[Spoiler Alert] [Spoilers Ahead]
Years ago, my wife and I were watching television when an advertisement for The Walking Dead (TWD) appeared. It immediately grabbed my attention because it featured a wide shot of the show’s main protagonist, Rick, riding a horse into the city of Atlanta (my hometown).
Upon realizing The Walking Dead was about surviving a zombie apocalypse, I knew we’d be adding it to our viewing schedule. As fate would dictate, AMC aired a season one marathon the next day. My wife and I watched as many episodes as we could—feeling like complete couch bums after about four straight episodes—and we DVR’d the rest for later viewing.
After finishing season one, we dived right into the season two premier about a week later. We’ve been watching ever since. Notwithstanding the criticisms in this article, my wife and I are really big fans of the show.
In fact, we’re certifiable TWD geeks; we’ve attended TWD interactive bus tours in Atlanta and participated in TWD-inspired zombie-escape events. But our affinity for the show does not cloud our objective assessment of the show’s legitimate flaws. And, sorry fanboys and girls, there are definitely some flaws. Here’s a list of the show’s most notable imperfections.
14. The Weather Never Changes
According to Tony! Toni! Toné or Albert Hammond—depending on which brand of music you prefer—it never rains in Southern California. Well, apparently, it never rains in the world of The Walking Dead either. The weather doesn’t really do anything in The Walking Dead; it doesn’t rain, sleet, snow, thunderstorm, or even get windy.
There are two basic weather patterns in The Walking Dead: gloomy and gloomier. The show could conceivably be renamed 50 Shades of Gloomy or 50 Shades of Grey (if that name weren’t already taken). That’s because everything in The Walking Dead has a grey hue to it due to the perpetual gloominess.
I definitely don’t expect constant rainbows and sunrays on a show about re-animated dead creatures that eat intestines for lunch. But the fact that the weather never changes detracts from the show’s realism and makes it harder for viewers to suspend disbelief.
While it may not rain in Southern California, it definitely rains in Georgia (as Brook Benton taught us in another famous song about a state’s weather patterns). However, in TWD’s version of Georgia, precipitation is nonexistent and the weather is always cool enough to justify Rick’s “post-apocalyptic-cowboy-chic” long sleeve shirts and jean jackets.
If TWD’s producers and directors were keeping it real, they’d depict the show’s characters struggling with the sweltering temperatures of Georgia’s insanely humid summers or the 30-degree frigidness of Georgia’s winters. In season five, during the group’s time in Virginia, how is it possible that they never encountered snow or bone-chilling cold weather? It just doesn’t seem likely.
Essentially, The Walking Dead is all about a group’s struggle to survive in a dangerous, zombie filled world. The show would be more compelling and intense if the group’s struggle for survival were sometimes exacerbated by unpredictable and uncomfortable weather. Failing to factor weather into the equation is a missed opportunity to make the show more interesting and, ultimately, better.
Can you imagine how riveting it would be to watch Rick’s group strive to find supplies and fend off walkers while simultaneously dealing with record-breaking levels of snow fall? Well, keep imagining because you probably won’t ever see anything like that on the actual show.
Worthy mention: Speaking of nature, where the heck have all the animals gone? I refuse to believe that zombies have eaten them all. It seems like animals only appear when it’s convenient for the writers (e.g., when they needed Carl to get shot in season two, they conveniently threw a dear into the mix).
13. Too Much Dead Space
On many occasions, I’ve watched episodes of The Walking Dead feeling like absolutely nothing interesting or noteworthy happened in terms of plot or character development. This occurs when there are uneventful episodes full of banal, inconsequential dialogue that does nothing to move the story along. We call that “dead space.”
Some episodes have 20 to 30 minutes of dead space and sometimes there are entire episodes of dead space. Numerous episodes have featured Rick’s group doing tons of walking, walking, and walking, followed by additional walking. We call that “walking dead-space.” They give a whole new meaning to the term ‘walkers.’
Season four, in particular, had absurd amounts of dead space. There was plenty of prison soap opera drama, along with scenes about zombies shaking the fence. There was a mysterious zombie flu that DayQuil was no match for and a lot of camera time was devoted to showing peripheral characters coughing and sweating profusely. How entertaining.
After the prison battle with the Governor’s squad, Rick’s group scattered into the woods and egregious levels of walking-dead-space ensued (interspersed with mundane dialogue, the occasional searching of abandoned houses for supplies, and the discovery of several mysterious Terminus signs). And what was the big payoff? Not much. The group reached Terminus in the final episode of season four and they destroyed Terminus and killed most of its inhabitants before the end of the next episode (season five, episode one).
