Cassandra Hennessey: What Makes AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD So Damn Good?


by Cassandra Hennessey

What makes AMC’s The Walking Dead so damn good?

Well, everything. But let me break it down for purposes of explanation.

First and foremost is the writing, of course; and as a writer, I thoroughly appreciate and admire the painstaking attention-to-detail and realism that the writers pour into every script.

Of course there’s the source material—the Robert Kirkman graphic novel—that has showcased its gritty portrayal of a post zombie apocalyptic world for over a decade. This being said, the show “reality” and the comic “reality” actually exist on two entirely different planes; with variations in timelines and characters’ fates, but the main theme—that the survivors themselves are indeed “The Walking Dead”; struggling to maintain a modicum of humanity in the most inhumane of predicaments prevails throughout.

And that is one of the main reasons for both the comic and television show’s success. That those who find themselves immersed in the storylines and characters all ask themselves, “What would I have done in that situation?”

Let’s discuss some of the main elements of the writing.

Character Development: Multi-faceted and ever-challenged in their day-to-day struggles to survive, these characters all do what they think best. Whether it is the noble actions of former Sheriff Rick Grimes or the dastardly destruction of The Governor, each motive for every action is well thought through and executed. With the stakes being set so high for these characters, tension and conflict is a given. How to combat hungry zombies? Where to get food, water and medicine? How to secure safe shelter? The most basic of necessities naturally breeds drama!

Character Arc: We see these characters grow and learn and mature through their travails. Some learn from their adversities; and others succumb to them. Either way, we as viewers are invested in these journeys, no matter how harrowing they may be. Most notable is the character of Carol Pelletier, who went from Season One as a mousy, abused wife to one of the strongest female characters on television today, in my humble opinion.

(Side note: Arguably, The Walking Dead is replete with strong female characters. There are no ankle-twisting, shrinking-and-shrieking damsels in distress clichés. That’s so 1980…)

A, B, and C Story: The “C” story is self-explanatory; it’s survival, plain and simple. The “A” story revolves around a basic premise; searching for something/someone. Procuring something. The “B” involves personal struggle or discovery. However, these writers are so clever, so skilled, that they are continually progressing the plethora of characters through situations that test them, laud them or ultimately doom them. What’s wonderful is that these stories are so intermingled and seamless that the “formula” is well-hidden, even from the most studious of writers. I watch first as an ardent viewer and THEN as a writer.

What of the Walkers themselves? They aren’t used as “jump scares” or “prop pieces” or simply obstacles. There’s a careful and calculated way in which they’re presented. Are they dangerous? Yes. Do they pose an imminent and perpetual threat? Absolutely. But the show admirably strives to produce moments in which to remember the walkers’ former humanity and bestow upon them their dignity.

Another part of the mass appeal of the Walking Dead is the study of how a semblance of civilization can be maintained by the straggling few members of society who have managed to live through the daily deluges of the undead. Nothing demonstrates this more than the early part of Rick Grimes’ struggles (going back to Season One) where he found no matter how he tried to protect the group, no matter what decision he made and how right it seemed at the time, there was some horrible twist in fate that would befall him. By Season Two, Rick and his group sought shelter in a prison, where they could be safely locked IN away from the harsh new world. By the end of Season Three, the Shangri-la behind high barbed wire fences had been lost, and Rick and his group were scattered, without solace or safety. Season Four depicted the strife of separation from the group and the anguish of being cast back out into unsafe environments.

The beginning of Season Five premieres tonight, where again, we find ourselves locked in with Rick and the group in the purported “Heaven-turned-Hell” of Terminus. But this time, they’re locked in a boxcar, not of their own volition, and they are in grave danger. It seems they not only have to worry about being eaten by Walkers, but by living humans as well…

Showrunner Scott Gimple says this upcoming season will be “nuclear”; and I, like so many other fans of the show, cannot wait for this season’s harrowing ride.

Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE