Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #7 - The Walking Dead

(2010 - Present)

The Walking Dead title card.jpg

I could never have predicted that this show would have become the phenomenon that it is today.  Based on the Robert Kirkman comic book of the same name, The Walking Dead is a bleak, violent, and sometimes downright disgusting view of human beings put into the most extreme survival situations.  And while the TV show has all of those elements, it made the wise decision to focus on the heart of the human person: how it breaks, hardens, and is redeemed.

Set in an unexplained zombie apocalypse, the main hero Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his small band of survivors as they try to overcome the hordes of zombies and other maurading humans.  What could have been simple horror schlock instead became a show exploring the boundaries of human morality in extreme conditions.  This show is the Lord of the Flies.  It asks the question: "How far would you go to survive?"

And while that sounds horrible, and at times it is, there are moments of hope.  What makes this show watchable is that even in this broken world, there are those who try their best to be moral heroes.  I reflect on the difference between this show and Game of Thrones, which is also set in a dog-eat-dog world of Westeros.

There are no saints in Westeros.

But there are saints in The Walking Dead.  They are few and far between, but you can find them.  And just like the saints of this world, they are rejected and suffer for it.  There are no easy answers in The Walking Dead, but there are clear ones.  As a Catholic, you can find such wonderfully rich examples of morality.  Two come to mind at once.

At one point, Rick and Hershel (Scott Wilson) are made an offer to turn over one of their own to be tortured to death or face total annihilation.  At first they both decide to do it for the sake of their families.  But after Hershel reflects on the Scriptures with his daughters, he finds the strength to do what is right and not do this wicked thing.

That isn't to say that everyone is filled with faith on the show.  In fact, Hershel's daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) begins to feel her faith slip away.  But in one scene she confronts a priest who wants to die because he saved his own life and let his parishioners die.  While looking down on him broken on the floor he cries, "They're all dead because of me."  Maggie replies, "Yes.  They are."  And then she reaches out a hand and lifts him up.  She then joins him in prayer.  Notice the very Catholic view of sin and forgiveness here.  There is conviction in Christ, but not condemnation.  He has done something horrible, he owns it, and now forgiveness can take place.

Please don't misunderstand, the show is not particularly focused on theology.  And there are just as many dark moments (if not more) than their are hopeful ones.  But I cannot tell you how appreciative I am that this show takes faith and God seriously.  Some characters lose faith.  Others cling to it.  But no matter what, it is not simply dismissed as it is most media.  That alone gives The Walking Dead high regard in my book.

But from an artistic point of view, the show is also incredible.  It is richly cinematic show that pulls you into the world visually.  And notice its lack of music.  For most of the episodes, you will not hear a score.  The producers have such confidence that the visuals with convey the emotion of the scenes that they do not need a lot of music to emphasize it.

The acting is also fantastic.  It is amazing to see how the characters have evolved over the years and how the actors have made those changes organic and powerful.

The first episode of the series set up the entire feel for the show.  It was scary and dire with action and lots of deep emotion.  I always remember in the pilot where Morgan has a chance to shoot his zombie wife and simply cannot bring himself to do it no matter how hard he tries.  At this point you knew this was a zombie show about the human heart.


As of right now, The Walking Dead has not jumped the shark.  One of the smart things that the show has done is that it reinvents itself every season or so with new characters and locations.

"Pretty Much Dead Already"
I can understand if someone watched the show and took this episode as their TV Tap Out (SPOILERS BELOW)
The entire season had been focused on finding Carol's daughter Sophia.  But the end of this episode not only revealed that Sophia had been dead the whole time, but that she was a zombie in Hershel's barn.  The level of despair that this episode has is overwhelming.  While the show never promises a happy ending, this was a real gut-punch.  And this was only half-way through the show's roughest spot: season 2.  But starting with the 3rd season the show found its way again.

"No Sanctuary"
This episode has all the best and worst that the show has to offer.  You see the absolute worst in humanity, where people treat others as essentially livestock.  But you also see our heroes at their best.  Not only does this have some of the best action sequences of the entire show, but it still reminds us why we root for them.  When they come across a container where someone is imprisoned, some contemplate leaving it alone to save their own skins.  But Glenn says, "That can't be who we are."  That sums up our heroes.  This world pounds them down, trying to turn them into beasts.  But they refuse become that.  Yes, they fail along the way, but they never stop trying.  This episode also has one of the happier endings that the show has ever had.


The Walking Dead is not a show about zombies.  It's a show about the human condition and forces us to put a mirror up to ourselves and ask some difficult questions.  And while there is a great deal of darkness in the show, there is also light.  And the darkness has not overcome it.

1 comment:

  1. First kill was a little girl with a teddy bear. I knew we weren't in Kansas anymore.

    More importantly it has no urge just to be a zombie apocalypse video game.

    That was a drawback for most End of the World series, foremost, Falling Skies. The characters were entirely too well adjusted, this pesky alien invasion was a chance to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and start all over again.

    In TWD, people have cracked under the consent pressure, make wrong headed mistakes, and have to do the right thing no matter how heinous.

    There are many, but two come to mind, each revealing character through action.

    Shane talked a good game at the zombie barn, but it was Rick who had to perform the Sophia Resolution. Further confusing the Are They People question.

    Carl's Dilemma at the prison. That still makes me flinch.

    “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."

    "The artist's job is to make reality difficult to see; Hitchcock made it unbearable."