I haven’t made it all the way through The Walking Dead (six episodes left in the seventh season), but I’m confident I’ve seen enough of it to offer an accurate assessment. With the release of the eighth season exactly a month away, why not spend some time talking about everyone’s favorite zombie apocalypse show? (Note: I have no affiliation to the comic series, so my opinions will not take those into account. A TV show should be able to stand on its own regardless of the source material.)
Most people seem to have this love-hate relationship with the show and I absolutely agree with them. Starting with the love, the prosthetic makeup work is outstanding. The artists working on The Walking Dead never tip their hand when it comes to distinguishing between extras and actual undead humans. It’s definitely gross, but it also makes you appreciate the time and effort put into a basic cable TV show.
The Walking Dead can also claim to be one of the shining examples of diversity on television. In a zombie apocalypse, it would make sense for individuals of all backgrounds to band together and the casting department wisely follows through on this logic. From strong female characters like Michonne and Rosita to a non-stereotypical Asian in Glenn, almost any viewer can find someone relatable. It’s still predominantly a white cast, but the lesser-represented characters play significant roles in the action.
However, I can totally see where the hate for this show originates. For one, they frequently sacrifice pace for hypothetical “character development” by devoting an entire episode to just one or two main characters. In the TV world, this is known as a “bottle episode,” often used when a show operates on a lower budget or needs a script on short notice. A great example is Breaking Bad and the episode “Fly” in the third season. Walter and Jesse spend the entire episode in the meth lab, exploring their past actions and regrets. This technique is only used once over the course of the entire show; The Walking Dead clearly doesn’t follow suit and decides to include bottle episodes seemingly every season. The worst one might be “Still” in the fourth season, which only features Daryl and Beth; only the former even comes close to a compelling character. By the end, you’re left wondering, “What’s the point?” Sure, we saw two characters grow closer together, but it didn’t progress the story in any way.
In my opinion, The Walking Dead is more effective when it juggles multiple plotlines in one episode (similar to Game of Thrones). You would never see my favorite show attempt to spend an entire hour with Arya and the Hound because everyone would get bored before long. Yet this show commits the crime over and over; other bottle episodes focus on Morgan, Tara, and The Governor to name a few. All they do is make me wait anxiously for the end so we can hopefully get to some interesting content. What makes this problem worse is never knowing when the bottle episodes are coming because every main cast member is always listed in the opening credits. There are moments of brilliance, but too many low points for this show to be considered one of the best.
Some of these issues could be solved if the show didn’t feel the need to constantly bring in new characters. I understand why the writers feel the urge to spend time with them individually, but if you want to keep the ship from sinking, why not take a step back and just focus on a select few? Combine that with getting rid of the endless walking scenes and the story can proceed in a brisk yet focused manner. I’m guessing the only reason people have continued to watch The Walking Dead even as it nears 100 episodes is because they’re holding out hope for something exciting: a shocking death, a surprise reveal, anything. When Carol’s daughter Sophia was revealed to be locked up in Hershel’s barn the whole time (after the group had spent several episodes searching for her), that was a well-earned and emotional moment. But those come few and far between, leaving most viewers angry and upset that a single show has wasted so much of their time. While I wholeheartedly sympathize with them, I would still recommend watching the show if only for the small number of excellent characters (like the diverse cast listed above) and the engaging antagonists (Shane, Merle, Negan). Just be prepared for long stretches of go-nowhere dialogue and painfully slow camera movements that only drag out the runtime. It feels like Game of Thrones with its tendency to kill off main characters at a high rate, but with less emotional attachment, so…take that however you like.