The Walking Dead is a lot of things.
The Walking Dead is a television show on AMC. It is about zombies. It is like an hour long. They are allowed to say the word “shit” on that show. But it’s other stuff too.
The Walking Dead is a right-time-right place, lucky sonuvabitch kinda guy that stumbled its way into the American pop culture mythos at the exact right time in the exact right place. After all, the Walking Dead isn’t a zombie show with any particular twist or fresh take on the age-old zombie narrative – it’s the zombie show that showed up.
Someone much smarter than myself (an accolade I often toss around when I forget somebody’s name) asserted that zombies were the American Godzilla.
Which is dumb because zombies are people and Godzillas are dinosaurs. But let’s go with it anyway.
Godzilla stomped his way through the cinema in 1954, just shy of a decade after the atomic bomb unleashed hell in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The towering beast is the personification of a national paranoia and fixation with the then unparalleled destructive power of nuclear warfare. It’s a film and a piece of popular culture that came out at just the right time and in just the right place to permeate a nation’s psyche as effectively as possible.
Kind of like the Walking Dead.
Few things personify American fear and American ambition as effectively as zombies. What flies in the face of the ever-America notion of every single solitary American being his or her own maverick free spirit that is more special and unique than every other maverick free spirit than the notion of being the same boring, flesh eating, douche bag, weirdo, cannibal hipster as everyone else?
Zombies are conformity, and in a world where every other person uses one of the same three phones to go to one of the same three websites where they talk about one of the same three bands, movies and television shows that every other person is talking about conformity is an ever-present threat to American individualism.
It’s a national paranoia and fixation akin to, though decidedly more fickle than, Japan’s aforementioned aversion to nuclear warfare.
But threats aside, zombies reflect another, arguably more prominent and more timeless American ideal: the American Dream. The idea that in America anyone can be anything they want if they work for it may seem a bit outdated and a bit fluffy for the gritty, real-world, post 9-11 America, but its inarguably ingrained in the American mythology nonetheless, and reflected in the zombie narrative.
A zombie apocalypse is a terrible thing, but it also represents a great equalizer. Zombies are an opportunity for the owner of a gas station to become the leader and savior of dozens, for a telemarketer to become a brutal dictator, or for a douche bag to become food. It’s an American ideal as classic as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Enter The Walking Dead: a show in the right place at the right time.
But that isn’t all the Walking Dead is.
The Walking Dead is Andrew Lincoln’s best performance since Love Actually.
Was it pretty cool to see Andrew Lincoln be best friends with some dude and then fall in love with that dude’s fiancé or whatever and hold up a bunch of dumb signs about it that are all like “you’re bodies an eight” or whatever? Of course. But it’s way cooler to see him belligerently brandishing a loaded gun at small children.
Point is – Lincoln is a great actor. When he talks you listen and when he yells and points and murders you pay attention.
In fact you might almost say that Andrew Lincoln is such a good actor that his raw emotive talent could gloss over inconsistent, nonsensical and often – dare I say it – sloppy writing. Hypothetically speaking.
Not that I’m pointing fingers.
On a side note: remember that time I said that thing about that guy Andrew Lincoln being such a good actor that his raw emotive talent could gloss over inconsistent, nonsensical, sloppy writing? Well, remember how I also said that I wasn’t pointing fingers and that I was hypothetically speaking? Well.
I was pointing fingers gang. I was pointing so many fingers.
The Walking Dead is a show that came on in the right place at the right time.
The Walking Dead is Andrew Lincoln’s best performance since Love Actually (he hasn’t been in anything other than The Walking Dead and Love Actually, right?)
The Walking Dead is a show that I watch and talk about with my friends every week.
And the Walking Dead is, more often than not, a sloppily written show.
The Walking Dead is a show that bends characters to its will and shoves them into whatever mold is needed at that exact moment with little regard for what it means for character development in the long run. Lori? Who the hell is she? What defining, consistent characteristics did she ever have? What more than a plot point was she?
When writers are willing to sacrifice their own characters because they’re poorly received because they aren’t well written it’s a multifaceted failure.
Some would argue that Lori was so largely hated because of who her character was. To that I say “nice try guy.” The reason Lori sucked is because of everything her character wasn’t.
Don’t buy it?
Watch Game of Thrones. Tell me Joffery isn’t absolutely the worst human being alive. Now try to tell me that, much like Lori, his character is a plot point set on such a weak foundation that the hateful chants of convention fans can blow him over.
There’s a difference between being a character fans hate, and being a hollow shell of an archetype for fans to fill with vitriol and spite until said shell cracks and shatters from within.
The difference is writing.
The fact that I could stand before you and make a pretty solid argument that one or more of the writers behind the Walking Dead are either racist, or just find racist jokes really, really, really funny, speaks volumes. But hey – who doesn’t love a veritable revolving door of black guys being let out one at a time to wander around dizzied and purposeless until they’re shot or eaten and can leave a hole in the world for another black guy to wander out.
After all its common knowledge that when black men come within close proximately to one another they instantly seize and drop dead – right?
Either the Walking Dead has unimaginative writers who, despite their best efforts, just can’t figure out how to come up with literally anything for a black man to do or say, or they’re lazy writers who just don’t bother or care.
Characterizations aside, let’s talk about plot.
Remember Atlanta? Rick had to get there and then he got there and then some zombies came so he had to leave. Remember the CDC? Rick and the gang had to get there and then it exploded so they had to leave. Remember the farm? Rick and the gang had to get there and then it got attacked by zombies so they had to leave.
Don’t tell me what happens at the prison. I want to be surprised.
The Walking Dead, in broad strokes, has some fantastic ideas. Take Rick’s current state of near insanity for example. With an actor of Andrew Lincoln’s caliber, a traumatic, psychotic breakdown should have been amazing, after all just look at the phenomenal portrayals of mental illness in shows like Homeland or movies like Silver Linings Playbook.
Too bad Rick’s decent into madness was less “Colonel Kurtz” than it was “Colonel Well gee this is really disappointing, I thought that this brief foray with psychosis would be compelling and thought provoking and instead it’s just some dumb lady in a white dress.”
When you pull far enough away from the narrative of the Walking Dead and squint your eyes just right it’s a pretty good looking tale, but when you take it at face value with all of its pock marks and wrinkles and adult jawline acne it’s anything but – and that’s due in large part to the writers using jumbo sharpies when they should be using fine tip pens.
I like the Walking Dead. It took me two years to get on the bandwagon, and I roll my eyes often enough, but every Sunday at nine you can bet I’m sitting on my pleather couch tuning in. It’s entertaining, by and large it has a talented cast and when it’s at its best I’m on the edge of my seat.
But I’m not going to make excuses for it.
The Walking Dead is a show about zombies, but the Walking Dead isn’t the show about zombies. It isn’t the apex of what a serialized zombie drama could be.
It’s just a show about zombies.
Also it’s a comic. The Walking Dead is a comic book. And a video game. And it’ll also be another video game later this week. And I think it’s an app too and maybe some kind of viral video or dance I think.
And obviously it’s not just a show about zombies. There are characters and conflicts and dynamics and drama and stuff.
I think there was a deer once.
But for the sake of my argument that I just spent all this time and effort writing about and stuff – it’s just a show about zombies. In fact, forget all that mumbo jumbo I just said about it being other stuff. It was way cooler when I just ended on “it’s just a show about zombies,” like some sort of cool cucumber with a cocked hip and some spiffy finger snapping move. Let’s just pretend that’s how this all ended.
It’s just a show about zombies.