Grand opening, grand closing; actual time spent at Terminus: less than 1.5 episodes.
After devoting nearly half of season four building anticipation for this mysterious “sanctuary,” a little over an hour of screen time was spent there and the Terminus saga was over. I expected to be rewarded for enduring all that painful dead space, but I—along with other viewers—got bamboozled. How do you sleep at night Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple, et al.?
Of course, season four wasn’t the only one with dead space. Season one had the least amount of dead space, but it became progressively worse in future seasons (some would argue that season two was nothing but dead space).
Throughout the show’s life cycle, there have been far too many instances where my wife and I have looked at one another and said something to the effect of: “I feel like nothing happened in that episode.” That’s the last thing viewers should be saying.
On a positive note, season six started with a bang and most episodes included enough twists and turns to keep the show interesting from a plot perspective. Yes, there was some dead space, but not to the degree experienced in some of the previous seasons. Hopefully, the show’s writers can keep this trend moving in the right direction.
12. Michonne’s dreadlocks
For a show to be enjoyable, it must provide elements that allow viewers to suspend disbelief at all times. Showrunners must do whatever they can to make viewers forget they’re watching a fake television show.
Even if something totally unreal is transpiring—such as a zombie apocalypse—fans must believe they’re watching realistic people operating in a realistic version of Earth—albeit, a version of Earth where dead people stubbornly refuse to stay dead.
Any unrealistic aspects in a show—even something seemingly small—can break a viewer’s detachment from disbelief and remind them that it’s just a television production with actors dressed in costumes.
Unfortunately, Michonne’s fake dreadlocks serve as that unwanted reminder.
The wig Danai Gurira is forced to wear looks like something you’d pick up at Party City and wear to a costume party. It looks like a hat precariously sitting atop her head, just waiting for a strong gust of wind to blow it off kilter (wait, I forgot, weather elements such as wind don’t exist in the world of TWD).
I understand that Michonne has bigger priorities other than making sure her hair is cute and “on fleek,” but did the show’s costume designers really have to make her roots look like a jumbled mess of possum hair? To keep them looking nice, I know dreadlocks require a little time and maintenance. But Michonne lives in a world where there’s no television, no radio and (gasp) no internet (which is the scariest thing about TWD in my opinion).
When she’s taking a break from splitting the skulls of decrepit zombies, I’m sure she has plenty of time to palm-roll her dreads. Survivalists agree: When conducting supply runs, the group’s priorities obviously should be food, water, medicine, and dreadlock cream.
In all seriousness, dreads look very presentable if given just a little bit of attention. Even if one completely neglects them, they still don’t look as laughably fake as Michonne’s. If the producers don’t want to make her dreads look decent, they should just have Michonne cut them off like bat-poop-crazy Shane did in season two. Gurira looks gorgeous with short hair and I think it would look bad-ass and rebellious on Michonne.
The ratty locks don’t do anything to improve Michonne’s ragged appearance, either. I understand that they’re living in a decaying world and the characters shouldn’t look like perfectly bronzed soap opera characters. But Michonne’s dingy appearance is a bit much. It really becomes apparent that Michonne looks unnecessarily dusty when comparing her to other female characters on the show.
Maggie, Sasha, and the late Beth (I told you there were spoilers) have always looked decent on the show. Rosita, in particular, consistently looks like she just stepped off the set of a shampoo and conditioner commercial (I’m just waiting for her to take off that army surplus hat and shake her head from side to side as her luxurious, wind-blown hair alluringly sweeps through the air).
If the other female characters can look decent, why can’t Michonne? Gurira is beautiful in real life, but on the show she looks like a greasy, homeless Rastafarian who works in a coal mine.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to assert that the entire show is trash just because of one character’s hair. While it’s not a huge deal, it does somewhat reduce the believability of Michonne’s character which, in turn, reduces the believability of the overall show. The show already has plenty of other flaws that hinder its believability, and Michonne’s locks shouldn’t be one of them.
Worthy hair mention 1: Apparently, the show’s costume designers struggle with dreadlocks. Heath from season six (what happened to him?) had hair that looked like a bicycle helmet made out of dreadlock material. It just didn’t look natural and I found it quite distracting (egg on my face if it turns out that guy’s dreads were actually real).
Worthy hair mention 2: Carl needs a haircut.
