5 Questions Regarding AMCs THE WALKING DEAD

I know I am late to the Walking Dead party, this is always the case with TV stuff. But with the DVD coming out today and having a chance last night to watch the entire first season in one sitting (Thanks Anchor Bay!), I can now see why all the writers of the show were summarily fired, or moved onto other projects (depending on which side of that story you accept.) I like the look of the zombies (CGI Blood is surprisingly not annoying!) and the abandoned Atlanta setpiece (not a single car on the road going into the city though? Seriously? I guess it makes the above screenshot work.) Don’t get me wrong, the production in handsome, and the acting is certainly serviceable, but here are some questions to level at the creators (or fans) of the show, that need to be addressed if the show is going to shake its Season 1 growing pains and aspire to something.

Warning *Potential Spoiler Elements to Follow*

1. What is the show about?
 
 
Survival, disease outbreak, decay of social order? Sure those are a given in any modern zombie treatment, at this point, you very likely cannot do ‘zombie’ without them. I am not asking for the levels of blunt social commentary that (ahem) plague the last three Romero-Zombie movies (and are handled pretty damn elegantly in the first three), or even implying that the series should be a concise or coherent allegory – but after 250+ minutes of show, that I cannot actually figure what the show is about is a little crazy. Family ties vs. surrogate community (the greater good)? The country vs. the city as a nurturing force? Energy Crisis? (the show begins and ends on a discussion of conserving energy.) I think solid dramatic shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire or Deadwood (even genre-shows like Battlestar Galactica) work because they ask interesting questions of our times and morals. I’ve yet to see The Walking Dead do anything interesting with its story other than fulfill the usual tropes (to again cite Romero – Night’s holing up in a house, Dawn’s entrapment in a storefront, Day’s medical science in a government/military institution. Is Season 2 going to be “The Road?”

2. Why the Soap Opera?
 
 
There are times when The Walking Dead, with its type-characters, and ‘milling around the camp’ background players threatens to resemble the first season of Lost without the ‘mystery-box’ elements. (A flash-back sequence in Episode 5, and doomsday red digital countdown kind of echoes that show as well.) Whoever thought that relationship drama/conflict needed to be shoe-horned into what is already and end-of-the-world scenario. Deputy Walsh has got to be one of the most poorly written characters in the show and his relationship/arc with both Sheriff Grimes and Wife Grimes is belaboured to the max; the clumsy and out-of-place rape/apology scene is more than a bit of a howler.

3. Dysfunction in slow motion, is it necessary or appropriate?
 
 
Now I can see why the group dynamic conflicts are the story driver in George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. The stakes are really high, the box is really small (a single farmhouse) and in-the-moment-panic is going to happen. It totally works there. But some of the ‘dysfunctional decision drama’ in The Walking Dead is baffling. The ‘hospital gang’ encountered in the middle of Atlanta and the ransom exchange that takes up half of the show has got to be a low-point. The actor who plays “Guillermo” is BRUTAL with his ‘head twitch to the side’ dialogue delivery. Please don’t bring him or his hospital of infirms back into the story, it cheapens the show with rank sentimentality. Anyway, given the TV pacing of the show, the relative strongholds the characters find themselves in, and the focus on the family, it seems that people might just find a way to be more co-operative in the simple things. Easing back on the melodrama and ‘hick’-gender politics might not hurt either, there is something about the way an abusive husband, or racist thug is written here that just seems off. I’m not sure if it is overwritten or underwritten (it surely cannot be both!)

4. How to find the big picture / small picture balance?
 
 
The Walking Dead is about the zombie apocalypse of the world at large, starting in rural Georgia, scaling up to Atlanta, and finally to the entire United States and abroad (if only by the merest mention of France.) It keeps the focus on a few characters, kills several of them arbitrarily and brutally and is not afraid of having characters consider suicide (as it should be in a zombie horror/drama.) I like that you are teased about the wider world, while focusing on the struggle of only a dozen people. But even then, it seems that while there are radios and CBs on the characters at all times, and a lot of time spent in Atlanta, the survival portion is small. Maybe it is a function of its TV budget (and constraints of casting in TV production), or sticking to the graphic novels, but if you are going to bring the wider picture into things, you’d best find the balance of widening the number of actors beyond the usual TV ensemble structure. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about ‘guest stars appearances’ like Noah Emmerich’s CDC doctor, or Michael Rooker’s neo-nazi-hick who seems written into and out out of the first season at random (or at best a cliff hanger to come up at some inopportune time in future seasons.)

5. Musical Cues from Danny Boyle films?
 
 
This is more of a nitpick than a legit question, but 5 is rounder than 4, so please indulge me. Actually, closing out an episode/season with a great song has been done enough times at this point (from The Wire to Big Love to Battlestar Galactica to Lost.) Let’s retire this and think of a new way to evoke emotion via montage, shall we? But really what is baffling is the musical echoes of Danny Boyle films. Using a score that evokes the 28 Weeks Later… use of Brian Eno is fine. We are in Zombie territory, and knowing nods are fair game but kinda poor timing on the use of the Sunshine score (John Murphy) as a lot of film trailers have been using it, and its use just seems lazy here. Is an A.R. Rahman bollywood number going to show up in Season 3?

