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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."

Friday, December 12, 2014

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

Part I
Part II

And so we come at last to the end of what I expect will be the most controversial week in my blog's history.  On Monday I explained why I dislike beloved super-popular property The Walking Dead.  Then on Wednesday I followed up by defending contender for most-hated show on television, Z-Nation.  Now, as Jerry Springer would say, a few words to sum up my thoughts.

The David and Goliath-style story is one of our favorites.  It appeals to something innate in human nature.  We always consider ourselves the underdog.  Just look at politics.  Everyone considers themselves the underdog, even billionaires.  I know I'm not an underdog in any strict sense.  I'm well off, I live in a nice area, have plenty of access to everything I need.  And yet whenever that David and Goliath story comes on, I'm just like, "Yeah, that's me, overcoming my trials!"

But there's also an element of Goliath being a dick.  In fact, that's usually why David wins.  Goliath is a big, boisterous asshole who doesn't even take David seriously.  The rabbit lays down two feet from the finish line so the tortoise beats him. 

I feel like that's what I'm looking at here.  When TWD was the scrappy young newcomer ("A zombie television series? Preposterous!") they were actually trying.  Rick had guts and gusto.  Hell, he had a purpose.  That guy was gonna find his family, apocalypse be damned.  And then when he finally did find his family there were consequences, and the consequences had consequences, and Merle got left handcuffed on the roof, and on and on.  Not unlike Battlestar Galactica, in fact.

Now, though?  Now TWD has gotten bloated and fat.  It's the most popular show on cable TV.  So it's become complacent.  Hell, it's practically become sedentary.  It's the rabbit literally lying down at the finish line.

"Why mess with a good thing?" the producers seem to be saying.

Have everyone stand around and talk and yell and pretend to emote a lot.  Kill a character no one cares about every couple episodes, then kill a character people do care about once or twice a season.  Introduce new characters every so often and give them a little back story the episode you plan to kill them.  Throw in a zombie once in a blue moon so that horror watchers get what they want.  Throw in a character from the comic books every once in a while to keep the chatter going.

You don't need a writer to write this stuff.  A kid could write this stuff.  As I (and Kirkman and Romero) said, it's not horror.  It's a soap opera.  It's like a fucking shell game is what it is.  It promises one thing and delivers another.  And it had success so it just sits there, like Goliath, wallowing in its own popularity.

And then, by contrast, you have Z-Nation.  This is something that is so demonstrably, so obviously crappy that literally the only way for them to succeed is to innovate.  There's a certain number of people (myself included) who will watch literally anything with zombies in it.  But ZN has nothing to lose!  Why not do a Run, Lola, Run episode?  Why not have a cosmonaut crash at Northern Light?  Why not have a Three Olives product placement so the characters can drive a vodka-powered airplane?

TWD is all about the "Why fix what ain't broke?"  Meanwhile, ZN is all about the, "Why the fuck not?"

Z-Nation has the giddy glow of kids playing in the sandbox.  They're not trying to reinvent the zombie genre, but they are throwing all the spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.  If the zombie bear turns out to be a hit, why not have more zombie bears in the future?  If Murphy controlling the dead turns out to be interesting, maybe there'll be more of that in the future.  Who knows?  The sky's the limit!

Meanwhile TWD is calcified.  "This is what we do, boys," the showrunners seem to have decided, "It doesn't matter whether we do it competently or not.  We're going to stick to the bread and butter.  Besides, the viewers will all tune in for Daryl.  The viewers are morons."  That's really part of what galls me about TWD.  They don't want to try anything intelligent or truly innovative because they think we're all too dumb to enjoy that.  The easily replaceable characters all just wander around Atlanta, being easily replaced, to provide the charade that things are changing, but really nothing ever changes.  Anything really innovative is discarded after an episode or two because it would change the status quo.

And Z-Nation has no status quo!  Every episode is somewhere different!  Every episode has a different premise!  When characters die, you notice they're gone.  Because they have true franchise.  They can choose to do dumb, even petty stuff.  Or they can do great noble things and pay the price. 

In TWD a couple of characters have invisible shields.  Nothing will ever happen to Rick, Carl, Daryl, Maggie, or Glen.  The others are faceless zombie bait, promoted to near-main character status just before death.  In Z-Nation, two of the main "Rick Grimes" characters have already bought it, one in the first episode.

I could keep beating a dead horse, but I think you get the point.  ZN the underdoggy Rocky Balboa has managed to give a beating to TWD's Apollo Creed who's been resting on his laurels.  Feel free to sound off in the comments.  I'm totally open to hearing dissenting opinions.  This is all, of course, one man's opinion, and since it's on the internet, it's most likely wrong. 


  1. Perfect!!! Exactly what I've been trying to put into words!

    1. Perfectly stated my friend! I wanted to ask you a few questions. 1) Do you think ZN will be renewed for a third season? 2) Do you think TWD will ever find the 'lane' it was in during its first season? 3) Do you think a new show could come along and do what TWD should actually be?