11. Drab Wardrobe and Every Zombie Shops at the Same Store
I’m not sure why everyone on The Walking Dead chooses to wear the dullest clothes imaginable. Apparently, there are three primary style options on The Walking Dead:
- Dress like a lumberjack or a zombie hunting cowboy (lots of flannels, denims, rolled up sleeves, assorted cowboy hats)
- Dress like a member of a motorcycle gang (leather jackets, vests, biker boots)
- Dress like someone who chose to do their doomsday shopping in an Army Surplus store (Abraham and Rosita come to mind)
These wardrobe options would have been perfect for a post-apocalyptic Western movie or the zombie edition of Sons of Anarchy. Even though there are thousands of garments to choose from, it seems like every bad guy on The Walking Dead sports a worn leather jacket (that would probably set you back $1,000 at Nordstrom’s).
Furthermore, the members of Rick’s group are so monochromatic. Every article of clothing they wear is an earth-tone shade of grey, tan or dark green. Maybe they consider themselves a gang and those are their colors. (Does this mean there are rival gangs who choose to wear bright, vibrant colors?) They look like Urban Outfitters models who have been strewn with zombie guts, dirt, and grease stains.
Why haven’t we seen anyone wearing anything that has any color in it? The zombie virus killed a bunch of humans and, apparently, it also killed primary colors. I suppose their boring clothing matches the boring dialogue, the boring characters and the boring, grey weather. Like an accent wall in a house, they need some pops of color to liven things up.
Make no mistake, I have nothing against earth tones, flannels, army pants or motorcycle gear. I even wear some of these clothing items from time to time. The problem is that the show makes it seem like the above mentioned clothing styles are the only ones that have ever existed on Earth.
To enhance the show’s realism, it should be acknowledged that other types of clothing—such as graphic tees and athletic shorts—did exist on this planet before the zombie virus screwed everything up. How is it possible that we’ve never seen someone wearing a football jersey, a pair of tennis shoes, or dark denim shorts?
If a zombie virus broke out tomorrow and turned the planet into a gigantic wasteland of death and depravity, I’m sure people would be scrambling to grab whatever clothes they could find, without giving it too much thought.
You’d see people wearing track suites, jogging pants, yoga pants, pullovers, blazers, swim trunks, hunting gear, nursing scrubs and an assortment of other clothing types. Everyone would not be wearing the same style of clothing.
But somehow, every The Walking Dead character has strategically made a conscious effort to dress like an edgy, slightly sexy horse rancher.
Even the zombies are invariant when it comes to their garments. Almost every female zombie wears a long “House on the Prairie dress” and almost every male zombie wears a long sleeve button-up shirt that looks like it was borrowed from the Kanye West clothing line. It is highly unlikely that every human in America was wearing a button-up or a long dress before they turned into a zombie.
If the folks in charge of wardrobe really cared about realism, we’d see zombies in business suits. After all, I’m sure there were brain eating lawyers who caught the virus and became brain eating zombies—condemning them to roam the earth undead in $1,000 tailor made suits.
In addition to business suits, we should see zombies wearing nursing scrubs, construction hats, Prada dresses, police uniforms, exercise gear, bikinis and anything else a normal human could possibly wear before “turning.” What about a zombie who “turned” while she was wearing a thong and pasties during her shift as an exotic dancer? Yes, that’s a disturbing thought, but it’s also realistic.
As stated before, it’s all about realism when it comes to creating a good TV show. And every single element—including wardrobe—contributes to that realism. In fact, wardrobe is exceedingly important.
Imagine watching a show set in 14th century Europe with characters who wear bell bottoms and leisure suits. That would be pretty hard to watch, strictly due to the ludicrous choices for attire. Admittedly, that’s an extreme example but it helps highlight the importance of wardrobe when creating believable, immersive television environments.
10. Everyone Either Talks Like Rick or Has a Bad Accent
What’s that, Rick? I can’t hear you. Why must you speak in such low, shadowy tones, I ask myself as I watch The Walking Dead. After a few minutes of straining my ears to hear, I normally crank the volume to obscene levels and proceed to have a minor heart attack when a commercial comes on and my TV sounds like a loudspeaker at Lambeau Field.
Rick’s voice is a part of what makes him a unique individual, but it does nothing for a fan who actually wants to hear what’s going on.
I wouldn’t mind Rick talking like raspy-voiced librarian if he were the only one on the show who did it. But he isn’t. It’s gotten to the point where everyone engages in this barely-audible, subdued pillow talk.
