At the beginning of last year, I binged on all the available episodes of The Walking Dead – from the pilot right up until the mid-season finale of season five. I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to get through them all, but I’m going to take a guess at a month and a half at the most. I had heard good things about the series, but didn’t know much about it – just that it was about zombies, and that guy who was secretly in love with Keira Knightley in Love Actually played the main character. I also didn’t know how quickly I would get hooked on it. The good thing about discovering it five seasons in was that I had 59 episodes to watch as quickly as I wanted to, before I had to slow down to watching it once a week with the rest of the world.
A year later, and I’m still just as hooked, excitedly waiting for the second half of season six to start in a couple of weeks. But an even surer sign that The Walking Dead is now my new favourite TV show is that later this month I’m going to a convention dedicated to the show – a Walker Stalker Con, where I’ll get my photo taken with Daryl Dixon. At the start of last year, I hadn’t even heard of Daryl Dixon, and now I’ve shelled out quite a bit of money in order to get a photo with the actor who plays him, Norman Reedus. And just the other week, I was genuinely sad that the other actor I had booked a photo with, Steven Yeun, had cancelled his appearance at the event. The reason? Steven Yeun plays Glenn Rhee, and Glenn is quite simply the perfect zombie apocalypse boyfriend. But more about that later.
So I mentioned that one of the things I knew about The Walking Dead was that it was show about zombies, and that’s completely true (except no one calls them zombies, it’s walkers). But the more I watched it, the more I realised that it is actually about so much more than these walkers. The six seasons have brought together and broken apart a diverse group of survivors, the majority of whom were complete strangers when they first met. And yet they become more than just friends, or just fellow survivors – they become a family. The characters were thrust into the zombie apocalypse, and for the most part we don’t know anything about their lives before the dead started walking again. Instead, it is what is happening to them right now that matters, not what jobs they had, or if they had been to university, or even what family they had before. It is all about survival, and sticking together, and that means caring for people in a way that they probably couldn’t have managed before the end of the world as they knew it happened. The relationships between each of them matter, and when someone dies, it makes it all the more painful.
For me, the overriding theme of the whole series is what it takes to survive – who would you become, and what would you do, if it meant you and your family could live another day. Over the six seasons, the core group increase and decrease in size on a regular basis, but this key idea remains. They are forced to adapt in order to survive, and they are now skilled at dealing with threats from walkers. Of course, it is not just the walkers that threaten their lives – in fact, people have proven themselves to be just as dangerous. The undead become predictable, but the living? Who knows how far someone will go in order to keep themselves and the ones they love safe. The situation that the programme has created for these characters reveal what people are truly like, and what they are willing to do to survive. We see this group at the extremes – from being on the run, constantly moving and seeking out shelter, to having security and stability, somewhere they can even call home. But as they discover, the tiny pieces of comfort that they do find in these places and in each other can be ripped away from them at a moments notice, forcing them to move on and ask themselves once again how far they would go to restore that comfort.
Now I may love this show, but it is by no means perfect. Season by season, it is constantly changing, and that isn’t always a good thing. Show-runners come and go every couple of seasons, and that obviously has an effect on the overall pace and tone of the show, as well as the character arcs. I haven’t read any of the comics that the show is based on, so I don’t have a clue as to how closely it is sticking to the comic storylines, but there are definitely group of episodes and storylines that I haven’t enjoyed quite as much as others. The show breaks the group up into smaller groups of characters occasionally, and this has varying degrees of success, and storylines can be moving in one direction, and then suddenly change pace and move in the opposite direction. This can be infuriating sometimes, but when the show gets it right, it can make for really exciting television. Is it consistently the best show out there? No. Just like in a zombie apocalypse, you really can’t get too comfortable.
The cast is also obviously changing regularly – the writers and producers have always said that no character is safe on the show, and I think that in order to keep the audience on their toes, that has to be proven true. There is a small group of characters who have been around since the first season – Rick, Carl, Glenn, Carol and Daryl – and to kill off any of them would definitely show that no one is safe, and certainly provide a jolt that is sometimes much needed. Whether the writers and producers actually go through with it remains to be seen. As to which characters I would like to see getting the chop, that is a completely different matter. The audience are obviously meant to care about each of the survivors, or at least find them interesting enough to follow their story, and as with many other things about this show, my feelings about them change regularly – I can go from supporting them completely to being frustrated at their actions to severely disliking them (apart from Glenn, of course. He will always have my heart, but more about that later).
Rick is the character who we were introduced to this walker-filled world with, and it is ultimately his story of survival, along with his son Carl’s, that is being told. He’s the leader of the group, and is constantly making decisions for the good of his family. Whether they are actually the right decisions, or even if he is in the right state of mind to be making those decisions, can be a bit unclear. Sometimes, I think the guy might just need to have a nap. In general though, I’m on Rick’s side, something that if I’m honest I’ve struggled to do with Carl. I found his character to be very annoying in the early seasons (seriously, just stay where you’re supposed to be, Carl!), but then again I’ve not really warmed to any of the children and teenagers on the show. Ok, it’s the zombie apocalypse and your childhood is pretty much over, but my god they can be annoying. Saying that, I have found myself warming to Carl a lot more in the first half of season six, and I can actually find myself supporting and caring about the character. He still has the potential to do something stupid and change that opinion, but to be fair, so too does Rick. I think out of all of the characters, Carol has changed the most, pretty much becoming the biggest badass on the show. The woman can be truly terrifying at times, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything she does, I find her completely watchable, and I think episodes can suffer when she’s not in them.
I think it would be very fair to say that you never really know what you are going to get with each episode of this show, and I love that about it. It is a complete mix of action, horror, humour, sadness and joy. It can be terrifying, tense, and occasionally boring or just plain weird. It’s not perfect, but then maybe I don’t want it to be. Despite the ups and downs, the inconsistencies and frustrations I have with it, The Walking Dead has captured my heart. And my favourite television show would not be complete without my favourite character to support, cheer for and fear for their life, and for me that is Glenn Rhee.
The very first episode of the show ended with Rick stuck in a tank in downtown Atlanta, surrounded by walkers, and a voice speaking to him over the radio: ‘Hey you! Dumbass! Yeah, you in the tank. Cozy in there?’ The voice is Glenn’s, and in the next episode the former pizza delivery boy saves Rick, and shows that he can be brave, funny, smart and heroic all at the same time. He ends the episode driving a red sports car, alarm blaring, and then proceeds to get told off for making too much noise. We don’t know much about Glenn’s life before the zombie apocalypse, but like so many of the others, he is quick to find his place in the new family of survivors. He would do anything for these people, as he has proved time and time again, and this world may have turned him into a fully-fledged warrior, but he is determined to still be that funny and lovable guy we first met in season one. We see hints of his humour, and his complete love of his wife Maggie, who he would do anything for. Despite landing in so many tight spots, Glenn has survived this far, and despite the horror of the world around him, he has never given up on looking for a better future.
Glenn might be my clear favourite, but I feel I have to mention Daryl Dixon, who comes a close second. Like Glenn, Daryl has proved countless times that he would risk his life for his new family, and he has grown up a lot from the angry (and quite frankly hilarious) character we first met in season one. And while he does have the whole dirty redneck with a heart of gold, impressive biceps, motorcycle and crossbow thing going on, Glenn had already won me over. For me, he is the heart of The Walking Dead, and the perfect zombie apocalypse boyfriend. If the dead ever do start to walk, I know whose side I’ll be running to.