AMC’s The Walking Dead Finally Got These 3 Things Right

AMC's (NASDAQ: AMCX  ) hit zombie series, The Walking Dead, returned on Feb. 9 and achieved huge ratings that topped the Winter Olympics on Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) NBC among 18 to 49 year olds.

The ninth episode of The Walking Dead attracted 10.4 million viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic (out of 15.8 million total viewers), matching its previous series high and achieving a rating of 8.3. Those high numbers also propelled AMC's companion show, The Talking Dead, to an impressive 5.9 million total viewers, with 3.9 million viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic.

(Source: Superherohype.com)

The Olympic games, by comparison, attracted a larger number of total viewers at 26.3 million, but finished the night with a 6.9 rating among 18 to 49 year olds.

Not only was the new episode, "After," extremely popular, but it also marked an admirable return to form for the series, which had been on shaky ground throughout the first half of the fourth season.

In a previous article, I discussed the three big mistakes that the showrunners had made with the show -- longer seasons, pointless new characters, and a lack of the "quiet" moments that increased viewers' attachment to the characters.

Thankfully, "After" was a huge step in the right direction, thanks to these three things that the show absolutely got right on Sunday.

1. Robert Kirkman wrote the episode
Despite being the creator and writer of the comic book for over 100 issues, Robert Kirkman has only written six episodes of the series (1 in Season 1, 2 in Season 2, 1 in Season 3, and 2 in Season 4) and directed one in Season 2.

Readers of the comic know that Kirkman excels at character development in a post-apocalyptic world. Rather than emphasize zombie attacks, Kirkman constantly emphasizes the rationing of food, water, and ammunition, and the violence of humans against each other in a lawless, broken society.

(Source: AMC)

"After," written by Kirkman, was a solid return to those roots.

It's a quiet episode, despite the hordes of zombies that Michonne decapitates on her way out of the prison, and it's one that feels loyal to the comics.

Unfortunately, some viewers didn't feel the same way. Some of the lower rated reviews on TV.com criticized the episode for being "full of monologue and drama" and simply "another filler episode."

These viewers obviously expect something dumber and more action-packed like Resident Evil, but thankfully that's not what The Walking Dead is all about.

2. On the road again...
Leaving the prison was also an excellent move in both the comics and the show.

Keeping all the characters in a single place might seem logical, but the plot and character development become quite stagnant.

"Don't look back." (Source: Image Comics)

Carol teaching survival classes, Rick planting vegetables, the virus outbreak, and two solo episodes featuring the Governor in the first half of Season 4 were clear indications that the writers were struggling to find new plots to use within the prison.

In my opinion, the show works best when it is on the road. The constant fear that no place -- Shane's camp, the CDC, Hershel's farm, Woodbury, the prison -- is safe causes a sense of constant dread and hopelessness that is critical to the environment of The Walking Dead.

Moreover, splitting up the characters and allowing them to find each other gives more screen time to each character and offers more opportunities for character development -- something that was severely lacking within the crowded prison.

In The Walking Dead, we need solid character development so we actually feel something when a character meets his or her grisly end.

3. The governor's still dead
Prior to Sunday's episode, there were persistent rumors that the Governor (David Morrissey) could return, despite clearly perishing in the midseason finale.

Thankfully, the recent episode showed that the Governor was clearly dead with a bullet in the head. That's not to say, however, that he might not return to the show as a hallucination or appear in various flashbacks.

(Source: AMC)

However, as fine an actor as David Morrissey is, I really think it's time for the show to retire the whole Governor saga. We've spent one and a half seasons on the rise and fall of the Governor, and it has reached an appropriate conclusion.

The Governor, like Shane, has already outlived his comic book counterpart considerably. The comic book Governor died during the first assault on the prison, which occurred in the Season 3 finale.

While some fans say it's time for a new "big bad" to take over (Negan is a popular choice), I think the show works better without a major villain for now. The Walking Dead is really a show about survival, not pitched battles against clearly defined villains.

