‘The Walking Dead’ Has Never Been Fantastic, But That’s Not a Bad Thing

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: AMC)

Okay, this may sound harsh, but it’s time we all had a long, hard look at The Walking Dead.

It’s one of the most popular television shows of the past few years, bringing the zombie apocalypse fantasy to the small screen in a way that had previously seemed impossible. It’s been hailed as a revelation, then more recently, suffered a decline in popularity after a gruelingly slow seventh season.

Now, it’s back, and the first episode of season eight certainly promises a lot for the upcoming storyline, but fans are unsure of whether to trust the show again.

Here’s the thing, though – as popular as The Walking Dead may be, it’s going to struggle to live up to its own reputation, and deliver the quality that fans remember from earlier seasons, because to a certain extent, this show was never actually fantastic to begin with.

Please, put down your torches and pitchforks – let’s look at this logically.

Based on a comic book of the same name, the first season of The Walking Dead didn’t really bring any hugely original ideas to the table. We’ve seen zombie apocalypse survivors wake up in hospitals before (despite the fact that this would be the most logical place for an infestation to spread as people try to treat the wounded). We’ve seen a plucky band of survivors try to overcome the odds and rebuild civilization. As far as zombie stories go, The Walking Dead’s first season was never all that unique.

The Walking Dead Season 2
Source: AMC

Then came season two, which was lambasted upon its initial release for much the same reason why season seven has come to be hated – the plot moves too slow, the Walkers are too distant to be a real threat, and everything feels cheap and lazy.

The show clawed its way back to respectability afterwards with a greater focus on action and the introduction of various villains that made things more exciting. Eventually, though, the show has ended up feeling predictable and flat. Fans long for the show’s glory days, but there never really was a time when The Walking Dead was anything but disposable, because that’s the nature of an episodic horror survival story.

Now, that being said, it’s important to note that this isn’t actually a bad thing.

The Walking Dead doesn’t need to be high art. The show has excellent characters, a compelling premise, and it allows people to live vicariously by imagining the joys of never having to go to their boring 9-5 dayjob ever again.

Oh, and there’s zombies. What more does a show need to have?

The problem is that during the time that The Walking Dead has been on air, television has evolved. Shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Westworld have all set a higher bar for episodic consumption.

In the current television landscape, with big name Hollywood A-listers increasingly filling roles both in front of and behind the camera, it almost feels like The Walking Dead is outclassed by comparison. It started years ago as a fairly standard television show, and has stuck around due to fan support despite being a lot cheaper in many areas of production.

The inclusion of a CGI tiger and more established actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan have helped things, but let’s be fair – with TV shows now looking increasingly like movies, The Walking Dead is always going to suffer a little by comparison.

This isn’t to bash on the show – there’s nothing inherently wrong with The Walking Dead. It’s possible, though, that fans are expecting too much of a longform, twenty two episode season show. This isn’t going to be a life-affirming experience for the majority of viewers, and its story arcs may well drag in the middle due to the length of the season, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Walking Dead has never been perfect. It never needs to be perfect. It’s good, solid entertainment that, while flawed, is still enjoyable for those who don’t hold it to unrealistic expectations that simply can’t be met.

So as you watch The Walking Dead season eight, don’t worry too much if the show isn’t a huge, fantastic, triumphant saga of epic proportions. Appreciate it for what it is, allow yourself to have fun, and the whole experience will be a lot more enjoyable.