Watching The Walking Dead on a weekly basis is like riding on a rollercoaster on a weekly basis... if I had ever been on a rollercoaster. Sometimes, the series is far ahead of the curve, dealing out sharp blows of unpredictability that often serve as its own unfortunate downfall. Because between those shocking plot twists and turns are scenes of insufferable dialogue, wooden acting and a general idea of how to not write for an ensemble series like The Walking Dead.
Giving you five reasons for why I love to hate The Walking Dead sounds like I have no issues at all. Giving you ten makes me sound like a bitter, BS-spewing know-nothing with an agenda. So that's why I compromised and settled on seven and two half-reasons why I love to hate and hate to love The Walking Dead. And yes, I know seven plus two halves make eight.
1. The worst dialogue on television this side of NBC's Heroes
One of the key components in writing for characters in any medium is being able to write for different personalities, giving them their own voices and traits that distinguish one from the other. More often than not, every character on The Walking Dead has the same dull voice and the same dull motive for why they do what they do. It drags the show's action to a halt.
The writers play favorites often, giving the best to their best: Michael Rooker's Daryl, David Morrissey's The Governor, Danai Gurira's Michonne. You know, the villains, or characters that can play the line between good and evil. Everyone else chokes on the deficiencies of the writing staff.
Worst of all is someone like veteran character actor Scott Wilson, playing Hershel, giving half-hearted, quasi-wise advice with a slow, methodic tone that's meant to convey to us that Hershel is old and intelligent, experienced in all of the world's problems. My issue with that is that Hershel's track record has been exceptionally awful since he was introduced. Now he's degenerated into looking like the long lost third man to Cheech & Chong.
But then again, the actors can only give as much as their own talents allow...
2. You can replace 95% of the cast with the Howdy Doody* family
*Hey kids, a joke your grandma will get!
I often consider The Walking Dead to be a soap opera with zombies. You wouldn't expect a primetime series on AMC to feature the caliber of acting akin to Days of Our Lives, but it does. Everyone falls into this rut on the show, even the otherwise-excellent David Morrissey. I'm not sure why but all actors perform their lines with a wooden and lifeless delivery. Hey guys, leave the dead-eyed stuff for the zombies! When you're upstaged by a growling, snarling "walker", you're doing something wrong.
But I'm not naive. I know most don't tune in to The Walking Dead for the acting. Most tune in to see zombies get theirs. Which is a bit unfortunate because it could be a lot more. Which brings me to one of my two half-point on the list...
2.5. There are 12 million reasons why none of my gripes on this list will ever be addressed
It's the most-watched show in cable. The highest-rated series on all of television in adults 18-49. It breaks records as often as it kills the undead. Its fans are rabid. It gets no award attention, but who needs awards when you have 12 million viewers each week?
3. Too many twists leaves for incredible highs and abysmal lows
Look, I love twists. 24 is one of my favorite shows of all time, and it implemented twists on a regular basis. And they kept it up until Season 5. But the train went off the rails in Season 6 and never really recovered. The Walking Dead is on the same path but may reach that destination sooner. We've seen two of the three main stars killed off, a bunch of others bite the dust, shocking moments that left us gasping for breath and waiting for more. How much longer can they keep that up before it loses its edge? It could be happening now. Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes is battling insanity, giving way to a number of cameos from his fallen co-stars, which may work on the short-term, but I have no idea where this goes without it having an unsatisfying ending. They're painting themselves into a corner that I don't think they can get out of.
4. I don't care who the showrunner is!
The world went into turmoil when it was announced that current showrunner Glen Mazzara had been let go by AMC. Look, I love where the show went in the first half of Season 3, but it's not one man's vision. I feel bad for him, sure, but he's not irreplacable. No one is in television. They let go of the show's CREATOR (or at least the developer, as the real creator, Robert Kirkman, is a writer on the show as well) and it not only survived but thrived in his absence.
If they can keep the show on a steady track, great. But if the show hits a creative wall soon, I won't blame it on new showrunner Scott Gimple (a writer for the show for two seasons now). I'll blame it on everyone involved.
