5 Reasons 'The Walking Dead' Has to Get Better

I love The Walking Dead. I've watched every episode of the show twice, and I still get excited every time a new one pops up in my queue. But even I have to admit that the disbelieving assholes are right: I don't watch it because it's a good show; I watch it because I really want it to be a good show. Because so far, rather than exploring what shape society will take after the zombie apocalypse, or how real, complicated human beings deal with such an awful scenario, The Walking Dead has been more concerned with what happens when obnoxious cliches from different ethnic backgrounds have to be roommates. That's a fine premise for a show, The Walking Dead writers, but you were supposed to be making an apocalyptic drama; what you guys did was The Real World: Zombieland. The first two seasons haven't been exploring the greater themes of the undead so much as they've been turning the camera on Lori and T-Dog fighting about who left the cheese uncovered, while every once in a while a zombie wanders by in the background, peeks in the windows and decides it probably doesn't want to get involved.

The lanes on the left represent the show's fanbase about halfway through the second season.

But it doesn't have to be that way! A serious, ongoing series about the zombie apocalypse could be so amazing, and after the last two episodes, I'm almost positive that The Walking Dead is finally going to have to start being the show I'm waiting for. For reals this time. Any day now.

P ... please?

This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I'm going to spoil everything, in every sense of the term, for everybody. I'm going to spoil the TV show, I'm going to spoil the books and I'm probably going to spoil your overall sunny outlook on life. So really, don't read any of this if you haven't finished the comics, or if you're not caught up on the show, or just ... at all. Don't read this. It's the only safe thing to do.

#5. No More Red Shirts

"OH GOD! NOT JIMMY!" -- Nobody, ever. Not even Jimmy.

It's taken two full seasons, but they've finally done it: The Walking Dead has run out of Red Shirts. The aftermath of the farm scene left both Patricia and Jimmy dead -- two characters I had to actually look up to see if they had names, because I kept referring to them as "the guy that doesn't matter" and "the blonde girl that's not the other blonde girl." Seriously, when that kid stoically died in the RV without uttering a single line, I was convinced that the writers had just sighed a collective "fuck it" and threw some poor intern in there to up the body count. But IMDB insists that Jimmy was a real thing in several real episodes, so I suppose we should all care that he heroically died from not locking the fucking door. I lock the door when guys with a bitchin' tan walk too close to my Subaru; I'm pretty sure that's like the first thing any thinking human being would do before willingly driving into the Million Zombie March.

But I digress: Yes, it's a stupid and petty cop-out on the part of the screenwriters to keep throwing out chum instead of messing with the "real" characters. But you guys: This is almost it! With Jimmy and Patricia dead, that's almost all of the zombie kibble gone! The only two disposable characters left now are Beth and Carol. And Carol, as obnoxious and pointless as she is, has at least shown up for most of the episodes: There will be some sort of emotional consequences if the zombie apocalypse's Miss Punctuality gets herself killed.

"You guys having an apocalypse? Can I come? I promise I'll be quiet; you won't even notice I'm there."

It's like this: Have you ever come home after a hard day at work, and the first thing you do is to gather up everything you could possibly need -- phone, laptop, remote, beer, Hot Pockets, Kleenex, bail cash -- and put it all by the couch, just so you won't have to get up for the next few hours? Well, that's what the writers of The Walking Dead did, right at the start of both seasons. They carefully collected and arranged their Red Shirts within easy reach, so that they could lazily punctuate a scene with a meaningless death whenever they needed it. Have to build some tension in a hurry? Throw a handful of nameless campsite folks to the zombie hordes. Just realized the fishing episode was mind-numbingly boring? Hurl one of the racist caricatures to the undead. Not sure how to write a compelling chase scene? Start whipping Hershel's anonymous family members at the undead like batteries at a riot cop. But now that's it: There's only one more disposable character left to burn before the writers have to get up and walk all the way to the fridge to get another.

And they do have a track record of laziness, so maybe they just won't bother.

#4. Shane Is Dead

"Hey, if y'all need to externalize every negative attribute of your personalities, I'll be in the shitter. Hit me up."

One of the most compelling aspects of The Walking Dead comic was watching Generic Good Guy Rick being slowly but completely ruined by a lawless world. He started off as a cliche small town sheriff, sure, but only because it was fun to explore exactly what it takes to break Andy Griffith's mind and make him eat the rest of Mayberry. The character had to begin as a featureless paragon of virtue so we could watch anarchy tear him down to a baser level, but it's not that way in the show: TV's The Walking Dead had Shane survive two full seasons, and that was a mistake. He was cast as the reckless bad boy antihero from the start, and as much as that archetype might ravenously devour the panties of zombie apocalypse fangirls everywhere, watching his descent from amoral to evil just wasn't compelling TV.

In adapting the comic, The Walking Dead writers decided to split the Rick character up into Good Guy Rick and Bad Guy Shane, and had them bounce off of each other, rather than having one single character wrestle with opposing moral concepts. But now Shane is dead. Do you see what they've done? They've accidentally written themselves into a corner, and now they have no choice but to make Rick actually grow as a character! They're going to be forced to continue Shane's antagonist role within Rick himself, rather than having him sit on Rick's shoulder in a little devil costume and whisper cartoonishly evil suggestions in his ear, like he has been.

"Rape 'em, Rick!" "Well I don't see how that gets us a new air filter for the Bron-" "YOU'RE WEAK, RICK! YOU CAN'T PROTECT US!"

#3. Dale Is Dead

"If we don't leave a note on that car we just scratched, we're no better than the walkers!"

Dale is dead, and that sucks: I love the character. I love his goofy hat, his presence and even the gross implied old man three-way with Andrea and Amy, if only because it confirms everything I've always secretly suspected about people who live in RVs. But that was Comic Dale. TV Dale, I'm sad to say, was just boring. He brought the show grinding to a halt every time he opened his mouth, and even if he made sense at the time, or served some higher moral purpose, the end result was always the same: poorly written lectures about vague morality. TV Dale was the perfect excuse for the writers to tell instead of show. But now he's gone, and hopefully with him went the pro-bandit sermons and voting sessions, making room for more actual fucking zombies in your show about zombies.

And if Shane was Rick's cartoon devil, then Dale was the fisherman's-hat-clad angel on Rick's opposite shoulder. He only ever espoused one-note, oblivious goodness and morality, in diametric opposition to Shane's flat amorality. Dale and Shane were Magic Markers coloring in the blank cardboard cutout that was Rick. With not one, but both of them gone, the entirety of Rick's conscience has to be internalized -- you know, like a normal human being and not a man-shaped glob of Protagonist Brand Mayonnaise. So while I know that it looks like they killed off two of the more interesting characters on the show, take heart in that it was all in the purpose of giving us one really great one later.

Besides, if the show still needs a moral center (it doesn't), Hershel's going to make a way better Dale anyway.

Pictured: The last scion of human morality, about to shoot you in the dang face.

He has that whole sexily-shaken-religious-background thing going for him, he loves bourbon almost as much as he loves quaint farm-folk anecdotes and he even comes prepackaged with an Infinite Shotgun.

Shit, I'd buy that action figure.

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Robert Brockway

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