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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Why Z-Nation is Better than The Walking Dead, an Essay in Three Parts: Part One

My wife thinks I'm a hipster.  She doesn't use that word.  But she has said on multiple occasions that I've only stopped caring about a show I used to love because it became popular.  Classic hipster behavior, right?  "I liked Breaking Bad BEFORE it was popular" kind of stuff.

I can't really say if that's true or not.  It does happen to me, although I do wonder sometimes if it's simply that showrunners, when faced with an unexpected hit, begin doing things differently.  I loved the first season of Battlestar Galactica, enjoyed the second, and watched the rest more or less out of a sense of obligation.  I personally believe I stopped enjoying it because the show changed.  Of course, my wife would have you believe I just cared about the fact that everyone else started watching it.

Which leads me to The Walking Dead.  I loved, loved, loved the first season of TWD.  From Halloween night of 2010 right through the end of the season I sat down with a giddy little thrill and watched as my favorite monsters finally invaded my favorite medium.  Zombies on television!  What could be better?  And more than that, it was good!  Soooo good.

Remember this?  How fucking awesome is this?

People told me about it in that, "Hey, you're a zombie nut, you might enjoy this crazy thing" way.  They weren't watching it.  They were seeing commercials and saying, "Well, I wouldn't enjoy it, but my nutty friend Steve might."  I admit, it was still underground.  I was in the minority.  The zombie genre in general was still a fringe thing.  The average person had maybe seen Shaun of the Dead, maybe enjoyed Zombieland, but certainly had delved no further into the lore.

Then something happened.  The Walking Dead became popular.  I wasn't watching alone in the dark with a giddy thrill anymore.  My wife was watching it with me and the lights were on and the cats were cuddling.  And a certain percentage of people were talking about the show on Facebook after every episode.  And it was neat for a while that something I enjoyed was more broadly popular, but... had gotten terrible.  I didn't know it at the time, but creator and showrunner Frank Darabont, most famously the director of The Shawshank Redemption, had been sacked at the beginning of season 2.  And a bunch of, let's be frank, hacks had been brought in to fill his shoes.  So suddenly we went from having a Shawshank-level dramatic television series to something that looked and sort of tasted like TWD of season 1, but was all hollow inside.  Ironically, the world's first zombie show had become a zombie.

I hoped against hope that maybe things would come back together.  I mean, the characters were still there, Robert Kirkman's excellent source material was still there to draw from.  There were game actors, writers, and crew, the network was finally throwing money at a show that had achieved cinematic quality on a shoestring in its first season.  Surely something would have to click? 

Darabont had promised to show us the Battle of Atlanta in the first episode of season 2.  How tantalizing!  How thrilling!  How fucking awesome would that have been?  And instead we got...the farm.  I knew by the end of 22 excruciating episodes of eighteen characters sitting on a farm, yelling about where Carl was, that this Walking Dead was no longer my Walking Dead.  It had become, as both Robert Kirkman has admitted and godfather of gore George Romero has pointed out, a soap opera.

Frank Darabont accomplished this shit with pilot money.  Pilot money!  Then they spent 22 episodes on a single set?  Give me a freaking break.

It exists to exist.  It shambles from one half-baked idea to the next.  It has a lot of yelling, and almost twice as much talking, but nobody every says anything.  No character ever takes an action that seems born of character.  Everyone is a walking plot device.  And even the plot devices still need plot devices.  Beth is in the middle of the woods and a mysterious car that we later find out never otherwise leaves Atlanta shows up, knocks her out and kidnaps her, and Daryl mysteriously misses it all?  The Governor is defeated, his army scattered, his town destroyed, but he manages to scrape together a whole new army of people we didn't even know about with a few obvious lies?  Who would even follow that guy that just showed up at the encampment?

Everything in this new Walking Dead just seems to happen because the writers thought it might be cool.  And then, as if to betray its entire raison d'être, it inexplicably never manages to deliver on actually being cool.  I mean, honest to God, people, I am not a hard man to please.  A few squishy zombie explosions is enough to please me, and yet all that ever seems to happen on TWD is a lot of yelling.  And talking.  And crying.  When the zombies actually do show up, they're almost always immediately dispatched, unless it's time to "up the stakes" (read: not actually) by killing one of the characters that everyone had long since given up giving a shit about. 

Oh, no, not...Andrea.  Oh, no, not...T-Dawg.  Oh, no, not...

Is this even still amusing anymore?  I haven't thought so for years.  I continue to watch out of a sense of obligation.  Yeah, that's right.  I'm a zombie author.  I have to be able to talk about The Walking Dead, unfortunately. 

So do I hate it because it's popular?  Well, I don't think so.  I just think it's not very good.  But I have to admit, the fandom has truly become just exhausting.  I never thought Firefly was all that bad, but I do find Firefly fans just absolutely obnoxious so I do sort of start to hate that thing they like.  It's getting to be the same way with TWD fans. 

I don't get the whole Daryl thing.  Why is Daryl so popular?  Because he's sort of attractive?  This whole Daryl-love thing has become like a parody of itself.

Now there are worries that when the time comes for the obligatory Joss-kill of Daryl that women will simply begin boycotting the show.  Really?  Is this show really so fundamentally weak that 50% of its viewers tune in solely to look at a cute guy's abs or whatever?  And then even more recently there was some debate, which I have no idea if it was justified or not, about whether Daryl was gay or not.  And, admittedly, he's never had a physical relationship on the show, so we don't know, but...who cares?  Again, if Daryl comes out of the closet, are fans really going to stop tuning in?  I'm reminded of the old Simpsons adage, when Homer must pretend to be single for his career as a pop star, "You see, a lot of women are going to want to have sex with you, and we want them to think they can."

You know something?  I was initially going to make this post about why Z-Nation is better than The Walking Dead.  But I realized I just wrote over a thousand words just about how disappointing TWD has become, and I couldn't even really do justice to Z-Nation by bringing it up at this point in the diatribe.  So, new plan: let's make this a weeklong thing.  Today I'll write about TWD, Wednesday I'll write about ZN, then Friday I'll wrap it all up.  Thanks for reading, everybody!  And feel free to flame out in the comments.  Remember, I insulted both Firefly and Daryl Dixon in one post.  Enjoy!

Part II
Part III


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