Sunday, 22 October 2017

October Nightmares III #22: The Walking Dead (2010 - ) - Braiiiins....

The zombie is the one pop culture icon which refuses to die. You've blown the shambling decomposed corpse away with your double-barrelled shotgun, but it just keeps getting back up; lurching ever forward in its pursuit to take over all of culture. Thanks to George Romero, Zombies have been somewhat popular for decades; particularly in the Eighties where they became the byword for cutting edge practical effects and envelope-pushing gore.

But it's Danny Boyle's 2002 film 28 Days Later which is generally credited with the current resurgence of zombie fiction. Before that they were mostly relegated to the sort of niche, pulpy film enjoyed solely by weirdos like me and Sam. Zombies only ever existed on the marginals of mainstream, crossing over in the occasional big hit such as the Resident Evil games. Nowadays zombies are (appropriately) everywhere. They're in countless movies, games, and there's even a version of Pride and Prejudice with zombies in it for some reason. Who'd have thought the zombie apocalypse would be a rather meta infiltration of every facet of our culture.

There are currently no less than four zombie shows on television at the time of writing; no doubt by this time next year some will have died off and others will have risen like infected pustules, that's just how plagues work. The biggest of these shows is The Walking Dead, however, a ratings-Goliath now in its eighth year. A show which, like its antagonists, shows no sign of stopping: even as it slowly decays and putrefies into an off-putting mess.

Don't let that last comment give you the impression that I have a problem with The Walking Dead. I adore the show: it's the ultimate conclusion to what Romero started. But it's definitely the victim of its own success. Doomed to forever provide a succession of disgustingly designed zombies and grisly deaths for an always hungry audience. At some point the show is going to end up as a harem for special effects guy Greg Nicotero, as budding FX artists suckle at his teat hoping some of his macabre wizardry rubs off on them.

Based on the long-running graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead follows the trials and tribulations of a group of survivors, led by ex-sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who exist in a harsh post-civilisation world filled with flesh-eating monsters and roaming gangs of murderers. This is a world in which traditional power structures have collapsed, and survivors must come together with strangers and reinvent themselves. Like a college student when they go off to uni for the first time.

If TWD is about anything, then it's about the mutability of humanity. I don't mean how the zombies, through their withered rotten bodies, represent a human race on the way out. Instead I'm referring to the 'humans are the real monsters' mentality. Which the survivors increasingly use to justify all the terrible things that they do, whilst maintaining that they are the good guys. In the early seasons the show called out people like Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Merle (Michael Rooker) for this Lawful Evil attitude, but now the survivors butcher their foes, lie, steal, and even tear out throats. Anyone who tries to call out this behaviour is simply portrayed as a contrarian dickhead.

At this point TWD is a pure post-apocalyptic survival show. The zombies, as masterfully created as they are, serve little purpose beyond window dressing. Back in the day zombies represented something. They were a grotesque reflection of the failures of humanity and society - criticism of inequality, consumerism, racism, and anti-individualism. What do zombies represent now, exactly? Perhaps they reflect the fears of an uncertain future as long-held institutions crumble and the world's powers gear for war. But none of that factors into TWD, which is a straight forward horror show. Maybe it's just meant to be escapism from a crumbling world: portraying a setting in which abused housewives like Carol (Melissa McBride) and rough rednecks like Daryl (Norman Reedus) can become empowered badasses.

The average season of TWD plays out as follows: previous season's safe place falls, the survivors must search for a new haven, against all sense the survivors end up divided due to some artificial conflict, a new threat emerges, the survivors reunite to tackle said new threat, cliffhanger, end season. The individual episodes are 60% soap-style character drama, 25% slow-panning shots of the desolate world, and 15% threat from the zombies.

This show's whole shtick of the characters finding a safe place, only for it to be overrun and destroyed by the end of the season, was tired by Season 4. We're on Season 8 now. It's like that friend who can never settle down, and goes from relationship to relationship - each time proclaiming that they've found "the one", only for the whole thing to blow up in their faces. At first you're supportive, but after the fourth fucking time you're rolling your eyes and secretly hoping they'll kill themselves in a wanking accident.

What the show needs is an end game. Look at Romero's '...of the Dead' films. The original trilogy (Night, Dawn, and Day) depicted the outbreak of the zombie epidemic, the fall of civilisation, and mankind's inglorious end. It was a beautifully realised end of the world scenario, which played out over three movies across a seventeen year period. Well, until Land of the Dead came along in 2005 and ruined everything by suggesting humanity will persist in some Mad Max post-civilisation world, in which zombies have become Communists who exclusively dismantle the systems maintained by Capitalists. Yeah...

The point is, TWD is perpetually stuck between Dawn and Day: depicting a world in which society as it is-now has been permanently extinguished, and yet any attempts to rebuild are continually quashed by the ceaseless undead hordes and the many bad guys of this world. It says a lot about the show's mentality when there are rumours flying around about who the next big villain will be, whilst we're still playing out current villain Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) arc. Is an endless parade of villains all The Walking Dead has to offer now? It's as though the show's turned into Crimewatch.

Negan's the best villain the show's had though. A non-PC, violent fascist who'll either bust your bollocks with his childish humour, or cave your head in with his baseball bat Lucille. Usually both. He's like this blog epitomised. He injects some much needed energy and chaos into the show. I was talking to co-reviewer Sam about this and he said the following: "It was piss funny the morning after the 'Negan kills Glenn' episode: watching people piss their pants over it like they've witnessed a war-crime. "I'm breaking up with The Walking Dead" and all that namby-pamby millennial bollocks."  I couldn't agree more, as before Negan the show got into an all-too safe groove, and Negan took that away. Well, for one episode anyway - they took the bollocks off Negan after the mass-triggering which occurred following Glenn's (Steven Yeun) death and now he only kills characters no one cares about. Like famine in Africa.

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