AMC’s The Walking Dead: Devouring six million viewers, and me

AMC’s The Walking Dead: Devouring six million viewers, and me

the-walking-dead-comic-imageConfession: I watch almost no TV. Well, that’s not quite true: NFL football, an occasional news program, and the odd episode of The Simpsons aside, I watch no TV. Lost is lost on me. There aren’t enough hours in the day for 24. The Sopranos? Fuggedaboutit. There are too many good books to be read in the world and not enough time for television.

Another reason I avoid TV, particularly serialized programming, is the “that guy” phenomenon. When it comes to shows like Lost, there’s always one person in the office who insists on telling you how much you’re missing, or describing the minutiae of a cast of fictional characters’ lives for whom you know and care absolutely nothing about. It just ends up making me hate the boob tube even more.

So now that I’ve set the stage for why I avoid TV, let me tell you all about AMC’s The Walking Dead! I’m a huge fan  of the zombie genre and the temptation to watch a TV program about the undead was too great not to tune in. After an excellent episode one I was hooked. I’m mortified that I have to wait until the fall for episode 2.

So you haven’t heard of The Walking Dead? It’s only the most watched cable TV show ever among those in my age group, according to this blog post:

The ratings for “The Walking Dead’s” just-ended first season have been such that perhaps AMC is wishing that it had lasted more than just six weeks.

The anticipation for the season finale garnered six million viewers, according to the network, and it received the highest ratings of any basic cable show, ever, in the all-important 18-49 demographic.

To put those numbers into perspective, October’s season finale of “Mad Men” had an audience of 2.44 million, according to

the-walking-dead-tv-bicycle-girlHaving watched so little TV I must say I’m quite impressed by the quality of the acting and writing. Both are very good, much better than the mediocrity I remember from the shows of my youth (Fantasy Island and The Six Million Dollar Man, anyone)? Then there’s the top-notch effects—the zombies of The Walking Dead are portrayed in various stages of decay and look convincingly rotten. The sets are likewise excellent—roadways choked with traffic jams that will never clear, abandoned military vehicles, suburbs whose once well-manicured lawns are overgrown with tall grasses and weeds, row upon row of empty homes with fly-blown corpses lying inside.

But great visuals and storyline aside, I kept coming back for episodes 2-6 of The Walking Dead because it embodies everything I love about the zombie genre. Zombie films aren’t just about who gets eaten, or an excuse for showing inventive ways to kill the undead (though The Walking Dead does feature a guy who offs zombies with a crossbow, a smart choice since the sound of gunfire attracts the monsters). Rather, The Walking Dead explores the complex relationships and dynamics of the group of survivors. The best zombie movies aren’t just about the zombies, they’re about the people in the aftermath of the carnage. They ask the question of whether simple survival is enough.

The Walking Dead is about mankind’s need to hold onto hope, a timeless theme that resonates just as much or even more in our modern, hyper-civilized lives. Commuting to work every day I often feel like another Walker. We’re supposed to be more than mindless automatons that shamble along, eat, and exist until our physical bodies rot and decay. Otherwise, we’re just slouching towards the grave. The question that season 1 of The Walking Dead poses is not whether the zombies will overwhelm the survivors, but whether their lives are still worth living. For some it is, but others in the group make the choice that it’s not. Yeah, I’m digging this show.

My only real criticism at this point is that I don’t know how or even if The Walking Dead is going to properly end. The comic book series on which the TV show is based is still going after seven years and 79 issues, and I’m worried that the program will just keep shambling along until the ratings ultimately fail. The big season 1 ratings are great, as it guaranteed a season 2, but the last thing I want to have happen is for AMC to bury The Walking Dead before it runs its course. That’s another one of the reasons I avoid TV, especially serialized shows: At the first sign of flagging ratings the cruel, calculating networks put a bullet in their head and seek out newer, fresher meat, leaving viewers like me on the hook.

But for now, I’m one of the slavering, mindless horde of 6 million consumers left hungry for more. I’ve also chosen to embrace the role of “that guy.” So what do you think Dr. Jenner whispered in Rick’s ear? Post your replies here, let’s discuss!

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