Near the end, the Governor's over-the-top antics arguably tarnished the realistic credibility that the show had built up over the past few seasons.

What The Walking Dead means for the future of AMC
With a budget of $2.8 million per episode, The Walking Dead is one of AMC's most expensive shows, along with Mad Men and the recently concluded Breaking Bad.

However, The Walking Dead was mentioned as the top contributor to a 42% year-over-year jump in AMC's advertising revenue to $457.7 million during the first nine months of fiscal 2013. That advertising revenue accounted for 40% of AMC's top line.

As for the rest of AMC's lineup, Mad Men will end in 2015, Hell on Wheels remains on shaky ground, The Killing will conclude on Netflix, and Low Winter Sun was canceled after only one season.

Therefore, The Walking Dead will remain AMC's most important source of advertising revenue until AMC can launch another hit series. For now, AMC is working on a spin-off of The Walking Dead, which is scheduled to arrive in 2015, and a spin-off of Breaking Bad starring Walt's lawyer Saul Goodman will premiere this November.

Whether or not either spin-off cheapens the original shows (as CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) notoriously did with CSI) remains to be seen, but it's a strong indication that AMC intends to keep The Walking Dead on the air for as long as possible.

Nothing should last forever
As we all know, however, great shows shouldn't last forever.

Breaking Bad worked perfectly because it ended exactly when creator Vince Gilligan wanted it to end. Other shows -- like Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) /ABC's Lost, the CSI franchise, CBS/Showtime's Dexter, and Fox's (NASDAQ: FOX  ) Glee -- simply kept running until they burned out.

In essence, these shows became walkers, shadows of their former selves that were finally shot dead after their ratings fell below acceptable levels. Let's hope that AMC doesn't have to do the same to The Walking Dead.

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Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (11)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 6:13 PM, ShawnaLH2380 wrote:

    I personally enjoy the huge walker attacks and the "slower" episodes that delve into the characters. However I think that you are clinging to the comic book a little too much. Remember that this is a adaptation of the comic and not a replica. There have to be some adjustments made for television.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 6:49 PM, samott96 wrote:

    The "shaky ground" comment was referring to the reviewer's opinion on the first half of the season, it's not based on ratings or facts.

    Also, Lost did not "burn out." It was determined during season 3 that season 6 would be the last season.

    I would also argue the point that this episode was "extremely popular." It had high ratings because it was the mid-season premiere, and really had nothing to do with the content of the episode. The ratings would have been the same.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 8:26 PM, PhillipDeCooch wrote:

    I just wish the zombie heads would stop gurgling, no lungs, no noise. Just saying.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 8:35 PM, darkjourney34 wrote:

    I didn't finish the article cause The Walking Dead is a great show! I have no complaints and if people do then I dont get why? this is a series can't always be known stop action if you want that go watch resident evil movie cause this is a series and some episodes need to be slow so we can explore more the characters.. finally have a show where i can't wait for Sunday to come! Lost was my favorite show I felt the same way about it and like another person posted they decided along time ago that it was time to soon end the show and I understood why they did! I bet maybe walking dead will go to alomst 8 or 9 seasons I bet then come to a end!

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 9:30 PM, MrPositive wrote:

    I'm going to be a bit selfish here and say that the Walking Dead should go on for years and very could do so. No character cannot be killed off if they become bored or want to venture into new avenues with their acting career. New characters can always be added. The zombie apocalypse or better yet, any kind of apocalypse will always be compelling to us in a very modernized world. This show could make money for 15 years easily.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 9:31 PM, uscgveteran wrote:

    Best show on tv by far and yes, this episode was the best of season four.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 12:09 AM, Guitarslinger71 wrote:

    For me, part of TWD's charm was the writers' "allowing" us those "what would I do?" moments. During the prison era, those moments seemed to be fewer and fewer, and the show became a bit soap opera-ish.

