Monday, 10 January 2011

Zombies and Patriarchy

The Walking Dead is probably one of the most ambitous television dramas ever produced. It has movie production values and acting talent that wouldn't be out of place on the big screen. The zombies look fantastic and are unique and faithful to the style of the comic books. I must confess that I love the zombie apocalypse genre, particularly Romero and the 28 Days Later series so I was understandably excited about 'The Walking Dead' and, by and large, it hasn't disappointed.

One of the concerns I had when I first heard about a zombie serial was whether the threat and tension created by hordes of flesh eating corpses would dissipate when they were a constant presence over multiple hour long episodes. Even on the big screen there are very few films where the zombies / infected etc. remain as threatening an hour and a half in. Thankfully, the programme succeeds in creating and maintaining tension. The first half of the first episode is a great example of this. Borrowing from 28 Days Later, our hero wakes up in a hospital bed in a completely deserted building. There are signs of a struggle. A partially chewed up corpse lies in the ward. A padlocked door bears the warning 'Dead Inside' as clawing hands try to push it open in a wonderfully cinematic moment. The tension peaks when the main character must negotiate a darkened stairwell using only matches. Wthout giving anything away, the rest of the series manages to create genuinely tense scenarios like this. Whether it will continue to do this succcessfully in the next series will probably determine whether the show is a laster or enter into a spiralling decline like Lost did when the Others ceased to be a threat in the second series.

Now for the weaknesses. The first is the characters, who, with the exception of Rick and Shane, just aren't particularly interesting. The series so far has opted for doing one episode focused on action followed by one focused on character development and so on. Without fail, it is the latter that have really let the show down. The show's relatively large cast are a mix of archetypes we've seen before alongside a number of utterly banal and forgettable people whose names I can't even be arsed to remember. It isn't a great sign of the writing when you occasionally find yourself looking at your watch hoping that the uninteresting dialogue is going to be cut short by a bunch of ravenous zombies. This could prove to be a fatal weakness. Without an interesting cast of characters, it is difficult to see how TWD will be able to remain strong after dozens of episodes, even if the tension-racheting remains strong.

The second weakness of the show is it's attitude to women. You would think that in a post-apocalyptic zombie holocaust scenario that the division of labour in the family would be somewhat cut across. Er, no. The group of survivors we follow seem deeply committed to family values. The men carry the guns and protect the group while the women watch the children, cook the food and wash the clothes. The whole crux of the show seems to focus on the family, in its most overtly traditional sense. It's interesting to compare this to 28 Days Later where the central theme is the creation of an alternative family after the death of the old one, though it's important to remember that the female characters in that were active, armed and unwilling to play any kind of passive role. Even the 12 year old kills the military veteran villain!

Anyway, maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but let's hope the women get the chance to blow off the heads of a few zombies in Season 2.

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