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Gord
Guest

I agree with just about everthing you said Kurt. I’m a fan of the show, but it could be so much better. My biggest pet peeve is the one dimensional characters. Daryl is the only one that i dont know which way he is going, and he’s supposed to be the dumb redneck.

Jonathan
Guest

I’m with you on much of this. The characters are cardboard cutouts, almost written by a teenager who is just beginning to understand the complexity of people, but can’t quite take it beyond mimicking what he/she already knows and has seen before. Which kind of explains the Danny Boyle music rip-off/wink/whatever you want to call it as well. Which I don’t quite mind, except for, like you said, they seemed to use the music at some rather strange times.

It had some memorable moments though. Two stick out the most: the back-and-forth between the sniping/mercy kill and the first ride into the city.

It’s not great. It’s been done and been done better, but as far as escapism, it still works for me, even if the entire season didn’t really have much of an arc to it.

Shannon the Movie Moxie
Guest

I think the show is a family drama that’s focusing on the characters and their journeys. At least that’s what I keep getting from what people seem to be responding to (and from the extras on the DVD).

I agree with you on many of the points, and the familiarity to 28 Days Later (esp. ep 1) and LOST have me surprized that more people aren’t calling it out for that, or other things too like the pacing being sooooo different episode to episode. I do like several of the characters (Glenn and Daryl especially), but surprized at the high pitched emotionalness that sweeps in. But, I can’t help to be curious to where they are taking it.

Ms Curious
Guest

I love Zombies! But in this instance the characters seem a bit one dimensional to me. It’s difficult to work out what, if anything the show is trying to convey, or if in fact it’s trying to convey anyting at all. Where is this all going? Do the writers even have a plan? There’s some potential…via characters such as Daryl for example. We can, at the very least wonder what’s going to happen next, to Daryl? But is this enough?

Some things seem too intense, while others are just too limp. My major issue is ‘who wants a zombie series that makes you put your feet up, find time to grab a snack and even lose interest’? So that you end up looking at possible flaws? Not me.

I’d like a bit more intensity! Lest, we the audience become the ‘viewing dead!’

rot
Guest

Ok finished… Agree with Kurt. I think what I was hoping for was more intensity, I thought this would be more of the opening of Weeks Later… real stakes, crazy body count. There is too much of a sense that characters listed in the intro credits are untouchable, and I remember this being marketed as a story about zombie apocalypse where the story keeps moving past characters quickly.

Also could you be anymore Lost in the final episode… you even had a mysterious clock counting to zero

Matt
Guest

I’m a fan of the show, but it seemed to me that they were struggling with finding a way to appease both the comic book fans like myself who would have screamed if they changed too much, and the general populace who had no frame of reference. I think they also had no idea how popular it would turn out being, so they kept the first season pretty self contained, but open ended.

As for your points Kurt, it is like the Road, at least the comic book is, and from what Kirkman says, its going to remain pretty faithful to it. Just people trying to survive and remain hopeful when there is no hope, and no sign of the zombie apololypse ending.

Oh, and the 28 Days stuff. The music does bring it to mind, however the opening, which is the same in the comics, has no reference to that. The 1st issue was written before 28 Days Later came out, and also, 28 Days Later go that opening from Day of the Triffids, so in reality, its more like Day of the Triffids.

rot
Guest

also the use of Boyle musical cues are weird… like the fist fight at the ravine, no zombies even around.

Jonathan Hardesty
Guest

I think the biggest problem with this show was that it tried to balance appeasing the comic book fans and the outsiders, to the detriment of the final product. I had fun watching the show, but if what Kirkman says is true that they’re going to remain faithful to the books like they did the first season, I’m probably not going to continue forward with this. “People surviving” is only interesting to watch for so long before it needs to become about something more.

I’d also like to second Rot’s comments about feeling like the main cast was untouchable. I never really worried too much about Rick meeting up with his family once more or them surviving for the rest of the show’s run. I’d wager very little body count from the main cast, which is unfortunate.

rot
Guest

My ideal Walking Dead concept would be you follow characters for short arcs (like three episodes) with some characters disappearing and showing up later (like seasons later), and you get this intricate web of characters, some offscreen, some on, and anyone can die.

I disagree with Kurt about it having to be about something. Horror itself is enough of something if done well. From where I stand I see it as a loose allegory for survival in a post-carbon world, it doesn’t need to be about that explicitly, but whatever your fears are about end times you should be able to impose it on the story. The purpose should be to make visceral the sensation of the human struggle to survive, glimpses of humanity in that vain, but with an overwhelming threat from an inhospitable environment. What has meaning when civilization no longer operates?

Kurt
Guest

Yep, I’d buy that for a dollar, Rot! I like the ‘environment as Zombie’ – They are already hitting ‘peak oil’ in terms of scavenging fuel in the show….

rot
Guest

yeah there was a pretty blunt statement about fossil fuels in the final episode

Cripplecog
Guest

I enjoyed the show. I guess I don’t need a message, just entertainment.

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