If you clicked on this article, you’re probably a Walking Dead fan and asking, only five reasons it’s one of the best TV shows of all time? While there’s no doubt fans can come up with many more reasons to love the zombie cult phenomena, let’s focus on five of the coolest things about The Walking Dead that really sets it apart from the rest of the pack, even in this new “Golden Age” of television. For those who may argue The Walking Dead is nothing more than a game of who’s going to die next, consider these five elements of the show that gave it one of the most dedicated (and sometimes rabid) fan bases ever seen for a TV show, and with good reason.
(If you aren’t up to date with the latest episode, spoilers follow.)
The Walking Dead broke ground as the first show to create a live post-episode discussion series when it created Talking Dead. This easily could have tanked, if it weren’t for the quick wit and keen observations of host Chris Hardwick. With serious geek credentials, Hardwick has made Talking Dead part comedy and part serious analysis. The latter was in evidence, in particular, when they invited one of The Walking Dead super fans to be a part of the show last week, and he happens to be a high school English teacher. Hardwick had him bring in some serious literary analysis, comparing Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) to King Lear and The Fool. Yes, that’s a comparison to Shakespeare.
Talking Dead regularly features not only actors from the show, but executive producers and writers that give fans a real peek behind the scenes into the creative process. While the whole team is brilliant, one stands out as a true Renaissance man of The Walking Dead.
Executive producer, makeup artist, director, walker extra: Greg Nicotero does it all on the set of The Walking Dead, but is key to the spectacular zombie makeups and bloody kills. Nicotero has been doing zombie makeups long before The Walking Dead came around, moving up the ladder from makeup crew to an executive producer for the show, but he hasn’t stopped there. He frequently fills in as one of the walker extras and has begun directing several episodes, including the brilliant departure of Tyreese (Chad Coleman.)
For a guy who’s made a career based on blood, guts, and exploding heads, the poignant, bittersweet episode ranks as one of the most heartbreaking moments ever for The Walking Dead, and showed mad skills in creating a sense of the character’s mental state from fighting to survive, to making peace and succumbing to his fate. Of course, Nicotera has a great cast to work with, and while it’s nearly impossible to single out one actor on the show as “the best,” one does sort of stand out among The Walking Dead pack. And it’s probably not who you think it is.
Oh, the Norman Reedus fans will be out in droves protesting that “Daryl is the best character and the best actor on the series ever and oh he’s really superhot.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, Daryl is awesome, as is Reedus, and almost every Walking Dead fan loves him. We get it. But no other character on the show has had a more interesting character arc than Carol (Melissa McBride), from abused housewife, to losing her husband (a good thing), to losing her daughter (a bad thing), to becoming quite possibly the toughest person in the post-zombie world, current crisis of conscience aside.
However, it’s not just the character, but the person playing Carol that makes her so awesome. McBride rocks her short, silver fox locks and has mad personal style. Even Reedus’ mom has become a Daryl and Carol shipper, telling her son that she thinks McBride is very pretty. Which she is, and not in a Hollywood, bleach-blond, Botoxed, fake-boobs kind of way. Thank goodness.
Speaking of Carol, she isn’t the only strong female character in the show. Strong female characters are nothing new to Walking Dead fans, but hardcore girl power was heavily featured two weeks ago when Carol and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) had to break themselves free from their female captors, exploring their common ground from opposite sides in their group conflict. The Walking Dead digs into complex issues of pregnancy and the implications of childbirth without medical assistance, and women learning how to fight for themselves.
Yet as tough as they are, Maggie and Carol brilliantly showed how deeply it affected them to kill their captors despite having no other choice. McBride and Cohan didn’t utter a word as Negan’s men burned, and they didn’t have to, because their silent performances said it all. Actresses often talk about a shortage of complex female roles available, but they obviously haven’t stopped by the set of The Walking Dead, because fascinating women abound on the series.
There’s Michonne, who has been a sort of female counterpoint to Daryl, as the quiet loner turned warrior; Sasha, traumatized by the death of her brother and lover, yet reaching out again with Abraham; Alexandria’s fallen leader, Deanna, who believed in building a community, not just settling for survival; and so many others like Beth, Tara, Rosita, Lori, and the recently departed Denise. And let’s not forget Andrea, with her ill-fated decision not to take out The Governor when she had her chance. Which brings us to perhaps the most compelling theme that runs throughout The Walking Dead — keeping your humanity and morality intact in such a violent world.
The Moral High Ground
While The Walking Dead is certainly not the first TV show to take on complex moral issues, the series often takes it to the furthest extremes to challenge fans on what they would do in similar situations. Would they literally rip out someone’s throat with their teeth to protect their son? Would they kill a hostile group of people they don’t even know as a preemptive strike and to bargain for food and supplies? Would they leave a homicidal child to die at the hands of walkers, or put her out of her misery quickly and painlessly? The Walking Dead is unflinching in putting its characters into brutal decisions of morality versus survival.
The writers are also fearless in spending a whole episode dedicated to Morgan’s backstory, and what led him to swear off killing. While many Walking Dead fans may have complained that the episode was “boring,” it carried a deeply spiritual message that becomes more pertinent every day in a world where many make excuses to hate and harm others. When you have a fan base that expects a healthy dose of creative zombie kills and funny one-liners from the likes of Abraham and Eugene, it’s a bold move to slow things down and focus on two characters talking to each other for a whole episode.
That fearlessness is one of the five things that makes The Walking Dead such a great show, and keeps fans guessing on what each episode will bring. Yes, one can argue many other points that make The Walking Dead the cult hit it is, but these five key ingredients form the basis of the recipe for their mind-blowing success.
While the show is certainly in competent hands that Walking Dead fans should trust to keep the story compelling and make the right creative choices, let’s just say this, however — if Carol dies we riot.
[Photo by Gene Page/AMC]