Living zombies?

Posted on January 1, 2011 by

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How “The Walking Dead” blew it, or “I love you too much to watch you do this to yourself”

"The Walking Dead": At first I was like (left) but then I was like (right)

By Brian Dau

Now that the first (half) season of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” has drawn to a close, it’s time to figure out where everything went wrong. Although the comic book-turned-television series about a zombie apocalypse is something of a critical darling and has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Television Series, my enthusiasm for the show turned from the rabid excitement of a flaming 28 Days Later zombie to the lethargic, dull and bored shuffle of a Night of the Living Dead zombie after a mere three episodes.

So what happened to “The Walking Dead?” The show should have been a home run for everyone involved: creator Robert Kirkman’s source material is some of the best stuff to come out of a comic book since Batman, and the show’s brand of zombie perhaps even bests the ravenous and terrifying aforementioned 28 Days Later zombie as the greatest undead walkers of all time.

Can you guess which of these three is the comic book guy? Hint: he hasn’t yet revealed to the cast that a zombie’s secret weakness is neckbeards.

The zombies in “The Walking Dead” are so brilliant because they seem to possess some faint shred of the human beings they once were: a dead girl absentmindedly picks up her old teddy bear and dangles it at her side; a dead woman stares dully into the door of her old house as she struggles to understand how a doorknob operates. These are the scenes that had me chattering like an idiot about how great this show was going to be after the first episode or two.

But while the undead easily exceeded my expectations, the living, breathing characters of “The Walking Dead” left me wondering how the writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption could have screwed up so badly. The problem, I think, aside from some shoddy dialogue and an actor or two who got called up to the big leagues a bit prematurely, is that I haven’t seen such static characters since Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

I mean, you could at least try to surprise me once in a while, Mr. Darabont. Every living character in “The Walking Dead” is exactly the same person as when we are first introduced to them. They wander through this post-apocalyptic world, dying or not-dying as the writers see fit, never rising to overcome the challenges presented to them but simply doing exactly what you expect them to do or packing it in and quietly awaiting death (bonus points if this is exactly what you would expect them to do). Just because much of the conventional world is gone in “The Walking Dead,” that doesn’t mean the importance of character development disappeared with it.

Move along, zombies. No brains here.

Unfortunately, season two doesn’t offer much promise for jaded viewers like me. Frank Darabont fired all of the show’s writers in the off-season, eschewing trivial things like plot continuity and a consistent voice for the (and I’m speculating here) financial incentives of using freelance talent. Further, early spoilers for next fall indicate we’re probably in for more of the same formulaic “cast meets people, people are weird, zombies fuck things up” story arcs. With a smattering of character development that formula might just make for a decent show, but as it stands now I just can’t watch this same group of people for whom I have little attachment stumble through another season of rotting flesh.

– Brian Dau

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