Even female characters—including Michonne and Maggie—seem like they’re doing their best impression of Rick. Everyone is trying to sound like a tough guy/gal and, as a result, I can’t hear a damn thing anyone is saying half the time.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time (namely, season one) when each character had a unique voice (both literally and figuratively). Glenn had a rambunctious, somewhat high-pitched voice. Dale spoke in a throaty tone that implied a sense of authority and wisdom. Jacqui (the black woman from season one you probably forgot about and who chose to die at the CDC) had a soulful, impactful voice.
All of these different voices gave the characters personality and individuality, which made the show more intriguing, overall.
Now, everyone—including the formerly lighthearted Glenn—sounds like a hardened, coldhearted Rick clone. This parade of homogenous voices adds to the show’s monotony and make the moments of dead space almost unbearable.
One could argue that the deadly, unforgiving world they occupy has toughened them up and caused them to develop gruffer voices over the years. However, I find it highly improbable that so many characters have completely lost their unique tones and inflections within a few short years of living in a monster-filled world.
Just to get a break from the perpetual, raspy whispering, it would be nice to hear some vocal variety. How about a boisterous New York accent or a crisp California cadence? What about a dude who talks like a bro or a bro who talks like a dude? How about a female with a mousy voice or a male with a loud, guttural voice? I’d really be happy to hear my favorite accent of all—the Southern American accent—done well (especially since the show started in Georgia).
To their credit, TWD’s showrunners have introduced characters with southern drawls, but most of the accents are pretty awful (that might have something to do with the fact that they decided to hire several European actors for a show set in the South).
Eugene’s and Maggie’s accents are particularly bad. Merle Dixon had the best, most authentic southern accent and he, coincidentally, happened to be the most entertaining character on the show. Merle had a lot of personality and his voice was a reflection of that, which is a perfect example of why vocal variety is so important.
Of course, some television shows go too far when it comes to giving characters unique voices and their actors end up sounding like over-the-top Sesame Street puppets. I’m glad TWD’s producers didn’t go that route because the situation would have been far worse.
It’s good that the showrunners didn’t go too far when it comes to voice but, at the same time, they aren’t going far enough. When it comes to vocal variety amongst characters, it’s all about finding the perfect balance.
9. Unrealistically Rural Settings
Since the first season, much of the show has been based in rural settings—particularly the woods. Other than time spent in the city of Atlanta, on Hershel’s farm, or at the prison, the majority of the show has been set in the forest. As the group traverses through their crazy world, it’s just one wooded scene after another after another after another.
I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life and I’ve never seen so much forestry (The Walking Dead has basically become Deliverance with zombies and even features a Burt Reyonolds-esque bow-and-arrow wielding protagonist).
At this point, I’m so over the woods. In fact, I was once a nature lover. Now, because of The Walking Dead, I despise the woods and never want to see them again. Can we please have a change of scenery?
Despite what they show on The Walking Dead, the Atlanta metro-area—which is where the first few seasons are set—is actually a gigantic expanse of suburban sprawl filled with huge shopping plazas, expansive suburban subdivisions, and endless stretches of roads and highways.
Some Georgia towns are more rural than others, but even the country towns are a mixture of rural and suburban. So if you happen to find yourself in the woods of Georgia, there’s probably a large suburban strip mall or Wal-Mart not too far away.
That being said, it’s very odd that Rick’s crew never stumbles across any shopping malls, chain restaurants, banks, hotels, toy stores, apartment complexes, gyms, sporting goods stores, adult video stores or any other establishments one would expect to encounter in a major modern metropolitan area.
The show’s level of realism is greatly diminished by the absence of modern looking towns and buildings and the lack of variety in setting. I know I sound like a broken record because I keep harping on realism, but it’s kind of important. And aside from realism, changing up the setting would help break the show’s repetitiveness.
Just to see something different, it would be great if there were a scene in an abandoned hotel, a dilapidated high rise condo, or a deserted water park. These are all great possibilities—in a world filled with endless possibilities—but all they ever give us is woods, woods, and more woods. They spend more time in the woods than contestants on CBS’s Survivor.
I know there are budgetary concerns at play, and shooting in the woods is the least expensive option for the network. However, AMC has plenty of dough to spend on The Walking Dead (their highest rated show) and there’s got to be a way to incorporate different types of environments without breaking the bank. The show’s spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, manages to do it and there are shows with much smaller budgets that also manage to do it.
Make it happen, AMC. This is a zombie show, not a PBS nature documentary.
8. Not Enough Zombie-Related Complications
Fiction 101: For a story to be interesting, there must be complications. If everything comes too easy, the story will be boring and there’s really no point in watching. To their credit, The Walking Dead throws a lot of complications at their characters. Unfortunately, the complications are rarely zombie related, even though it’s a friggin zombie show.
