Watching Dead – Why The Walking Dead Hasn’t Appeased the Zombie Fanboys

My love of zombies has always been based on the logistics of surviving an apocalypse. I love to discuss it with my friends, figure out the best weapons, vehicles, terrain and general strategies for defeating the inevitable zombie invasion. I know I’m not alone in doing that. Zombie fanatics all over the world debate every single day about the best survival option for each possible zombie scenario. There are websites, books, films, games and television series’ dedicated to it.  And the zombie fanboys take this stuff very seriously!

Every zombie fan thinks they have the perfect plan.  As you can imagine, the “perfect plan” varies wildly from person to person.  Some people think a katana is superior to a machete or a humvee is better than a motorcycle. Whatever their opinion, they base that plan largely on the books they’ve read, the research they’ve done on the internet, hours of heated debate with their friends and on message boards and the movies and TV shows they’ve watched. They’ve spent years drinking up as much info on zombies as they can get in order to formulate a survival plan.  That means no two plans are alike and that each fanboy is heavily invested in their personal plan.

The challenge that The Walking Dead faces when it comes to the hardcore zombie fanboys is trying to reconcile the character’s decisions with the optimal survival decision as decided on by each zombie fan.  Zombie veterans expect nothing less.  In general, they assume that the only goal of the characters is survival because that’s how the argument is almost always framed.  What The Walking Dead comic does so well is to show us real people struggling with the new challenges of a world overrun with zombies.  Those challenges aren’t necessarily just survival.  They’re dealing with the entirety of their humanity; fear, love, desire, stress, pride, all of it.  So far, the tv series hasn’t lived up to the comic in this regard.  It’s very easy for a zombie fanatic to sit on their couch and point out flaws in the plan without taking into account the characters’ mental state because it’s not only what they’ve been conditioned to do, but the characters’ motivations are not clear enough.

In order to get past that survival-only mentality, you need to connect with the characters and understand what they’re going through. So far, the character development in The Walking Dead (with a couple exceptions) has not been powerful enough to make me, a self-professed zombie fanboy, leave my head and get into the characters’.  I’m still in survival mode.  That’s certainly where the characters mostly need to be and despite it being clear that they’re not all in complete survival mode, their motivations are not nearly clear enough to overcome the default zombie survival mentality that all fanboys have.

We got a lot of flack (and some praise) for calling out The Walking Dead’s season 2 premiere for what it was, a weak episode in a series that has been middling so far, and this is my attempt to explain why I hold that opinion.  Episode 2 was far better because it did exactly what a zombie show (or any show, for that matter) needs to do; make the motivations of the characters crystal clear and relatable to the audience.  It’s especially important for The Walking Dead since the show’s setting has a strong built-in motivation of survival.  If I’m expected to get into the characters heads, they need to have a solid motivational foundation.  I’m really hoping that episode 1 was a fluke and the positive character-building trend continues through season 2.