    2. Lastly, do you think it is possible for the amazing content within the novel of World War Z to ever be turned into either a TV show or a proper film; I have no idea why they sold that amazing zombie fiction novel's rights and turned it into that crap film!?! Anyway, thank you very much for your thoughts and I will now finish episode 14 season 2 of ZN! Cheers, Andrew S.

    3. Hey, thanks for stopping by, Andrew. I'll just jump right in:

      1.) Yes, it got picked up for a third season. (Sorry, I cheated and googled, but my guess would also have been "yes" because it's cheap to produce and ratings are good enough.)

      2.) No, I think "TWD" is way too far down the rabbit hole at this point. I think it's possible if they brought in some fresh blood and decided to give it a soft reboot - say, jump forward in time five years, or something along those lines. But at this point they're a victim of their own popularity and a prisoner of their own canon. If they want to keep their massive ratings they have to basically keep plodding along the way they have been. That means business as usual, and ain't nobody going to mess with the cash cow. Maybe in a few years if rating start to decline it'll change, but usually at that point it becomes scrambling out of desperation rather than doing anything truly innovative out of an artistic impulse.

      3.) Oh, yeah, absolutely another show could easily come along and be the serious zombie show we've all been waiting for. I mean, just look at the "Hardhome" episode of "Game of Thrones" this year. Everyone was stunned because it was (gasp!) zombies played seriously and riveting. This is self-serving, of course, but I think my own GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO would make a phenomenal television show. That was how I first envisioned it, in any case.

      4.) Yep. Nothing could be easier. I think the producers chicken-shitted out because it's a thought-provoking, challenging book and they wanted to put out some Brad Pitt-headlining pap for the masses. Now they've seen the backlash and maybe they'll right the ship with the second movie. At least I hope so. You're probably right that an anthology television series would be a better home for it, and considering what TWD and even ZN are doing on a television budget, I think it's not a bad idea. Some of those stories would've been expensive to film, but, hell, I remember a couple that were riveting and would require just two actors and a forest set or a Tokyo hotel.

      Hope this answers your questions. Take care!

  2. I agree on all points. The soap opera-ization of TWD is annoying. The first ep of ZN made me cringe, second made me groan, and now I'm hooked.
    But I have to say that I still enjoy TWD. They seem to have adopted a "looking for a home in all this chaos" approach for the whole series, while ZN went for the balls-out marathon road trip approach, and both premises appeal to me.
    Not to mention that, as training tools, the two give you a well-rounded education for when the real Zombie Apocalypse arrives.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Richard. I'm not quite at the point of hate-watching TWD, but I'm definitely getting wary.

  3. Well said, no one on TWD ever smiles or laughs. I find myself for the last 2 seasons with one finger on the fast forward button of the DVR. TWD is just too boring and grim.

    1. Thanks, Anon, that's a good point I haven't even thought about it. You know, no matter how bad things get people still always find a way to have a little fun and remember what it's like to be human, and that's nowhere to be seen in TWD.

  4. Hi
    Thank you for your essay, I really enjoyed the reading.
    Like you I'm one of those people who just can't avoid watching a show which has zombies as subject. Often I found myself wondering "what if zombies arrive while I'm at office? Where to go? What to bring with me?".
    I've just discovered ZN thanks to streaming on Internet, i don't think that the serial will ever arrive in Italy, but luckily I could whatch it.
    By the way, I totally agree with your review. Episode by episode I was more and more thrilled by the idea to have discovered a TV product really new and well done.
    The most surprising thing is that, even if ZN is pulp and doesnt' take itself seriously, eventually it is more realistic and even touching than TWD.
    I love how the characters work, the story, the script, the Tarantinian splatter, the self-humour. Can't wait for the second season. Hope that the show will keep its promise and not outstay the story it's telling.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Anon! I agree, by season's end I was REALLY involved in the characters. Perhaps surprisingly so.

  5. Thank you for this post! I thought I was going insane. I loved the Walking Dead but now it has almost gone into Lost territory where I am just watching to see how it pans out after investing so much time in it.

    Unlike others I really enjoyed the first 4 seasons, but TWD season 5 has had this strange duality this season where it wants to be a hard hitting serious drama, but then has silly moments of b-movie violence zombie kills (e.g Daryl ripping a zombie’s head off and using it as a weapon, the fire truck scene), Carol becoming a one woman army, silly storylines from the comic that I think should not have been in the TV show, storylines finishing too quickly, lack of character development (in my opinion), the hospital storyline was boring and how it concluded was so random I was not even shocked just disappointed with the writers, etc.

    I think Z-nation is quite freeing in comparison. There is a clear plot, there is some tension with Murphy, there is a good sense of pace with a new scenario every episode so far. So it has some meat to it, but because it has never went completely serious drama like it can play with the theme more and have Western homages, etc. that work. I do not mind the characters and find them more likeable then the current TWD characters. I especially like that no one is safe in Z-Nation with two main characters dieing… Unlike Rick, Carl, Daryl and Michonne who seem invincible to the point that I no longer feel that there is a threat in the show.