The majority of the show’s complications arise because of interactions with plain old humans. If I wanted to see a bunch of human complications, I’d watch a non-zombie show like Mr. Robot or House of Cards. I think a zombie show should have a good combination of both human and zombie problems, but The Walking Dead leans too far to the human side.
I get it. The writers and producers are trying to make a profound statement: Even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, humans are still their own worst enemies. Yay, you made a profound statement. Now, can we get back to zombies eating people’s faces off, please? Thanks in advance.
I know it’s hard to come up with new zombie complications season after season, especially since they’re dumb, slow-moving creatures that are fairly easy to evade. To conjure up some zombie difficulties, the writers need to turn up the creativity juice on their thinking caps. That’s what they get the big bucks for. They owe it to us viewers; we are their investors and we want a dividend payout in the form of some zombie shenanigans.
Here’s one idea, free of charge (this time): The virus is mutating and causing zombies to grow much larger than we’re accustomed to. As a result, there are eight- and nine-foot tall zombies lumbering around knocking down walls and chomping down whole birds like Chicken McNuggets. That’s just one feasible idea, but there are tons of possibilities. Let’s see some creativity!
7. The Zombies Aren’t Scary
Leatherface made me jump out of my chair. Freddy Krueger gave me nightmares. Candyman caused me to wet my pants. Those World War Z Usain Bolt zombies that can run the 40-yard dash in four seconds scared the bejesus out of me.
The zombies from The Walking Dead, on the other hand, are about as frightening as Lurch from The Addams Family.
The characters on the show aren’t even afraid of them. They casually kill zombies without even breathing hard and while holding full conversations with one another. I’m sure my grandmother could easily handle them. It makes me wonder how anyone even manages to get killed by these tortoise-like zombies.
Perhaps I’m not afraid of them because the main characters aren’t afraid of them. When television characters express genuine fear, it normally translates into fear for the viewer, as well.
In season one, the characters were definitely fearful of the zombies and, coincidentally, so was I. That may be due to the fact that the zombies were new to us in season one. Now that we’ve all become accustomed to them, the zombies’ scariness has greatly diminished.
The zombies also seemed more aggressive in the first season. They had a little more pep in their step (I recall them running through the streets of Atlanta in pursuit of Rick and Glenn). Perhaps they had just turned and were “fresher” back then, or maybe they had healthier appetites. Whatever the reason, the zombies were nimbler and, thus, more deadly and threatening.
Time has passed and the zombies have apparently aged and deteriorated further and lost a bit of their mobility. I’m not sure if zombies have a life-span (or, death-span?), but it definitely seems like they’ve reached the zombie senior-citizen stage. Hence, a person can simply break into a brisk speed-walk to escape them.
Given the fact that zombies have gotten slower and the group has adjusted to them, the show’s writers will need to conceive some innovative ideas for making the zombies scary and intimidating again.
Worthy mention: Every zombie has the same physique and falls into the same age bracket. That doesn’t make sense. There should be kid zombies, teenage zombies, overweight zombies, tall zombies, and short zombies. If humans come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, so should the zombies.
6. Poor Casting Decisions
Generally, I don’t think they’ve cast bad actors (though, a few—who shall remain nameless—aren’t that stellar). I just think they should have reassigned certain actors to different, more fitting roles.
One specific example would be the Governor. The bloke who played the Governor—David Morrissey—is a really good actor. There’s no doubt about that.
However, I believe his talents would have been better suited playing a good guy with an edge, rather than a vicious bad guy. Morrissey doesn’t have the bloodcurdling, sinister aura needed to play the role of a seriously vile super villain, which is what the Governor was supposed to be.
By comparison, the comic book version of the Governor looks like a gritty, blood-thirsty maniac. The show should’ve chosen an actor that was similarly creepy and foreboding.
Tom Payne—who plays Jesus—would serve as another example of casting that is less than ideal. The comic book version of Jesus was tough and brawny, but Payne does not fit that mold. Although Payne grew a lengthy beard for the role, his portrayal of Jesus still manages to come across as soft and clean cut.
Payne strikes me as a guy who has never worn a beard in his life and specifically grew one for the show. For the role of Jesus, they should have cast someone who looks like they came out of the womb with a five-o’clock shadow.
I’m also of the opinion that Lennie James (Morgan) and Seth Gilliam (Gabriel, the preacher) should have swapped roles. Maybe it’s because I remember him as a vibrant personality from The Wire, but I think Gilliam would have made Morgan a far more dynamic character.
