For as long as I can remember, zombies have been my favorite movie monsters. I appreciate that, unlike sparkly vampires or 100-foot lizards, zombies are just average people who happen to be dead.
With no real super powers or intelligence to speak of, the only really scary things about zombies are the personal fears that we project onto them. Zombies can represent a fear of death or a fear of conformity; they can even serve as an allegory for societal woes with everything from racism to consumerism.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about the genre is that the protagonist of any good zombie story usually dies in the end, not because he was outsmarted or outgunned, but because of his own, very human flaws. It’s only when a character succumbs to his own fears, jealousies or hubris that the zombies gain the upper hand.
Zombie stories offer a fantastic template to explore the intricacies of what truly makes us human.
My musings this week on the features of a good zombie story don’t come without provocation. This past Sunday was the return of AMC’s popular show “The Walking Dead,” which is about, you guessed it, zombies.
While the show is now halfway through its second season and it might be a little late for me to say this, I simply can’t hold back any longer: this show is perhaps the worst thing to ever happen to the zombie genre.
I understand that there have been some truly awful zombie films, books and other lore that might compete with “The Walking Dead” for the title of Worst Zombie Story Ever, but what sets the AMC series apart is its popularity.
The problem isn’t just that it’s a bad zombie show; the problem is that it’s a popular, bad zombie show. For millions of viewers each week, “The Walking Dead” represents their only exposure to zombie storytelling, and what a disappointing representation it is.
There are a myriad of problems with the show and my head hurts just considering the number of missteps the writers make in any given episode, so let me just give a brief overview. Perhaps the most glaring problem with “The Walking Dead” isn’t simply that the characters are not relatable — they are flat out unlikable.
Their “tragic flaw” seems to be sheer stupidity. Constantly endangering themselves for no good reason, repeatedly embarking on suicide missions that seem utterly pointless and bickering over everyday things (that you’d think you would ignore during the apocalypse) sum up the average day in the life of our band of dim-witted survivors.
Meanwhile, entire episodes elapse without a single zombie appearance, filling the time instead with the characters arguing in monotonous voices about rather dull topics. Worst of all, these arguments don’t read like a script written for the award-winning AMC channel, host of shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” They sound like something you would read on a middle-schooler’s Facebook wall.
I could go on all day expressing my disappointment in the squandered opportunity of having a weekly zombie drama, but instead I’ll just say this: I can accept that the characters are stupid and unlikable, that the writing is abysmal and that the story lines are incredibly boring. I can ignore the numerous sub-plots that the writers seem to have forgotten about entirely and the tangled, yet uncompelling love stories that are forced into the plot.
But I draw the line at having entire episodes without a single exploding zombie head. That’s just not right.