Syfy’s new TV series Z Nation is not The Walking Dead. To be fair, it never was supposed to be.
Co-creator of Z Nation, Craig Engler explains:
I think the core premises of both shows are significantly different. In The Walking Dead the characters are just trying to survive and not on their way to anywhere in particular, and it’s unclear (at least to me) if the recent story line about a possible cure is a red herring or not. In our show there is a definite goal and they actually have a guy who’s been bitten and not turned, so we know there is a potential cure to be had.
Beyond that, our show has humor in it, both the gallows humor you’d expect from hardened survivors in the Z-pocalypse and also some over-the-top moments. So while both shows have overt similarities like zombies, they’re quite different once you get into them. As a zombie fan I’ll be watching both!
Z Nation starts three years after the zombie virus has gutted the country, a team of everyday heroes must transport the only known survivor of the plague from New York to California, where the last functioning viral lab waits for his blood. Although the antibodies he carries are the world’s last, best hope for a vaccine, he hides a dark secret that threatens them all. With humankind’s survival at stake, the ragtag band embarks on a journey of survival across three thousand miles of rusted-out post-apocalyptic America.
There are “moral dilemas” present in the very first episode, as pointed out in a self-aware kind of way. Also, the opening scene with doctors testing a vaccine on inmates of a prison is especially chilling. The show cuts right to the chase, and much bloodshed ensues. If you like zombies getting their heads blown off, and sharp-weapon swirling lobotomies, then you’ve come to the right place.
It’s tough for a TV show to get off the ground in the best of circumstances. Many a critically successful show has been kiboshed by networks for reasons that seem impossible to comprehend. But try and launch a show that will inevitably be compared to the highest rated network show in TV history– and the obstacles seem insurmountable. So Z Nation was smart and didn’t try to be The Walking Dead. Sure both shows take place in a post-apocalyptic America infested with zombies. The huge success of zombie culture and our current obsession with the apocalypse negates that as a point of comparison though. The Walking Dead did not invent the walking dead. It is surely responsible for a good part of the success of this horror sub-genre, but as we all know, this sub-genre’s success has been a huge group effort, starting with George Romero.
George Romero was once asked if he would like to direct a few episodes of The Walking Dead, but he declined. He felt that the story was not his kind of story- and that he was a story teller first and foremost. The show’s message did not resonate with him. And as with Romero, and evidenced by comments seen here and elsewhere, The Walking Dead is not for everyone.
That is where Z Nation comes in. And that is where Z Nation seems to be headed. The show is much lighter fair, to be sure. Indicative in the dialogue, the characters are almost painfully self aware (or maybe self-conscious) at times. They know about an old TV show called The Walking Dead and they know about zombie movies. In fact, they even call their scourge zombies!
Engler expands on this:
…in terms of zombies we have both fast and slow varieties. The idea is, the more recently a zombie was turned, the fresher it is and the more active it is. Over time they wear down and become more like the shambling kind of zombie. Interestingly if you watch the opening of Night of the Living Dead, the first zombie you see actually jogs alongside a car, so fast zombies aren’t that out of line with what Romero did, at least in spirit.
The show has some growing pains to push through. When dropped right into the middle of the apocalypse, as we are with Z Nation— we, the viewer have little time to start caring about the characters. The Asylum formula is apparent in this first episode: action first (and foremost, and it has that)– they have an entire season for the characters to develop. The danger in that, of course, is losing viewership before it has the time to crawl under your skin. I, for one am in for the journey.