Z Nation is better than The Walking Deadby KarlHughes
Both The Walking Dead and Z Nation are part way through their respective seasons. With viewing figures for the ambling TWD dropping week by week, and Z Nation continuing to offer more stable viewing figures, are there any lessons for The Walking Dead to learn from that ‘other zombie show’?
Z Nation was once described as ‘If Poundland made Walking Dead’, and that’s not far off the mark if you just watched the first season. Certainly made with less of a budget than TWD, Z Nation seemed certain to fail, just another attempt to cash in on the cultural fascination with the horrors of the undead. But then something happened. They killed off some major characters. Very specifically they killed off the character that looked set to be the show’s version of Rick Grimes. It even managed to kill him off just as he was about to get some sexy time fun. More importantly, Z Nation found its footing and embraced the B-movie schlock that it now revels in.
Z Nation is stupid often, bloody always, emotional on occasion and overall it just has more positive elements than negative. With fan criticism of poor special effects in The Walking Dead (remember the deer?), Z Nation has managed to maintain the B-movie aesthetic that means it can get away with the odd cheap bit of CGI. What it does differently is the willingness to go completely insane with ideas. As a result, we get the repeated images of an actual ball of zombies casually rolling by the main action, or the most recent episode, where a dismembered zombie finger managed to crawl beneath the skin of one of the main cast as he screamed about being fingered. You just don't get that kind of fun in The Walking Dead.
Bad acting has always been an issue with Z Nation, although this latest season has seen a marked improvement. Now it’s mostly the secondary characters that distract with their poor line delivery and ridiculous reactions. Annoyingly, the usually awesome Henry Rollins is one of the main culprits in terms of atrocious acting, and his presence (usually an excellent thing) manages to distract and frustrate. It’s almost like he was doing the few episodes he appeared in for no reason but the paycheck.
The biggest difference between the two shows is the pace. TWD has been attacked in the past for taking too long to get to the point, although this is often an unfair criticism. The two shows are very different, and share little other than the concept of post-zombie apocalypse survival. For The Walking Dead, character development and personal arcs are as important as the grand set pieces, and so those slower episodes serve to give the audience more connection to the sufferings of the survivors. But the differences in how they both explore the notion of post-apocalyptic life show just why TWD continues to lose fans. The Walking Dead is quite happy to tease and tease and keep teasing until they shit all over viewers with a cliffhanger (never forgiven, never forgotten). Although the most recent episodes of TWD are faster and more action packed (just really, really badly directed), Z Nation takes an idea with every episode, runs it through in 45 minutes and then moves on. For those watching both shows, how do you think TWD would have told the story of the gang trapped in the zombie killing mousetrap? That’s right, it would have been five episodes of moping about and finally deciding to do something, then another three episodes of doing something. Not Z Nation. They throw everything at the screen, don’t mess about with motivation and yet still manage to show it, and most of all they keep that pace going.
The problem for The Walking Dead is that they always knew that zombies (and how nice in Z Nation to hear people actually calling them zombies) were going to end up as a minor inconvenience, with the whole ‘the real monsters are us, shock, gasp’ narrative. Z Nation manages to show that, but at the same time it also makes sure that the zombies remain the biggest issue. The human baddies are a pain in the ass of course, but it’s the zombies that are the constant threat, no matter how used to them the survivors get. How do they do this? By not giving a damn and constantly changing the zombie rules. In the latest season alone we’ve had zombies that don’t die if you shoot them in the head, we’ve had a four-armed zombie that grew from a transplanted zombie hand, we’ve had zombie rats. Nothing has quite beaten the sight of zombie George RR Martin mindlessly signing copies of his books back in season 2, but radioactive zombies, zombie plants and even friendly zombies all serve to keep the threat at peak level whilst still making sure the humour never stops.
The Walking Dead does what it does and I continue to watch it. I enjoy it less and less every week, and the current issue with the poor directing is becoming a major problem. Z Nation on the other hand started off as a seemingly cheap knock-off, but has now surpassed it’s more mature cousin. It’s bloody, bonkers and just a little bit brilliant. If you’re one of the millions of people who are turning off TWD permanently but still feel the need to have a bit of zombie action in your life, give Z Nation a go. It has flaws, but the insanity of it all is more than enough to make up for it.