For this edition of Comics Corner, I’m going to talk about the immensely popular “The Walking Dead.” I’ll be referring to both the comics and the television series as they predominately have the same themes and plots, so in reality although they are different mediums they can be linked in criticism for better or worse.
While I’m interested in critiquing The Walking Dead, it is important to note that in no way am I jumping on the “let’s hate on something because it’s popular” bandwagon. I enjoy both the comic and the show, in that I’ve read up to issue #120 of the comic (as of writing this) and I’ve seen each episode, many of them multiple viewings. So I am a fan, but that doesn’t mean the show and book are above critical analysis.
I’m also going to try to stray from hating on the television series just because the station which produces and airs the series (AMC) discarded the talented Frank Darabont after the first season due to him going over budget and butting heads with executives from the station. While I think firing him from the show was the worst decision AMC could have ever made, it was one based on what they thought was best for the business and has no bearing of the talented and creative individuals who have tried to fill the vacuum Darabont filled upon his leaving. Although as a side note, I find it interesting that none of the actors/actresses that had previously worked with Darabont lasted past season three of the series, with the majority dying off in season two. But that’s just an interesting side-note which you can fill in any accusatory conspiracy theory if you wish.
The true criticism I have with the show and the comic series come from my love of traditional George Romero-style zombie films, mainly the original trilogy and the only one that matters to the zombie fans: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Those three films are masterpieces, especially “Night”, which I can’t help but judge all predecessors in the zombie genre by. Those films not only quickly develop unique character perspectives, but also offer Romero’s insight into society, predominately and most obviously in Dawn of the Dead (the original, less in the remake), but each film has its fair share. Even the predominately disappointing Land of the Dead which is the fourth in Romero’s zombie franchise still deals with the issue of class and economy. Romero was able to take what most would have considered simple, gore-filled horror movies and lifted them with relevant commentaries and honest character portrayals.
While it is easy to say that The Walking Dead offers honest characters who are developed (and still developing) over the course of either incarnation (and this is probably still the best thing about the series), the show falls flat on the tradition of relevant commentaries. In no way do I feel when I watch the series that they are actually exploring political or social themes that speak directly to the actions, thoughts, and deeds of the viewers, and in this way I think the story fails. Not that it fails in such a way that I won’t read the next issue or watch next week’s episode, but that in the long run the show is going to fall flat and not have the lasting effect the original Dead Trilogy still has to its fans.
Most other zombie stories fall into either the “gag” category of crafting creative deaths and gore which is definitely worthwhile and fun in its own right, or in the comedic tradition of Return of the Living Dead. While the Walking Dead show definitely does its best in large part thanks to the masterful Greg Nicotero to create entertaining gags, that’s absolutely not the point of the show or also the comic.
And I’ll be honest; in no ways do I have a remedy for this critique. After ~140 issues and close to 75 episodes there is no going back and altering the overall theme and purpose of the show. This is the largest fault of The Walking Dead. Honestly, to have a comic or show “say something” and maintain its entertainment value is not a simple task, but if there is someone else out there wanting to do something with zombies, I think that is the missing piece.
In fairness to the both incarnations of the The Walking Dead, having a message isn’t the point. Creator Robert Kirkman has said multiple times the story is “a soap opera with some zombies sprinkled in.” But what I think could separate this from just a standard, cool television show or well done horror comic in the long run would be themes and purposes and more blatant explorations of philosophical ideas that are currently brought up and tossed to the side in the series. If this style was appropriated, while I’m sure it may alienate a fraction of the audience, it could in help lift the comic and show from just some zombie drama to an important piece of media in the annals of medium formats. It would have been interesting to see if the show had veered from the comic’s path if Darabont had stayed one given his previous work, but there I go thinking about art over money… how silly.
Columnist: Nerd Nation Magazine
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