There had been much hoopla around this series over the last months as it comes close to the new season. Perhaps that worked against it for me, but honestly, this has been done before and, frankly, done way better. Whether you look at movies like 28 Days Later or books like World War Z or even, for all its flaws, Survivors (BBC) or Day of the Trifids (any version), Walking Dead comes up short.
It isn’t that there isn’t a story here. There is. It is predictable story and you can write the dialog and plot points before the characters are even aware. And it isn’t that there isn’t fun f/x. There is. Much blood, gore, rotting flesh, big vistas crawling with zombies, etc. But what you need to sustain a story like this is characters you care about.
Here is one of the big differences I’m starting to recognize between US and UK scripts: American stories rely on assumptions and UK stories (that makes it to broader distribution at least) tend to rely on inference. Broad statement I realize, but I’ll try to explain.
US movies and television provide the watcher with archetypes (Mother and Child, Husband and Wife, Child and Pet) and assume you will believe and invest in the cliche relationships. Best example ever of this for me was the implosion of one of the potentially best films of the last 30 years: Seven. Seven relies on the fact that because her husband is played by Brad Pitt that the wife, of course, loves him. The fact is that Paltrow and Freeman have a much stronger relationship than she and Pitt. Due to that, the end of the movie fails utterly if you didn’t just accept that un-presented bond. It would have taken 15 seconds of screen time to do so, but they spent that on Pitt and his dogs rather than Pitt and his wife.
UK stories are rarely straight forward… they constantly buck the stereotypes, though you could argue in some ways that they’ve created their own (Philandering Spouse, Closeted Spouse, Old Money w/0 Money, etc.). However, because there are expectations in us all due to culture, every time they refuse to just use the cultural “norm” it appears different. They don’t necessarily dwell on these aspects, but they do always give you a brushstroke of something deeper than the words or plot imply. They let you see the mother’s love for the child, or the husband for the wife or lover, or whatever. Even if it just a glance or quick exchange. From these you can infer, almost unfolding fractal-like, much more and it isn’t always in the direction you think it will go. In both countries you certainly have expectations, but UK scripts tend to also have something concrete to nail it to.
The Walking Dead provided none of this. Plot to find your family is not the same as seeing that moment of love. We never get that for our main characters. You get stock moments: rediscovery, first time sex after being apart, support in contradiction to the lover. But you never get a real connection. In fact, it is the deputy who has more of a moment with the son or wift than the father ever gets. The only character with any depth and surprise is the abused wife, who while stock in many ways, gets her moment in the penultimate episode.
Without these concrete moments, none of the deaths and danger have a real effect on me. It just becomes an action-thriller rather than a deeper story that will keep bringing me back. They tried to take their time with this series, which I do appreciate. But, they never really built anything with it other than to provide vistas of a dying Atlanta and action sequences with great make-up and gore.
And, for the record, I’m avoiding all talk about science, logical choices, hand-wavy explanations, and the fact that one highway is left empty during a mass evacuation. The science and sociology are pretty much non-existent. And the science, in particular, drove me nuts because in trying to explain it, they only managed to make it sillier.
I’m probably not back for the next season. I can spend my time on other shows or having a life, pun intended. It isn’t awful, it just isn’t compelling for me. However, clearly this series struck a chord with audiences, so if zombie flicks appeal, this just may for you. For me, I’ll find my fix elsewhere.