A typical episode of The Walking Dead is pretty much how I’d imagine a real zombie apocalypse would be; incredibly boring for about 90% of the time, teeth-grabbingly exciting for the remaining ten.
The six-episode first season starts off well, though its device of a man awakening from a coma with no knowledge that the world has ended is shamelessly ripped off from 28 Days Later (which in turn cribbed that narrative gambit from The Day of the Triffids). That aside, it’s a strong start to the series that sees our protagonist coming to terms with events and setting off on horseback to Atlanta to find his missing wife and child. Some decent set-pieces including zombie hordes and a tank keep things moving at a good pace.
The remaining five episodes get progressively duller. With such a short run we’re not able to get to know any characters well or care much about them; I can only remember the name of one of them, and that’s only because other characters kept on referring to him. So, everyone remains stuck in their own character ghetto: the kindly old man with a heart of gold; the racist good ol’ boy; the fiesty and protective older sister; the wife-beater and accompanying downtrodden wife.
Some characters leave and some get killed off; I didn’t care. I don’t know any of these people, so it’s hard to feel much even when the whole cast is blubbing away because Stock Character #23 got bit. In the final episode, one character decides to stay in a suicidal situation while everyone else escapes. It wasn’t shocking. I didn’t know this character’s name or how they fit in with anyone around them, so it just didn’t mean anything to me. I’m mean, sure, I’m sorry you’re going to die, but only with that general background sorrow I normally reserve for people on the other side of the world.
What kept me watching was that 10% of excitement, because when the show gets going it’s really enjoyable. Zombie attacks are surprising and intense and gruesome, just as they should be. This 10% was just enough to carry the series for me, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to carry a full-length season. When the show returns, it’s going to need to work harder on character development.
Nobody uses the z-word, by the way. They refer to the zombies as ‘walkers’. Which is rubbish.