On the other hand, I think Lennie James would have been way more effective as a thoughtful, introspective preacher who struggles with internal turmoil. James gives off the vibe of a serious thespian who reads scripts with glasses perched at the end of his nose, a fancy tobacco pipe dangling from his mouth, a glass of vintage red wine on his desk, while classical music plays in the background. Serious thespians like James are very good at playing characters like the preacher and that’s the role he should have been given.
Just to reiterate, most of the actors on the show are decent and some are actually exceptional. They just need to be placed in the right roles so their skills can be fully utilized. This would allow them to bring the most out of the characters they play.
Obviously, fully optimized characters contribute to a better overall show and good casting is a key component of that. Hopefully, going forward, the casting directors will give more thought to roles they assign to actors.
5. Lack of Intragroup Conflict and Excessive ‘Pump Faking’
It’s a given that characters on TV shows are going to face external conflict. While most television writers do an adequate job of incorporating external conflict, many of them completely disregard intragroup conflict. That’s a shame because, in almost all cases, intragroup conflict makes shows better.
As the name suggests, intragroup conflict refers to conflict between members of the same group.
This type of conflict is a very powerful tool because it creates a heightened level of suspense, as viewers wonder whether or not the enemies within are going to destroy the group’s overall wellbeing.
Intragroup conflict is also particularly suspenseful because the trouble-makers within the group have direct access to the good guys, which means the group’s hidden enemies are often more dangerous than the external enemies. Making matters worse, the good guys usually have no clue there’s an enemy within.
While external conflict can make viewers sit on the edge of their seats, intragroup conflict makes viewers nervous and tense in a very different way. And, fundamentally, it makes shows more interesting by adding layers of complexity to the plot.
Nowadays, there isn’t much intragroup conflict on The Walking Dead. In season six, Carol and Morgan had a brief beef that felt very contrived, and some annoying teenager from Alexandria (Ron) made an ill-advised attempt to kill Rick and Carl.
Beyond those examples, everyone has gotten along great. People getting along great is not good for group drama. Truthfully, there really hasn’t been any noteworthy group drama since season two (Shane) and, at this point, it’s sorely needed to liven up the show’s stale storyline.
As the show’s writers (hopefully) attempt to inject intragroup conflict into future episodes, they should remember one important fact: This type of conflict is only effective if it involves characters we actually care about. There are a bunch of peripheral characters we don’t care about (due to poor character development), and the writers would be making a huge mistake if they decide to play it safe and introduce conflict between peripheral characters.
Furthermore, to create suspense, intragroup conflict must threaten the wellbeing of a beloved main character or the entire group. The problem with The Walking Dead is that it never really feels like the main characters’ lives are threatened. That’s because The Walking Dead is known for ‘pump faking.’ A pump fake is a move in basketball in which the ball carrier pretends they’re about to shoot, even though they have no intention of actually taking a shot.
The Walking Dead has been known to pump fake by making it seem as if they’re going to kill a main character, even though main characters rarely die on the show. Because viewers know main characters rarely die, it’s difficult for fans to feel like a character’s life is really at risk. This makes it hard to develop tense, hair-raising intragroup conflict that feels threatening and foreboding. All that being said, the show’s writers must figure out ways to create complications within the group to keep viewers on their toes.
4. Predictable Plot and Repeating Themes
‘Exhilarating’ and ‘full of surprises’ would not be the words I’d use to describe TWD’s plot over the last few seasons. ‘Prosaic’ and ‘predictable’ would be more appropriate. The Walking Dead doesn’t really have plot twists. It has plot curves. Very gentle curves. Curves you don’t even need to step on the breaks for.
There’s really no delicate way to put it: Since the end of season one, virtually nothing about TWD’s plot development has been smart, interesting, or remarkable. The one exception would be the season two revelation that Sophia was one of the barn walkers.
Other than that, there have been virtually zero ‘wow’ moments on the show. And I really don’t want to do it, but I can’t help but compare The Walking Dead to other popular shows and realize how inadequate it is when it comes to plot twists. Unlike The Walking Dead, shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and The Wire are chock full of amazing, mind-blowing ‘wow’ moments.
