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.
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 lanes on the left represent the show's fanbase about halfway through the second season.
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.
No More Red Shirts
It's taken two full seasons, but they've finally done it:
"OH GOD! NOT JIMMY!" -- Nobody, ever. Not even Jimmy.
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
"You guys having an apocalypse? Can I come? I promise I'll be quiet; you won't even notice I'm there."
Shane Is Dead
One of the most compelling aspects of
"Hey, if y'all need to externalize every negative attribute of your personalities, I'll be in the shitter. Hit me up."
"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!"
Dale Is Dead
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.
"If we don't leave a note on that car we just scratched, we're no better than the walkers!"
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.
Pictured: The last scion of human morality, about to shoot you in the dang face.
No More Burdens
First they ran out of Red Shirts, and now the writers of The Walking Dead are fresh out of Convenient Burdens, too. Don't mistake the two: Red Shirts are entirely different from Convenient Burdens. Red Shirts are just disposable cannon fodder, while Convenient Burdens usually aren't even killed -- they're just perpetually on the verge of it. And they make for bad storytelling because they're usually painfully transparent: The Convenient Burdens only exist as easy plot devices to put the group in trouble when shit gets boring. But now Sophia is dead, they've finally hardened Andrea the fuck up and not only has Carl learned his Spider-man lesson and made his first kill, but they finally gave him his own gun (something that happened way earlier in the comics, and in the rational minds of every single audience member). So that should be the end of the "helpless child lost in the woods" plot lines. No more Lori sprinting out onto the lawn screaming "CARL ISN'T IN THE HOUSE!" Because now she'd have to follow it up with: "AND ALL HE HAS IS A FIREARM AND BOTH THE TRAINING AND THE WILL TO USE IT JUST LIKE THE REST OF US!" So there's really just Carol and Lori left to helplessly flail around in the background of the zombie apocalypse while the adults manage the hard stuff like story and character and oh yeah: zombies. But Lori's role was never to get in trouble (she just causes it). So that only leaves Carol to account for, and you know what? That's fine. It's actually beneficial to have one Convenient Burden in the show. Remember the escort missions from
"We love nature hikes and have no sense of direction; save us!"
My wife watched me play through that entire game, and no matter how annoying Ashley was to actually deal with, nothing was more intense to watch than her missions. It infuriated me at the time, because I was responsible for the dizzy bitch, but sometimes a helpless foil serves a good purpose, in that it gives the main character something at stake. It's just that Convenient Burdens are a lot like Kool-Aid: There's only so much you can fuck with the ratio before you end up with colored water. Up until now,
"Oh. God. Dammit, Ashley. How did you even get up there? Do I have to get you a leash?!"
At Least They're Not on a Goddamn Farm Anymore
Seriously, that is the absolute worst location for any show not explicitly about farming. And you know what? Even farming shows would be better served with more interesting set pieces. Volcano farmers. Moon farmers. Freeway farmers. Fuck, I don't know -- literally anything is more interesting than a plain old ordinary farmstead. When
"The entire world is yours for the exploring. Come, dwell on me."
And you can tell that the writers finally understand what they did wrong: They made sure to clearly tease the prison at the end of the finale, just so the fans wouldn't go fleeing off aimlessly into the woods like a bunch of little Halfwit Carls. Relocating to the prison means the group is probably going to encounter prisoners and the new dilemmas that come with them; it means the group is going to start thinking strategically and actually acknowledge on some level that there is a zombie apocalypse and that maybe it trumps the birth control debate just a little; it means we're about to explore the governor's township and how other, less moral groups are dealing with the same scenarios as our survivors; it means
I know that's my joke analogy, but I'm pretty sure that would still somehow make for better watching than The Walking Dead so far.
I think it's finally time: I think The Walking Dead is finally going to pull it together. Not because I like what they've done so far, or have become convinced of the writers' abilities, or even see potential in their ideas. But because, by the time Season 2's finale wrapped, the group has made every unrealistically idiotic mistake possible and learned some retardedly obvious lessons -- like that burning zombies just makes burning zombies, that gentle fields of grass aren't a great zombie deterrent and that you never trust the guy who suddenly and dramatically shaves his head in the bathroom. So though it took two full seasons of boredom and idiocy to get there, they're finally there: The Walking Dead has a solid premise, an interesting location, an impending conflict and characters with the beginnings of genuine arcs instead of repetitive dribbles. In short, it may have taken them 18 painful hours to do it, but The Walking Dead has finally caught up with the first 10 minutes of an ordinary zombie movie.
Pictured: Not a fucking barn.
You can buy Robert's other book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.