This is an editorial piece, and is my opinion, and not necessarily that of the Zombie Research Society.
This is not going to be a popular post. When I woke up this morning, the morning after watching the season finale of Z Nation, I realized something. I was enjoying Z Nation more than the current season of The Walking Dead. I was looking forward to Friday nights more than Sunday nights! Could it be that Sunday nights also represented the day before I had to go back to work? Perhaps. Fridays always said “weekend ahead”… so maybe that had a little to do with it.
And maybe, it’s this season of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead is, without dispute, a multi-layered and complicated story, much like the comic book by Robert Kirkman. It has layers on layers, with each character adding to its layers. These characters are complex and truly three dimensional– each bringing that complexity to the story in ways that can, and have been played with by the writers. But as the seasons have gone by, the story is starting to feel bogged down by all those layers that come with six seasons. Each story arc has to be fed through the depth and gravitas of each character, creating a bottleneck that the story itself has to squeeze through. The Walking Dead has become so heavy it barely moves anymore. This season started off with promise at Terminus, but what promised to be an epic standoff was dealt with in one episode. One could argue that that in itself showed how The Walking Dead was moving quickly from storyline to storyline, but I argue that it really showed how hard it was to deal with conflict inside of its never-ending soap opera format, which Robert Kirkman admits it is.
Z Nation is anything but a soap opera. It has actors spouting sometimes inane dialogue in sometimes truly ridiculous situations. There is no moody camera grabbing emoting– at least not any that pretends to be anything more than… moody camera grabbing. Because Z Nation came out of the gate as anything but a group of people surviving a zombie apocalypse, it never had to pretend to be anything more than a show about people surviving a zombie apocalypse. It could riff on all the zombie movie stereotypes and beliefs and yes, even current affairs. It could use euphemisms when talking about surviving an apocalypse– ones that we all can identify with. It could talk about the end of the world. It could even use the term “zombie.”
That is what’s really missing now with The Walking Dead. The characters in The Walking Dead have become martyrs, of a sort. Almost caricatures of themselves in the early days. I loved The Walking Dead in the early days. The first episode of Season 1 hooked me for years. Easily the best thing on TV at the time, I wrote. But I can only hold my breath so long. And while the special effects by Greg Nicotero continue to amaze and have only gotten better, the dialogue in the show is really starting to come off as dialogue in a soap opera. There is no pay-off. The purpose of the show is more show. In an early forward in one of the early TWD comics, Kirkman even wrote that he wanted to create something that really had no ending, just like a soap opera. And Kirkman did it– it really is a soap opera that has zombies as the occasional side show.
Z Nation is not that. Everything is very blunt in Z Nation. You want zombies, you get zombies. In Z Nation character development has taken place over the run of the season. The Walking Dead’s character development has taken place over years– mine and their’s. It is more a movie than a television show. A really really really long movie. Creating great television is an art, and there really is no firm recipe. You point at what makes a great TV show, and I’ll point at one that did the same thing but was cancelled after one season.
Z Nation is doing it right– right now. When I removed my Walking Dead filter, I actually saw Z Nation for what it is. A television show about a zombie apocalypse. The characters are growing on me, and I actually feel a twinge when I see one of them die. The Walking Dead is sometimes like a needy relationship with someone who constantly does things so that you will feel sorry for them, in the hopes that you will love them more. Eventually you want that person to just be a great person, buck up and do something grand. You’ll love them more for that. In Z Nation, the characters are always doing something grand, in every episode. And that’s exactly why I watch it every week.
By the way, Z Nation has been picked up for a second season. “God I love the apocalypse.”