Most of the events that transpire in The Walking Dead are very predictable, partly because the writers employ very cliché themes and partly because they’ve allowed the storyline to become absurdly redundant. Every other episode feels like Groundhog Day because the entire show revolves around the following few occurrences:
- Walking through miles and miles and miles of forest;
- Having long, barely-audible monologues that do nothing to push the plot forward or develop character;
- They frequently check abandoned houses for supplies and typically encounter a single zombie trapped in a bedroom. While searching the house, they’ll look at pictures on the wall or other personal artifacts and have an introspective moment where they ponder the homeowner’s life before the zombie apocalypse;
- Every few episodes, Rick’s posse encounters a random person or group of people in the woods who could potentially pose a threat. If it happens to be a group, said group will typically be dressed like members of a motorcycle gang. At this point, one of three things happens: 1) They immediately eliminate the threat by killing every member of the rival gang within mere seconds; 2) They have a prolonged battle with this gang over the course of several episodes, but ultimately end up killing them all (while no one from Rick’s team suffers a scratch); or 3) Someone from Rick’s group somehow manages to get kidnapped by the rival gang but, no worries, the good guys are always able to easily rescue that person.
- At some point, the group inevitably stumbles upon a town or community that initially appears to be a safe haven. But something always goes terribly wrong and they are forced to flee back into the woods and resume their regular schedule of searching abandoned suburban homes that invariably have a single zombie trapped in a bedroom.
The preceding bullet points provide an approximation of pretty much everything that has transpired since season two. This helps explain why the show hasn’t gotten better since season one; instead of developing characters and adding layers of complexity to the plot, they’re busy crowbarring these repetitive themes into every episode.
I guess they’ve found a formula that clearly works because the show garners outstanding ratings. As a result, they have no motivation to make things better. And TWD fans have no one to blame but ourselves because, despite the show’s tedious redundancies, we keep going back for more.
3. Boring, One-Dimensional Main Characters and Lack of Character Development
If the point hasn’t been made clear by now, I’ll state it again: There are two essential elements to any good work of fiction: plot development and character development. At least ninety percent of a show’s focus should be in those areas. Of course, the ratio for any given television program will vary.
Some programs will be 70 percent plot development, 20 percent character development, and 10 percent miscellaneous, while others could be 30 percent plot development, 65 percent character development, and 5 percent miscellaneous.
Regardless of the specific ratio, plot and character must make up the bulk of any fictional story. Despite the criticisms within this article, I will give TWD’s showrunners their due credit because they have made efforts to incorporate some measure of plot advancement into the show.
On the other hand, they’ve practically ignored character development. After six full seasons, I know almost nothing about Michonne, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Carol, Rick, or anyone else. By this point, I should feel a connection with these characters. But I don’t.
As a result, minimal emotional response is elicited within viewers when characters die. When characters perish on Breaking Bad, The Wire, or Game of Thrones, I feel like I’ve just lost a friend and I need time to compose myself.
On the other hand, the deaths of Beth, Andrea, and Lori did not rock my soul and jolt my heart like they should have. That’s because I was never given the opportunity to understand the unique intricacies that make up their personalities. It’s as if all attempts to develop individuality ceased after season one.
Individuality is the collection of qualities that differentiates one person from everyone else. Individuality is what makes characters feel more human. But where’s the personality and individuality on The Walking Dead?
Where are the funny characters? Where are the mean characters? Where are the eccentric characters? Where are the nerdy characters? Where are the overly analytical characters? Where are the rebellious characters who like taking unwise risks? Where are the meatheads? Where are the prissy girls and the hippies?
Where are the characters with vices? Everyone has vices. Why doesn’t the show feature ex-drug addicts, or pretentious ex-business men, or people struggling with neuroses such as obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia?
There could be insomniacs who have problems staying awake during the day or vegetarians struggling to adjust in a world where you either eat meat or die.
There are so many possibilities.
All of the aforementioned hypothetical character traits represent different quirks that can help make fictional people seem more human and relatable. But everyone on The Walking Dead is so blah and plain vanilla. They’re all cut from the same boring, earth-tone cloth.
Granted, some characters need to be boring because it would be overwhelming if everyone had a ton of personality. But having a show with zero personality is equally overwhelming, if not more so.
In season one, the characters actually had unique identities. Glenn was funny, cheerful, and a bit of a pushover. Merle was a strident, unrepentant redneck. Dale was wise and unreserved. Daryl was a rebellious, outspoken hothead. Shane was a brute who struggled with inner demons and guilt.
Since then, the characters with personality have died and the living characters now have dead personalities. Those who remain on the show truly are the walking dead.
When all is said and done, viewers simply want to get to know the characters. We want to know their fears, their interests, their wants, their desires. We want to know what their lives used to be like and where they think their lives are going. We want to know they have a wide range of human emotions, just like us.
Regardless of how it’s done—whether it be through dialogue, monologues, or flashbacks—character development takes time. For any given character, it can’t be stuffed into one single episode; character must be developed over the course of several episodes, spanning multiple seasons.
