As a writer of zombie fiction, it gives me so much pleasure to know that the single most popular show on television centers around my favorite genre. When the show first started, it was an exercise in keeping a lid on my excitement. Now, it’s become an exercise in not wanting to punch the screen. How could I possibly say such things about a television show so near and dear to my heart? Let me explain…
With nearly any apocalyptic-themed movie, book series, or television series, the plot will often work its way into one of survival. If the writers shove characters fighting zombies at you constantly, you will grow numb to its effect and the show or novel series will turn into a one-trick pony; no one will care about the characters, their survival, or the plight of the human race. Eventually, the audience will switch sides and start rooting for the undead. To avoid that, the writers take the plot down uncharted avenues to help develop character and infuse the overall story line with subplots to make the whole far richer and a more enjoyable experience. That’s what the writers of The Walking Dead are doing.
In some cases, they’ve done a great job of building a mystique to certain characters — take Michonne for example. In the last episode we finally got to see a flashback that humanized the sword-wielding fighter. It was necessary to give her something (especially when her revenge against The Governor was sated) to add dimension to what was becoming an all together flat character (albeit a bad ass).
In some cases, however, the side tracking plots serve no purpose other than to ensure the show spreads out over the season. Take, for instance, the last episode which focused on Carl. I understand they probably wanted to give Chander Riggs a moment to shine. And why not? He’s a pretty damn good child actor. For me, it only served to solidify him as a main character I simply do not care about. I realize his actions are completely justifiable, consider it’s the apocalypse. But to allow a child to spurn a father who has done everything he could to keep his son safe (and become so damaged in the process) is counter-productive to the development of the show. That is, unless they are trying to develop Carl into the next Shane. Carl has turned into a gun-happy kid ready to say “I got this”, at every juncture.
And THAT, my dear friends, is the crux of the issue. No matter what the show promises, the driving characters of the show have become so one dimensional! I can tell you, from an actor’s perspective, that is absolute doom. No matter what you do to give the character depth, if the writers are handing you dimension-less dialog and story lines, there’s little you can do.
Think about it:
- Rick is lost in his own misery
- Carl has grown into that kid every parent dreads
- Carol was becoming one of the most interesting characters and they jettisoned her (hopefully temporary)
- Daryl is one of the more interesting males and doesn’t get nearly enough screen time (says every woman and a good amount of men EVERYWHERE)
- Maggie just cries and yells (when she’s not macking with Glenn)
- Glenn just thinks about macking with Maggie (when he’s not coughing up blood)
- Herschell was the most interesting and dimensional character on the show and they offed him
- The Governor was singular in his hatred to the point of becoming transparent
- Michonne glowers (and swings a sword that cuts through zombie flesh like it was a light saber)
- Beth sits in the background and does little but sing when appropriate filler sound and emotion is needed
Maybe I’m expecting too much, or maybe I’m being too harsh. But when you have shows like Hannibal and American Horror Story with characters and story lines so incredibly dimensional and powerful, it makes you wonder how the writers are taking a genre so packed with metaphor and possibility and turning it into a soap opera that happens to have a chorus of the undead (and by chorus, I speak of the Greek Chorus — not a section of a song or group that sings said song).
That is not to say every moment of The Walking Dead has become flat and contrived. It’s not. There are still some incredibly powerful moments — most of which involved the less flat characters (or the ones they’ve banished). If the producers and writers of the show are smart, they’ll bring back Carol. The woman is strong, without becoming a cliche (and Mcbride is a hell of an actor).
Which brings me to my final point — the women.
One of the reasons I write what I write, is that women so often get the short end of the stick in the apocalyptic/zombie genre. They so often are turned into nothing more than eye candy or fodder for madness or death. The character of Carol breaks that and gives us something more real, more lifelike to grasp on to. She offers a strength and a grace not one other character in the show has to offer. If they don’t bring her back, the show will suffer on the legs of Maggie and Michonne.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the show. There is some fine acting worthy of apocalyptic loss (as well as some stunning visuals). I just feel like the show could be so much better with more dimensional characters. Maybe that’s the writer in me. Or maybe that’s the life-long horror fan wanting the genre public to see horror for what it can truly be — a multidimensional, complex, and cathartic experience.
Or maybe I should stop thinking and just enjoy the ride.