This is not a blog about what The Walking Dead is. It’s about what the AMC show could be. The Walking Dead could be pulp fiction, not pseudo Southern Gothic. It could be Roger Corman, not peak TV. The Walking Dead could just be the title, not the description of the characters. It could be cable television as grindhouse cinema — projected in a theater with gum, sticky dried soda, discarded Junior Mints, and god knows what else on the floors, except in the comfort of your own home.
There’s already some B-movie in the show. It feels like something made on the cheap in industrial parks and on unused backwoods highways — that is except for the makeup, effects, and the fact that it’s one of the most popular shows on TV. I have admittedly not been a religious watcher of the latter days of this show, not because I thought I was too good for it but because the show was too serious for itself. A sprawling story about the malevolent evil lurking among various groups of zombie apocalypse survivors, played by a huge multicultural ensemble cast who are fighting for the soul of the human race is something I would F-with incredibly. But I want it to be told like Maximum Overdrive …
… not a community theater table read of The Road.
The very end of the seventh season of The Walking Dead was getting there. There was a tiger, at least. But it still felt like this show was prone to the default of having a group of people on their knees, sweatily begging for their lives while a big bad gave a too-long speech. Also, there are like 40 characters, making up god knows how many different factions of survivors. It was just hard to wrap my head around what was happening, and not that pleasant to try.
The trailer for the eighth season of the show debuted at Comic-Con last week (you can read Ben Lindbergh’s rave about it here), and while it’s not exactly Planet Terror, it’s not exactly not Planet Terror.
There’s a lot going on here, including a 30-second prelude in which Jeffrey Dean Morgan tells Seth Gilliam he should prepare to crap his pants. But when you get past that part, and LSO Percussion Ensemble’s “Music for Pieces of Wood” starts clacking away, you get a series of beguiling shots that suggests a weird, playful, DIY look that I never previously associated with the show. The Walking Dead always looked a little cheap, which could be an unfair impression based on all the stories about the production’s budget constraints, despite the show being a cash cow for the network. But cheap doesn’t have to mean ugly, and stylish doesn’t have to mean Cary Fukunaga.
You can do all sorts of different stuff with a camera. Like show a character eating a Twizzler. The eighth season premiere will be the 100th episode of The Walking Dead, and showrunner Scott Gimple recently said that achievement is, “less about that we reached 100 episodes. It’s more about setting up the next 100.” Holy crap. So we’re gonna be here for a while. What if you stylishly depicted the mundane moments in between the shootouts and the herd attacks?
Or found moments of dread without firing a bullet?
Or investigated the horror of all the abandoned spaces left behind?
Those shots look more like Jim Jarmusch or Jeff Nichols than anything else. They remind me of Down by Law or Shotgun Stories.
If the show is going to be slow, it can stand to be a little more interesting. And if the show is going to be action-packed — and the second half of the trailer is just people blowing stuff up, shooting, getting shot, fighting, and doing roadside diner Braveheart speeches — why not wake up the sleeping trash action spirit lurking underneath? It doesn’t need to be torture porn (at least not exclusively). Like Lindbergh wrote previously, the show has a Negan problem, but you can tell Morgan thinks he’s supposed to be a honey-baked ham. Maybe the show can follow his lead. Hell, it already has Jack Nicholson’s looper on set.
Embrace the motorcycle-shootout zoom shot (how is there not a terrible college rock band called Motorcycle Shootout Zoom Shot?).
The “All-Out War” story line is coming, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a siege on the viewer’s senses. And if this show is going to be around for a long, long time, despite leaking some viewers over the past few seasons, why not shake it up a little? Pick up the pace, let Shiva the tiger off the leash, have Maggie be a swag god and stare into the camera.
Live a little.