5. Soap opera storylines to go along with soap opera acting
Once Lori became pregnant and we've been saddled with a baby on the show, I knew that any progression the series was making would be stifled by bad storylines. There's no fancy way I can put it, no big words to describe what is essentially bad. I don't care if Rick or Shane was the father. I don't care that Rick and Shane hated each other and wanted each other dead because of Lori.
Speaking of Lori, Sarah Wayne Callies may be the queen of wooden acting. There is no distinction between Lori Grimes and Dr. Tancredi on Prison Break.
I also can't stand the romances (or almost-romances) between certain characters. Hey, I enjoy a good love story. And you do too unless your insides are made of circuitry and wires. But the romances feel more like they belong in the Twilight universe. A few forlorn glances, some nervous giggling and all of a sudden, they're in love. Example: Glenn and Maggie. They look two decent characters and turned them into junior high children with a crush on one another. Puppy love. It's not complicated or conflicted or complex. It's just... there. We're supposed to think they're in love mainly because we're told they are. I feel no chemistry between them. And I shouldn't because no one tries to develop them.
5.5 Maybe it's too realistic
This doesn't deserve a point of its own, just a half-point, but I'm not sure the characters need to look as dirty as they do now. When I see Rick, all I see is greasy hair. One of the main complaints about Lost was that everyone looked too well-kept to be living on an island in the outdoors. Here they look like they've been living away from civilization for decades. Hey guys, I understand that they're living in a world of zombies, I don't need to see the evidence smeared on their cheeks all the time.
6. Scenes of little necessity between characters pretending to care for one another
This is how I imagine the writers' room to look: a big bulletin board with anywhere between five and ten set scenes per episode involving two characters who normally don't socialize together. One character will have some inconsequential bullshit wrong with them, the other character asks "What's wrong?" and we get two minutes and 48 seconds of what I call The Degrassi Syndrome: one character is feeling down for whatever reason, the other character tries to cure it from past experience and then all should be right in the world.
I also imagine that telling a series of rape jokes to a room of rape victims for three hours would be less uncomfortable than the group scenes on the show. Here's my definition of a group scenes: three or more characters standing in a half-hearted circle as the camera pans around them while they try to figure out what to do next about the situation at hand. Here's an example taken from literally any episode of the show:
"We don't know if [we can trust them/we have enough gun power/it's safe]."
"But we need [the reinforcements/the ammunition and/or supplies/all the help we can get]."
"I don't know, Rick, it might not be [safe/worth the risk]."
"Well we gotta do [something/it/the right thing.]"
That's right: it's essentially mad libs. It goes back to my points on both writing and acting. The writers give these characters so little to do with not a unique voice among them, and the actors phone in their performances because they really aren't required to do more with the material.
All of my griping has led me to the final reason I love to hate The Walking Dead...
7. I care too much
That's right. I do love this show. I've waited for a long time for the zombie sub-genre to catch on with the mainstream and it finally has. Once Twilight hit and ignited an interest in vampires, I had hoped for a zombie epidemic as well. Finally getting it in 2010, I have watched eagerly every single week, loving the highs and hating the lows. This show is a blessing for someone like me, obsessed with horror and especially a good zombie story. Heck, I like a bad zombie story as well, as long as get some of the undead.
The first half of Season 2 offered a few awful episodes, with an overall arc that took too long to complete. The ends (as shocking and sad as they were) did not justify the means. The second half thankfully revved things up, leading into a solid first half of Season 3. But if last Sunday's episode is any indication, we're gearing up for another quality drop-off. And viewership will continue to rise. It has to. There is no correlation between quality and viewership for the show. Regardless of how good or bad it is at the time, ratings continue to skyrocket.
And that is the unfortunate truth for us that do really care but are constantly disheartened by every bad direction the series takes. I lied to you when I said the first half-point didn't deserve full recognition. It does: the 12 million and rising that watch every week dictates where the show goes. If it isn't broke, why fix it? And if numbers keep going up, it's certainly not broken, at least not in television. So I suppose I'll sit back and watch it float along, like a cruise ship lost at sea, trying to find land. But I'll also be waiting for the ship to sink before it ever reaches its destination.
Until next time, stay tuned.