The Walking Dead's flow is diminished by its own forced popularity.
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How Can I Be Scared When I'm Designing My Own Zombie-Killing Mobile?
AMC’s wildly popular series, The Walking Dead, has taken the zombie horror genre to the mainstream public. Once the stuff of cult horror fiction and later defined in George A. Romero’s Dead Trilogy, zombies are now the main antagonists of a weekly, prime time, network TV show. The series is so popular it has its own hour-long after show, The Talking Dead, which features a host and a celebrity panel extolling the virtues of The Walking Dead with the promise of a sneak peek at scenes from next week’s episode at the end of the show. The series then flows into itself as the third hour in The Walking Dead block is an encore presentation of that night’s episode. But, as we will examine, it is this flow that interrupts the attempts at manufacturing terror within The Walking Dead’s narrative of a rag-tag group of survivors making their way in the undead-infested, post-apocalyptic landscape.
In the last six years, the AMC network (formerly American Movie Classics) has churned out a handful of extremely successful drama series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead is no exception. Based on the critically acclaimed comic book, The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, the series was developed by director and screenwriter Frank Darabont (The Mist, Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) for AMC and premiered on October 31, 2010. The series has garnered widespread fanfare and is now in its fourth season with its premiere receiving 16.1 million viewers in Neilsen ratings, setting a new record for viewership of a drama series broadcast on basic cable.
The Walking Dead’s main protagonist, Rick played by Andrew Lincoln, and an ensemble cast of survivors come together and try to survive in a world decimated by zombies, referred to as “Walkers” by the series’ non-dead characters. The “Walkers” are pretty much governed by the same rules of lore first established by writer-director George A. Romero in his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Slow moving and ravenous for human flesh, the destruction of the brain is the only way to fell these creatures. A bite on the arm results in contamination and zombification. Survivors in this world can never truly rest nor can they truly trust each other.
The polysemy of The Walking Dead is never as clear cut as the never ending self- promotion that envelops every episode. The importance of bonds between people and the soothing influence of perceived family structure are most present in the show. Darker themes are explored as the series unforgiving settings turn former school teachers and homemakers into hardened killers. Blood flows freely, albeit mostly computer generated, in this world with zombie effects from Tom Savini protégé, Greg Nicotero’s special effects house. The Walking Dead is certainly the goriest show ever broadcast on basic cable and the headshot count resonates with viewers. AMC is proud to present unfettered violence and pushing the envelope against the FCC has become one of their main selling points. This gives a perceived edginess to the network and its viewers feel they are privy to something daring, bold and new in the television frontier.
The Walking Dead, like most of AMC’s original content, is heavily promoted as an “event.” So much so, that the series is followed by another series, The Talking Dead, in which the adventures of Rick and his crew are lauded as if there was never a moment of overacting by the cast nor a single misstep taken in the writer’s room. The Talking Dead with its shrill host and panel of “C-listers” makes it hard to take the gravity of the show’s text seriously. Throughout the show, bumpers for The Talking Dead are seen talking asking the viewers to chime in via the internet about what they are currently watching. What happened to watching the show for what it is?
The ad culture surrounding The Walking Dead is so pervasive that the narrative flow is a shambles by the end of the hour. The suggested 18-35 lonely white male demographic is bombarded with tough guy commercials for Slim Jims and Auto-Insurance as well as an exhaustive campaign with one of The Walking Dead’s main sponsors, Hyundai Automotive. In these commercials, a group of survivors similar to the cast of the show is led by a man with a zombie-killing mobile outfitted with guns and armor. The shows polysemy is parodying itself before the viewer has a chance to think twice. Viewers can go to the Hyundai website and design their own imaginary zombie-killing mobile while watching the show. Thus, the flow is savagely interrupted by its own money machine.
Frank Darabont was fired from the series for questioning AMC’s perpetual money grab. He saw that money that could be spent on decapitations was going to the network and in TV land, even if one is the creator of a series, one is always trumped by network execs. The Walking Dead’s flow is like that of many current series, they series itself plays second banana to the “event.” The event of watching the watching of the show.