The Walking Dead – Why the Zombies Need to Win, and Soon

A little late to the review party, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the current state of The Walking Dead, which concluded the first half of its second season on Thanksgiving weekend. If you were like me, you loved every minute of the pilot. The eerie zombie post-apocalyptic world was perfectly crafted by writer/director Frank Darabont, set up by the memorable scene with Rick, the show’s centerpiece, walking through an empty hospital with blood-splattered walls and chain-locked doors. You were hopeful that the show, which airs on a “serious drama” cable network (i.e., one with some financial support), could encapsulate what you had spent the prior three or four years doing with friends in Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2: choppin’ up zombies and surviving against all odds. But early on I questioned whether the show could maintain any semblance of living up to its initial promise when it introduced dull and boring characters, took those characters to unreasonable and unrealistic (yes, even for a zombie show) locations[1], and ultimately concluded with a big “MEH!” ending in the season 1 finale.

Ok, so not everything about the show was terrible. The makeup/effects artists have done an amazing job.

So I waited for the season 2 premiere with a mixture of anticipation and dread. I didn’t care for the characters that had been kept alive. I didn’t see much of a plot, just moving from one set piece to the next. Really, the only thing I wanted was more zombies and more zombies eating these terrible characters. But alas, that would not be the case. Through the entire first half of season 2, right up to the break (an interesting decision in its own right, and quite ballsy; to do nothing in seven episodes, anger your audience, and still take a break), no one of interest was killed or turned. What’s worse, NOT A DAMN THING HAPPENED. The whole point was to continue moving toward Fort Benning. Instead of moving forward, this is what happened in seven episodes:

(1) The main characters got stuck in a traffic jam.

(2) Sophia, the kid no one remembers from season 1, went missing. (Who cares?)

(3) The characters found a farm.

(4) The characters stayed at said farm.

(5) Sophia ended up being a zombie. (Again, who cares?) [2]

That’s it. Seven hours of my life spent watching these characters do nothing but annoy me to the point that I hope that most of them die. (Sadly, I know this cannot happen.) These characters do not have a single redeeming quality, unless you enjoy watching Rick and his wife whine and complain. (I’d bet that a solid 45% of each episode was devoted to them having the exact same conversation, which is brutal when neither has the acting chops to make it even remotely interesting.) Seriously, this is Lori’s face the entire show:

John Bernthal (Shane) is probably the worst actor in AMC history (keep rolling those eyes to show your emotion, Mr. No-Skill Actor), and the rest … well, it’s not even worth the effort. They’re all terrible.

Even worse were the absolutely ridiculous plot lines. The endless search for the missing girl in a forest; the magical farm where apparently no zombies ever wander, except when they happen upon a swamp and get stuck in mud or stumble upon a well and fall in[3]; the random shooting scenes where Andrea, the woman who was THIS close to offing herself, is now becoming a zombie-killing badass; and the hilarious scene where they have a “lead” on Sophia being in a house … a house that’s in the middle of a suburban cul-de-sac neighborhood … “yep, she’s in that house there, not the other 52 around it.”

Other ridiculousness: the Southern farm owner Hershel, who magically learns how to operate on young Carl and provides Carl with numerous blood transfusions using only a soda can and some tin foil (ok, not that ridiculous, but close), despite having only a veterinary background; the miraculous recovery by Carl after about a day; oh, and that pesky matter about Hershel hoarding zombies, including Sophia, the person the gang has been searching for this entire time, in a barn that’s a stone’s throw away from where the gang sleeps and hangs out. For good measure we’ll throw in an endless (and I do mean endless since it went on and on and on and on) love triangle plot line, with a “Whose baby is it?” and almost-abortion twist. Ugh, that’s a lot of terribleness, usually resulting in me quoting Lloyd Christmas.

I keep watching this show simply to laugh at its awfulness, but deep down I still hope that the show can right itself. But to do that, a few things are going to have to happen: (1) Get some new writers that can create a sensical plot that allows these characters to actually do something. No more sitting on the roof of the RV. No more sitting around the farm. No more walking aimlessly around a forest devoid of any zombies. Give me more scenes like the memorable tank escape from season 1 and school escape we were briefly provided in season 2. (2) Let the zombies win and kill off a few (or more) of these characters. Lori has to be the first to go. Followed closely by other needless characters  like T-Dawg, Carol (I bet you didn’t know her name — she’s Sophia’s mom), and all of the farm people outside of maybe the farmer’s daughter, Maggie, to keep Glenn happy. Otherwise, stick to the core characters: good guy Rick, bad guy Shane, and some followers, like Dale, Darryl, Andrea, and Glenn. (3) Save the flashbacks for better organized shows. I don’t need 10 minutes of backfill to show me how Lori and Carl found out from Shane that Rick had been shot. What on earth does that provide me that I don’t already know? (4) And, lastly, come up with some basic zombie rules and stick to them. Can the zombies run, or do they always walk slowly? They do both in the show, depending upon whether the writers want to ratchet up the intensity of the scene. How are you turned? Touch of their blood or do you have to get bitten? Sometimes it seems that the characters refuse to get touched at all, other times a little zombie excretion is apparently acceptable[4]. Tell me the damn rules!

So that’s it, AMC. Fix the core foundation of your show – the plot and main characters – and it might actually become decent. Totally doable!

Until the second half premiere…

[1] How many times were they going to go up and down the stairs of that department store…a department store in the heart of a major metropolitan area COVERED IN ZOMBIES?

[2] I’ll admit that the Sophia reveal was the one part of the show that was done well. I was surprised and shocked when she came stumbling out of the barn. But the more I thought about it, the more I was angry that the writers decided to string the audience along for seven episodes with Hershel inexplicably knowing she was there all along but not telling anyone. Why on earth wouldn’t he tell them? Why continue to waste their time/energy and potentially risk Daryl’s death by withholding that seemingly important (especially to her grieving mother) piece of information? Hopefully they’ll re-introduce that little mystery when the show comes back and attempt to come up with a plausible reason. Not likely, though.

[3] Speaking of wells, what was with the awful well scene where it was clear to anyone with a brain that the water was already tainted? Why on earth spend that much time, effort, and risk to someone’s life to rid the well of a zombie when there are FIVE OTHER WELLS ON THE PROPERTY THAT ARE PERFECTLY SAFE?  Completely worthless scene.

[4] Think of Rick and Glenn’s escape from the department store in Season 1, when they covered themselves in zombie flesh, and season 2’s fat zombie scene, where apparently they were fine with the idea of drinking water from a well in which a disgusting blob zombie was spitting/spewing liquid all over the place.

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