancy of the point I am trying to convey.

 The Walking Dead has an extensive history when you consider the comic book series hit the streets in 2003 and the cable television show premiered in 2010. I will not be discussing the nuances and premise of this post-apocalyptic, zombie (walker) world. Links are provided below in case there are some who are unaware of writer Robert Kirkman’s and artist Tony Moore’s creation. There may be some spoilers, so if you have not seen or read the series, I would suggest ceasing your perusal.

I am going to approach my point in two ways; one as if the comic book series does not exist and the other as most know it today, i.e. where the television series uses the comic book version as source material. Let’s begin with the former.

In episode eight, the mid-season finale for season eight, we learn the main protagonist’s (Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln) son, Carl (played by Chandler Riggs) was bitten by a walker while attempting to aid an ailing survivor, effectively sealing his fate and inevitable death; we are not aware of said bite until several episodes later. When I encounter this type of situation, I consider how the character died and ask myself a question; Was it appropriate? Did the act performed, which lead to their death, fit into what the audience knows about the character? This is especially relevant when a main character like Carl is removed from the world in question. If the answer is yes, then how they died is even more important. If the how and the what contradict each other, the answer is invariably no.

Carl approached Siddiq, the ailing survivor with a few meager supplies. After a short dialogue they find themselves surrounded by several walkers. Carl falls down and ends up grappling with two of them while Siddiq has his own to worry about. It is a close call, but Carl does subdue the two walkers who view him as a midday snack and everything appears fine. This is not Carl’s first rodeo; he has been in similar altercations throughout his young life and getting out of this one unscathed should have been business as usual. Being taken out of the picture in such a fashion only illustrates the lazy brained writer’s approach to establishing creative nuance.

Let’s not forget, Carl has been a main character since the beginning. A young kid who matures during a time of utter chaos and unparalleled human savagery. In spite of having to cut out his unborn sister from his dying mother, then being forced to jam a knife into her brain stem to prevent her from becoming one the walking dead all before the age of 15, Carl still believes people can be redeemed and learn to live together in peace again. This is merely a snap shot of Carl, the character, yet the best writers could come up with is having him fall down and get bit? Tsk-tsk.

Approach number two. Take everything I just described and tack on the comic book series where Carl lives well beyond the situation he is facing in the television series. Even the show’s Executive Producer David Alpert in 2014 commented on how the comic book series has given them enough ideas for the next seven years. He mentions benchmarks and milestones for future seasons. In the comics, Carl plays an instrumental part in bring to light a future development that will affect the world they live in. Who will now fill the void left by his demise in the television show? Are we simply going to reach into a magic hat, pull out a name and assign them the appropriate role?

No matter a character’s prominence, I do my best to react intellectually when they are killed but let’s face it, often bias filled emotions reign supreme and we react irrationally. There is nothing wrong with responding in such a manner because it demonstrates how much we care about characters and the story they are trying to tell. Readers and audiences carve out meager chunks of time from their day to invest in stories providing necessary escapism. Their loyalty should be rewarded with creative solutions to issues beloved characters are facing, not the everyone else is doing it, so we should be doing it to syndrome.

There are many who say, Relax. It’s just a TV show or It’s just a fictional character. If I am to be honest, I completely agree. At times people can react a little too irrationally when fictional characters die in fictional settings; we need to balance when it is appropriate to take an ideological stand and when to realize what we are upset about is not as big of a deal as we are making it out to be.

The much larger question in my mind is when do readers and viewers say, enough is enough and hold content creators accountable for highly questionable material? When should content creators step back, look at what they are creating and realize their world touches more than themselves?

If the it’s just a TV show philosophy endures, companies will continue to utilize supply and demand to drive their dubious content decisions, essentially telling us to shut-up, trust them and be grateful for what we have. Has the routine nature of viewing our favorite content become so sacred, we are unwilling to stop it even when it insults our intelligence?

More appropriately, how long should we allow content creators to corrupt and break apart well established storylines under the guise of reimaging, re-visioning, or creative liberties? No matter the euphemism there is no excuse for intellectual deficiency in vast worlds filled with endless possibilities.

Feel free to post your questions, comments or concerns. I will respond, if need be, when I able.

Artistic License:

The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead:

New York Times Article:

Another Peek Inside

Character Portrait: Aurelius Kepler