It’s a continual process that constantly builds upon itself. Until a character gets bitten and ‘turns,’ he or she is still a human—and we expect them to act accordingly.
2. Lack of a Big Picture Goal
Dear Walking Dead,
We’ve been dating for a while now, and I just have to ask: What are we doing? Where are we going? We either need to get serious, or part ways.
It’s a letter that needs to be written because I want to know. The rest of the fans want to know. When it comes to Rick’s group, what is their ultimate goal? Even after six seasons, the answer to this question is not clear.
‘Surviving’ cannot be the central goal because that’s not specific enough. Everybody’s goal is to survive, whether they live in a world filled with zombies or not. It’s what all humans do every day.
Saying you want to survive is like saying you want to breath oxygen; it goes without saying.
But even if we accept the premise that survival is the goal on The Walking Dead, the fact still remains that the writers and producers aren’t introducing enough obstacles and challenges to threaten the group’s survival.
Of course, having survival as a character’s goal can be limiting because there are only a few obstacles that can possibly threaten this goal. That’s why giving the characters more specific goals can make it easier for writers to introduce a larger variety of interesting challenges and obstacles.
In season one, their general goal was survival, but their specific goal was to make it to the CDC. Since the latter goal literally blew up in their faces, there haven’t been many significant specific goals in the seasons that followed.
Without a specific goal (or goals), fans have nothing to hope for, which causes the show to feel pointless and aimless. We want to experience suspense, anxiety, and disappointment when our protagonists face setbacks that could threaten their ability to meet their objectives.
The journey that is associated with striving for a goal—the good and bad, the peaks and valleys—is what we want to experience along with the protagonists.
If they don’t give our band of heroes some concrete objectives, the show’s walkers will serve as the perfect metaphor for the show itself: moving slowly and aimlessly through a grey world with very little purpose, other than eating the brains of its viewers.
1. Frank Darabont Left the Show
By far, the number one problem with The Walking Dead is the fact that Frank Darabont left the show sometime after filming completed for season one.
You may not know who Darabont is, but you should. Darabont was the showrunner for the first season and if it weren’t for him, The Walking Dead probably wouldn’t be on television today.
After coming across the comic book, Darabont became interested in developing it into a television series. The TV show was Darabont’s brainchild and he was determined to get it made. His determination eventually paid off and the show premiered in October of 2010 on AMC.
Although many people were instrumental in the development of the show, Darabont was the primary catalyst. As executive producer and showrunner, he had control over the development and creative direction of the first season.
At some point after season one, he was unexpectedly fired. Given the massive success of the first season and the critical acclaim it received, many were shocked by the termination. What could have possibly gone wrong?
Darabont later claimed that executives at AMC significantly cut the show’s budget and attempted to reduce his portion of the show’s profits. This obviously created conflict and tension behind the scenes. There are also allegations that people involved with the show did not like the creative direction Darabont was taking.
Whatever the reason may have been, Darabont’s ousting had a detrimental impact on the show’s quality. It’s not just a coincidence that season one was the show’s best season and it happened to be the season Darabont had complete oversight for.
In season one, the characters had far more depth and personality. The pacing was excellent and there was almost no dead space. The characters had overarching goals and the show had a sense of purpose. The zombies were more intelligent and, thus, more threatening. There were a variety of settings, including urban, suburban, and rural. The plot was intriguing and unpredictable. The casting was appropriate and each character had a unique voice. Zombies were the characters’ main threat and, hence, it really felt like a zombie show.
In short, the majority of the problems currently plaguing the show were virtually nonexistent in season one.
There’s no doubt that the show hasn’t been the same since Darabont’s departure. It is now a mere shadow of what it once was, and I can’t help but wonder how much better it would have been if he had remained at the helm.
Of course, there’s no sense in crying over spilled zombie guts (or milk). Despite its flaws, I still think it’s a good show worth watching. But I wonder if I’m still watching it because I’m “in too deep” to stop now, or because it really is captivating my attention. I’m starting to believe it’s more of the former than the latter.
While the series is still very popular, I’ve heard reports claiming that recent ratings are not as good as AMC executives would like. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that many longtime fans have become fed up with the show’s boring, repetitive plot lines and have stopped watching.
If they don’t make changes, the trickle of decreased viewership may turn into a deluge. And if that happens, AMC’s biggest cash cow will wither and die.
However, there is hope. The show hasn’t completely ‘turned’ yet and, unlike the infected on the show, it is possible for it to come back from the grips of death.