    Anyway, never thought I would say as someone who had become quite snobbery with TWD, but I am really enjoying Z-nation. Much more than season 5 of TWD at least.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, DyZtopia. :) You make some good points. Even things that are supposed to be fun on TWD aren't because...this is serious business.

  6. Hey, you really managed to put into words what has been annoying me about TWD: I haven't been unnerved with the show as long as you have, even though I agree that the first season was the best. Still it becomes more and more clear to me that TWD hast lost any interest in trying something new or surprising the viewer. What you say about the characters is also true.
    I do still like Daryl but I don't think he'll have any more interesting story lines. He'll jsut keep losing people and be depressed about it. Rick is the only character I'm still invested in. Everyone else is more or less interchangeable, which is disappointing because I liked quite a few of them in the beginning. (Michonne, sasha...)
    I feel like the show has killed of everyone with potential just to shock people, like Hershel and Shane. May have increased the rating of the episode but also made the show more and more shallow in my eyes. I really don't care about "the group" anymore. No death would shock me and Rick's death would just make me stop watching altogether.
    Z NAtion on the other hand is as you stay still taking risks and I love that. Not everything works for me but at least they're trying things out and still surprise viewers. THey're daring. And I agree that the characters do have purpose and you care for them. I'm looking forward to season two more than to the second half of TWD.

    1. You make some great points, stars. For one thing, Hershel and Shane were the only ones who ever challenged Rick. And Dale, also RIP. They brought actual conflict to the show. Now it's like, "Well, let's follow Rick no matter what, because..." And at least when someone was challenging him, whether it was for ethical reasons or for almost the exact opposite (macho bullshit alpha male reasons) then at least Rick had to think about and defend his actions. Remember when he killed the guys from Philadelphia? No reason for that. Total bullshit snap-judgement decision. And nobody called him on it.

  7. (Third time I've typed this up, stupid computer) Other than my still liking Daryl, just because he's my favorite type of character (I can definitely see why people get bored with him) I agree with every single point. I watch TWD more out of a sense of loyalty these days than anything else. I think I was upset about Bob and Beth dying less because I was actually attached and more because they're just two more examples of the show's determination to kill off anyone who might crack a smile or a joke every now and again. It's just so melodramatic and grim and it's getting really tiring lately.
    Z Nation is really a breath of fresh air by comparison. Maybe because we come in three years after the outbreak, but I think if I laid out the TWD timeline they'd be close, if not even longer. The ZN crew knows what the apocalypse is about by now, and they still manage to make jokes and enjoy themselves every once in a while. There are grim parts and there are parts like taking out zombies with the Liberty Bell. I know they won't specifically target cheerful people for the chopping block because literally anyone could end up dead next. It's just a ton of fun.
    I won't repeat your entire essay, but in general: Yes. I still watch TWD, I still enjoy some parts of it, but I look forward to Z Nation so much more these days.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! So sorry you had to type it thrice, but I appreciate the persistence! And I basically agree with you. TWD is kind of like ironing television now. Like a show on USA or something. I don't mind it being on, but I am not on pins and needles about it the way I am for ZN.

  8. SUPER TRUE!!!
    I didn't like the last season of TWD at all, especially because I feel like the female characters are getting weaker and weaker. In ZN we have super strong women (one a former cannibal) who aren't depicted as the traditional damsel in distress *blergh*
    That's from a feminist point of view :)

    1. I really liked the ex-cannibal character. And not just because she came from my hometown, either. They seemed to give her a realistic take on PTSD.

  9. Couldn't agree more. I've watched TWD since 2010 (still miss Darabont) but Z Nation has really grown on me. I almost like it better --Blasphemy, I know. The biggest differences for me are the sense of humour and sense of movement. TWD is, as noted, grim and sedentary. It's like a Sunday night chore these days. I find it completely unrealistic that these people are utterly devoid of humour. There's such a thing as gallows humour after all. And I do believe IRL Andrew Lincoln is a very funny man so it's a shame they're wasting that.

    I will be watching 6B though because I've invested 5 years in this (sadly). The spin off FTWD is even worse, if that's possible. Total shell game with that one. Hugely disappointing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jean. I agree, FTWD is abominable. And I'm pretty much just sticking it out to remain relevant these days.

  10. Excellent article. Read all three parts and agree. Z-Nation looks cheap. At first glance, I flicked past it. But I caught a few episodes late night when I had the flu, and came out hooked. ZN has a stronger narrative drive than TWD. Which give characters a goal and allows them to develop via action.

    And ZN has Murphy.

    I also find the ZN world more realistic. Unlike TWD, the band meets good people that are tough and classic bad-guys (and gals)... instead of TWD's nice weaklings completely evil strong-men. And that makes ZN more compelling.

    I gave up on TWD this year. They have a lot of interesting concepts, but fail time and again... in order to create cliff-hangers and fake drama.

    1. Yes! I agree with you 100%, Leo. TWD's drama feels manufactured, and not only that, lazily so. People suddenly care about people just because that happens to be the designated "person in danger of the week." Thanks for stopping by!


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