The Walking Dead took a break recently with its mid-season finale, leaving regular viewers with the same sorts of questions these finales usually do — who else might die, where the regular cast of characters will end up now that their latest sanctuary has been overrun with zombies (Sorry, I refuse to use the clumsy-sounding show-preferred term "Walkers"), and so on and so on.
I have made no secret of the issues I personally have with The Walking Dead, but the show is a phenomenon, and for better or worse will leave its imprint on zombie horror forever. As a lifelong fan of that particular subgenre of horror film, here are a few things I'd like to see The Walking Dead do better.
4. No More Babies.
Short of a house built right on top of an erupting volcano, it's hard to envision a more unwelcoming environment to bring a child into the world than a zombie apocalypse. Babies are loud, high-maintenance and defenseless tiny humans that any self-respecting, ravenous, reanimated corpse would love to make an hors d'oeuvres out of. Why anyone would want to have one in the Walking Dead universe is a mystery to me, but major characters keep getting pregnant in the series. Sure, it's unreasonable to expect those characters to cease sexual activity altogether, but supply raids seem to happen with regularity. Is it that unrealistic to think that someone could pick up some form of effective birth control the next time he hits a pharmacy? The "inconvenient pregnancy" side plot was explored way back in 1978 when Dawn of the Dead was released; using it more than once in The Walking Dead seems both unoriginal and cheap.
3. Stop Milking the New Sanctuary That Isn't a Sanctuary Plot Cycle.
The Walking Dead seems to have the same basic plot template jammed on some kind of infinite repeat setting, and that template is beginning to feel stale. Every season or two, Rick Grimes and company stumble across a new potential sanctuary of some sort, after the one they're fleeing is overrun by an enormous hoard of zombies. The past several seasons have seen them taking refuge at a remote farmhouse, a prison and a fortified suburban town. It's understandable — if the world were swarming with flesh-eating zombies, most of us would consider finding a safe place to stay to be one of our most important goals. The problem is The Walking Dead keeps rehashing the same basic cycle with that premise over and over. Season after season, the good guys find a new place to live safely, protected from the living corpses outside, then encounter conflict with some other group of survivors, before that friction blows up in their faces and the zombies overrun their sanctuary once again. The heroes flee, and the cycle seems to repeat itself again and again.
Sure, a television series about a zombie apocalypse is going to have the characters seeking a safe place to cool their heels as a central part of the ongoing plot, but after a certain point, it seems like the people in Rick's group would say, "Oh, look, another barricaded town; why don't we skip this place and just keep going north until we end up someplace where the Walkers freeze solid?"
2. Find a Better Balance Between Comic-Book-Style Action and Reality.
Human skulls are hard; that's why we have them. For some reason, in the Walking Dead universe, humans dispatch zombies one after the other by stabbing them in the brain with various small knives, as if their skulls were made of papier-mâché or something. Other characters prefer the use of swords or crossbows, and frankly, I think all of them would probably get devoured after ten minutes of relying on those as their primary weapons. It's perfectly fine for a show set in a fantasy universe to take liberties with reality, but the juxtaposition of strangely maudlin emotional content with '80s ninja movie action sequences seems like a weird and awkward pairing.
1. Find a New Spin on the Zombie Mythology. Please.
Modern zombie films had a decades-long history well before The Walking Dead hit basic cable, so it's understandable that the show is derivative of lots of things that came before. It's especially clear that the series mines much of its inspiration as well as most of its zombie rules from the template established by George Romero's classic films. There's nothing wrong with that, either, since he created the genre, and pretty much everyone who has ever made a zombie movie owes Romero big time. In the case of The Walking Dead, which has reached such an enormous and previously untapped audience, it would be nice to see the writers show a little more creativity in crafting their own take on zombie mythology. The Walking Dead is probably many people's main reference to zombie fiction, and reaches a viewership who probably wouldn't have sought out Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, so it would be nice to see them do something new within the universe the show has created.
I think it's important to keep in mind that it can be great when something that was previously enjoyed only by a smaller group of devoted fans reaches a much bigger audience, but with that come higher expectations. For The Walking Dead to remain fresher than a moldering corpse for a few seasons longer, it would be cool to see its writers step up to the challenge and really make the show "must-see television," instead of a strange soap opera with lots of violence.
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