The Walking Dead, seasons 1-4
Recommended? If you’re going to watch epic amounts of TV, then yes.
Rooting for The Walking Dead isn’t exactly rooting for the underdog, I know. It’s apparently the most-watched show on cable. But, after binging my way through four seasons, I’ll say this: I’m glad it’s so popular.
As a warning, this review is going to assume you’ve seen the show or don’t care about spoilers. It’s light on specifics, though.
The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic zombie drama set primarily in rural Georgia, based on a comic series I haven’t read. When it first came out, I gave it a shot but got kind of bored after a few episodes.
You see, the protagonist is a cop. The second-in-command? Also a cop. This isn’t a really good way to hook me. In fact, throughout the whole first season, I basically felt like the screenwriters were good-cop/bad-copping me: good cop is so good! Bad cop is so bad! Therefore, we need more good cops!
But here’s the deal: bad cop dies and good cop stops being a cop. He doesn’t just pass on his badge and stop wearing the hat: he really, truly, stops acting like a cop. His past only comes up here and there when he knows how to frisk people or put people into submission holds.
The show is incredibly morally ambiguous. Very, very few of the good guys are always good, and only a handful of the bad guys are always bad. The world needs more entertainment that helps us realize just how far from black-and-white the world really is. Even Game of Thrones has nothing on the moral ambiguity of The Walking Dead.
Every time I think the screenwriters are going down some dark (by my standards) path, like bolstering religion, gendering labor, encouraging isolationism as a response to disaster, cheerleading small-scale authoritarianism, advocating pacifism, or even just saying “yay democracy!” they pull back from it.
At one point, all the characters start bringing God up and even the non-believers start praying. Someone asks for a sign from God… and ten minutes later their kid gets shot by accident. A few episodes later, only the really-Christian fellow (whom I love) is using the bible to guide his hand.
The gender divisions at the beginning of the show are unbelievable. At least, they’re unbelievable to me and my decade plus of living in an anarchist bubble. The men fight and the women wash clothes. I don’t know whether the screenwriters had a change of heart or if they were setting this up all along, but those gender lines start breaking down and just keep breaking down. Most of the caregivers are still women and a majority of the fighting team stays men, but the ratio is vastly improved. In the zombie apocalypse, everyone needs to know how to fight. And everyone needs to learn how to do things other than fight to retain their humanity.
Then there’s a whole season where the protagonists turn their backs on everyone who needs help because they feel safer only trusting the people they already trust. Most of the season does a pretty good job of convincing us that this is “the way it has to be.” But nope… the entire point of the season is that they were wrong all along–that we need community, that we’re stronger together than isolated.
The same season shows the hero’s journey through authoritarianism and out the other side. We can see firsthand (well, secondhand, really) not only why people are attracted to authoritarianism but also why it’s wrong. Honestly, the subtitle of the show might as well be “leaders are for bad guys.”
So the good cop protagonist sets down his gun and takes up farming. The camp becomes a democracy. I resigned myself to watching pacifism and good government being trotted out as the better way. Nope. Turns out what we’re being shown is that violence-for-the-sake-of-it is bullshit but that sometimes you have to defend yourself and your community. And that democratic government? Doesn’t even get any screen time. With the leader stepped down, people just do what they need to do. Everyone orders everyone else around equally, and everyone refuses orders when they want. Holy shit.
Do I even need to mention that there’s no money, no barter? Life’s necessities are shared but personal possessions are left untouched. The good guys in The Walking Dead sure seem to be living in an anarchist commune. They’re doing it because it makes sense and because it’s what’s fair. In fact, they even use excommunication as the logical end-all punishment for crime. When someone kills two people for not a good enough reason, they give her a car and supplies and send her on her way.
There’s only one lawful society in the whole post-apocalyptic world, and it’s a pack of Lawful Evil rapists and murderers who scour the countryside, drinking at dawn and following some weird code where they don’t lie or steal from one another.
Another thing I love about The Walking Dead? (Almost) anyone can die. The horrors of war and zombies and plague are presented fairly realistically. Your favorite character might get bit or beheaded. There’s a too much of the traditional “kill the black guy first” and it’s pretty dangerous in this show to be young, old, or just new to the show, but the death disparity isn’t as bad as it is elsewhere on TV.
Outside of all the anarchy things I love about the show like antiheroes and simple communism, I also just, well, appreciate the epic scope of the storytelling. It never quite lets itself fall into post-apocalyptic soap opera. The series has maintained its sense of purpose and drive and I have this hope that it’s sticking to an overarching plot. I think that The Walking Dead can manage what Lost promised and didn’t deliver.
So yes, yes I like this show.