As we say farewell to Breaking Bad, we take a spoiler-y look at why The Walking Dead is now the best thing on television.
Over the years, we have witnessed walking zombies, sprinting zombies, vomiting zombies, zombies wielding firearms and axes (on-screen, seek help if you see them daily) – what can a ‘fresh take’ on the genre do differently? Absolutely nothing, is probably the answer. Therein lies the beauty of The Walking Dead. It does nothing groundbreaking; it simply does extremely well what countless 90 minute cock-ups fail to do. The title alone is a clever play on words, denoting both the obvious and its living characters, as well. They are all essentially dead (wo)men walking; it is just a matter of time. The writers have made no illusions: they are definitely not afraid to kill off major characters without so much as a farewell pint.
The Walking Dead does nothing groundbreaking for the zombie subgenre, but it does it extremely well
Season one had that unfortunate chore of establishing the plot and characters. Suffice it to say, it was nothing we had not seen before. You could pick up a copy of Establishing Characters for Dummies and unearth the entire cast: broken hero Rick Grimes, his antithesis Shane, love catalyst Lori, good Samaritan Andrea, lovable arsehole Merle and the token ‘legend’ Daryl, with others in-between. It is a narrative cliché in every way, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. United, they created the perfect ensemble, personifying humanity in all its dramatic forms against a backdrop of despair.
The pilot suffered occasional pacing issues and somewhat unashamedly ripped its storyboard almost directly from 28 Days Later… (a man awakens in hospital to discover the world has been overrun by flesh-eating zombies, as you do). However, the very first scene instantly hinted at a more provocative outlook on the genre, controversially pitting a zombified girl against Rick’s revolver. The first ‘walker’ to appear could have been an adult, remember; it was a ballsy move, and the series has retained that vow to break convention throughout.
By season two, The Walking Dead was really allowed to flex its rotting muscles. Evidently given more freedom, producer Frank Darabont and co more than doubled season-longevity, injecting a far grander ambience into the story. They used it wisely, trading the temptation to blow shit up for a more condensed, character-driven story. There was so much happening in a matter of minutes that it became compulsive viewing almost immediately, and the show has retained that value ever since. But enough with the cryptic. If we have convinced you to watch it, well done us, but avert your eyes – spoilers now follow.
Performances are universally excellent. Jon Bernthal in particular reflected the rapidity of the apocalypse as Shane
The Walking Dead’s true genius lies in its subtleties. For instance, a strangely beautiful moment complete with dodgy angelic lighting saw Rick return to a starving walker to put it out of its misery. It was a delicate and refreshing change from the generally merciless attitude characters of the genre tend to have from the off. Of course, Rick’s tune shortly changed as loved ones were picked off, marking a great example of how The Walking Dead makes the most of its characters’ emotions and really plays on the audience’s expectations.
Performances are universally excellent. A scene-stealing Jon Bernthal in particular was really allowed to sink his teeth into his character Shane (see what we did there?). The rapidity of his transformation from loyal friend to murderous narcissist reflects the rapidity of the underlying apocalypse, motivated by that most human of all emotions: love. It was almost tragic to watch his pyre.
The juxtaposition of the uncompromising survival instinct of Shane and the compassion of Rick provided some truly outstanding moments, most notably the scene featuring Sophia’s death. Shane threw the shit into the fan, Rick cleaned it up. Children are generally exempt from gruesome death in television – children and dogs is where they draw the line, apparently. But Sophia’s unexpected fate displayed one of The Walking Dead’s greatest strengths: its dramatic unpredictability, highlighted particularly after Rick and co had spent half of season two searching for the girl.
The Walking Dead is the best thing currently on TV because it has everything: story, personality and a shit load of zombies
It is a great shame that The Walking Dead killed Shane off relatively early – many fans would doubtless appreciate his continued company. Of course, we are in no short supply of bastards, with David Morrissey’s Governor assuming that title in season three. A fantastic season finale saw him murder his entire crew for disobedience. Needless to say, fans can likely expect more of his hilarious overreactions and blood-drunk antics in season four, when it begins showing in the US this week. In any case, The Walking Dead is the best thing currently on TV because it has everything: story, personality, surprise and a shit load of zombies. And so we wait with bated breath to allow our brains to decompose in front of the telly this Friday. Ironic.
All images: AMC