The Walking Dead is a television series whose first episode aired around the time television broadcasts began and whose last episode will be televised eons after the end of human civilization. I’m serious! Figuratively, actually. It just feels like TWD has been on the air so long that it’s almost impossible to imagine television without this very long story about a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. I haven’t actually read the comic by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, so I can’t speak to this version of the story, but as far as its TV namesake goes, what I can say and what I feel is mostly relevant, far above the concept of revived corpses walking around and eating people, is that TWD establishes an ideal setting to create a multitude of dramatic situations that border on desperation and the desire to live, which constantly erases the moral lines in pursuit of survival, except one, the essential one in this series, the unrestricted protection of the family as an affective nucleus, but also as the only possibility to survive the end of the world.
This concept of family is not something new in TV series, in fact, I honestly feel that TWD is a clear successor of the series Lost, in which the drama revolved around a similar premise. Jack Sheppard, the protagonist of Lost, said in one of the first chapters “Either we learn to live together or we die alone”, a phrase that you could hear in any episode of TWD. And the fact is that, throughout its 10 seasons, TWD has explored to exhaustion themes such as trust, betrayals, compromises and sacrifices for the common good that lead to suffering and loss but also lead to the greatest expressions of humanity and bravery. I remember that one of the premises of Lost was to have a place where infinite situations could occur between characters, such aspect is completely replicable in TWD, with an equally diffuse plot in explanatory terms. I don’t think the nature of the infection has ever been specified, although it’s not as if it matters, since the dynamic of the series is not focused on detecting the origin or causes of the apocalypse (something that happens in World War Z) nor on fighting the infection and healing people. In TWD the characters quickly learn that the only valid option is to find a way to survive for as long as they can, and this survival time increases each time the “family” becomes stronger.
One of the high points of TWD is undoubtedly Andrew Lincoln’s performance as the cop Rick Grimes. And long is the journey we make with him during the 9 seasons in which this character appears in the series (Lincoln left the series during the ninth season). The story starts with Rick waking up in a hospital, after being shot, in the middle of the apocalypse (very much in the style of 28 Days Later). This beginning for the character is very interesting because of the reasons why he is alone, it turns out that Rick has problems with his wife Lori, they are on the verge of separation before the beginning of the end of the world. When the zombies attack, Lori takes refuge in Shane, Rick’s best friend and it doesn’t take long for the two to start a relationship. Now, when Rick returns with his wife and son (Carl Jr.), Rick’s attitude is somewhat peculiar. Instead of staying with them, he decides to go on a bunch of adventures to save other people in the name of justice and what’s right. It’s Shane who, even though his return hurts him in front of Lori, explains to her that in this new world the only thing that matters is protecting your loved ones. And Rick pays for his mistakes a bunch of times before he realizes that Shane is telling the truth. Not that it’s established, but I feel like, at least for the first few seasons of the series, Rick is learning how to be a father. He makes it explicit himself on one occasion when he tells another character that “these people look to me and expect answers, it’s something I wouldn’t want to happen but it does and I can’t do anything about it.”
There are other interesting characters within the series that help maintain and diversify the drama. Among them I think the most important are the ones that make it to the infamous episode 16 of season six “Last Day on Earth” (Negan’s first appearance). Among them are Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Michonne and Maggie. I feel like the series does a really very interesting job of creating the different dynamics between all of them. It’s just a matter of watching the first episode in which each of them appears and the last one to notice the incredible evolution they’ve had. Of course, there are also some exceptions, for example, Daryl appears for the first time as a not very interesting character (perhaps not very well established). It is later in the series that we pay more attention to him, when his value within the group becomes visible, beyond his skills as a hunter. I mean his values as a person, it’s as if he becomes the gum that keeps the group cohesive, always willing to sacrifice himself for others. One character that does have an interesting change from the beginning of the series is Carol, who goes from being a woman abused by a violent husband to become perhaps the best zombie hunter of the group and seeing this transformation really is a great achievement for TWD.
All that about the drama implicit in the story, but what about the more explicit elements? Let’s start with this zombie thing. And I feel like, it’s definitely the least interesting aspect of the whole plot. And I guess the writers of the series also realized this, because the inquiry about the phenomenon is left behind after the second season. There are some chapters in which Rick’s group is in a facility where a guy is investigating the causes of the infection, from this we learn only that all the charac… wait, I think this is a spoiler. The thing is, after this, it’s never talked about again. There is a moment, during the ninth season, where it seems that the lore about zombies is going to be expanded, when a new kind of zombie appears, capable of anticipating attacks and moving faster. However, everything is left behind when we learn that they are actually people disguised as zombies (and I personally feel that, from this moment on, the plot goes to hell). Beyond that, the zombies are nothing more than an unpleasant obstacle that appears every so often in the story. The real source of conflict in the series are the human antagonists and it is here, except for one small problem, where we find the real danger for Rick Grimes’ family. I remember in one episode, Carl Jr. asks his father if they are still the good guys, this because of the amount of murders they have to commit to survive. The first important enemy in the plot is Shane, Rick’s friend, who quickly loses his moral compass because of his love for Laurie. This character is the first major obstacle for Rick, the first test to find out if he is willing to do what it takes to save his family. Then come other enemies, most notably “the mayor” and Negan (perhaps the best-known antagonist of the series). The problem between the two characters is that they are not different enough to feel an evolution in the story. In fact, they both harm the group in a similar way, killing one of them in front of the others.
That’s what I can say about The Walking Dead, a series that has a very interesting character in Rick Grimes and a story about characters who don’t know each other and come to form a family together, as the only way to survive an apocalypse, having to make difficult and desperate decisions in between. Perhaps it’s true that the series has lasted much longer than it should have, already by the time they had defeated Negan it felt like every episode (except for the most important ones) was more of the same. That’s why I prefer to stick with the memories of the first seasons and the most important parts of the battle against Negan. The rest is forgettable, but it doesn’t take away from the dramatic value that the good parts have, moments where you can truly realize why this series was such a phenomenon for so many people.
The good stuff:
- Rick Grimes!
- The first four seasons are pure gold.
- Last Day on Earth.
- The series goes on too long and gets repetitive.
- The zombies are nothing more than a nuisance.