    I'm ecstatic to see Kirkman writing again, as it hopefully means a return to audience engagement as well as solid story-telling.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 9:35 AM, InvisibleZombie wrote:

    I'm with MrPositive, I would love to see the show go on for years 10 or more years! The thing about zombie movies is that they have a finite amount of space in which to tell the story, they have to have an ending or in the case of zombie films a semi-ending at least. Which is why the "Dead" and "Resident Evil" series can keep making sequels. (Speaking of, where's "28 Months Later"?)

    So in truth a ZA would last untold years and years, just like street crime. "Law & Order" virtually replaced the entire cast during it's run and TWD could pretty much do the same. "Dark Shadows" topped 1,200 episodes on a daily soap basis, Bring it on! I think the most faithful viewers like me really want to experience the "real time length" of what a post-ZA world would really be like to live in.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 10:43 AM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    Yes, TWD could theoretically go on forever, but TV writers and directors get notoriously lazy when a show goes on for too long.

    If they can keep it fresh and let Kirkman guide it, I suppose it could last much longer than anyone expects it to, though...

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 12:31 PM, breezee wrote:

    I'm also glad the governor story line is done and the characters are back on the road. The plot was quickly becoming stale with the "comfort" the prison afforded the survivors. TWD is one of the BEST shows available on cable these days.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 12:42 PM, jpxfiles wrote:

    The Governor always said he had a brother, he could be the evil twin! Yikes!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 6:53 PM, MyUnclePete wrote:

    The problem has never and will never be the fact the seasons have grown longer.

    Instead there's been a disconnect between what the producers / writers felt was compelling and what fans were actually feeling.

    Most notably the inability to provide sufficient quality lines / directions to principle female characters. There was NOTHING redeeming about Lori and worse, Andrea wasn't anything close to her comic book alter ego - the TV character made one bad decision after another - even her finale was aided by too much talking and a sudden weakness.

    The biggest downside to this show and others like Game of Thrones, Grimm, Vikings, etc. is the insane mid-season breaks followed by endless months of waiting without ANY filler to tide you over.

    In the case of GOT and TWD there is a perfect opportunity to allow for tween season vignettes such as character profiles (in the case of TWD pre-Zombie and how they came to the group). Or they could expand on the webisode characters and TV show side characters since each person's story is unique and offers ample opportunity for expansion.

    The seasons are not at all TOO long, just shorten the wait between them and do not fall into the MNS trap of constantly trying to push a 'twist' from one week to the next.

    It's a great story and the hint that it will by synching more to the comics is great news because there's a lot of meat to digest in that plot.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 2:18 AM, NiceTry wrote:

    ShawnaLH2380 wrote:

    "However I think that you are clinging to the comic book a little too much. Remember that this is a adaptation of the comic and not a replica. There have to be some adjustments made for television."

    You do realize that there wouldn't be a show without the original content, right? Just because you have access to said content doesn't mean you should deviate from it more often than not, which is what this show tends to do. And if you have read the comic you would know that adapting this material wouldn't be difficult because the medium lends itself to television. So the argument that some adjustments have to be made for television doesn't really work. Unlike film, television shows are easier to write for, especially when you have a treasure trove of source material to plunder from.

    That is the problem some fans have with the show: too many liberties are taken when it comes to adapting characters/story from the comic. Many meanings and themes are lost, not because the writers couldn't adapt them but rather they didn't think it was important or worthwhile in the forty five minutes they have. I cannot tell you the number of moments, characters, events, etc, that happened in the comic which were completely ignored or poorly executed. It's not just lazy writing either, it's a selfish and detrimental approach to the original vision; there's a reason why Kirkman's involvement has been pushed to the wayside.

    You have a selected group of writers who feel entitled to take any liberty they want, to steer the storyline in any direction, for any given reason, and expect it to just "work." Well after a season and half of the governor's storyline, I can tell you that it doesn't work. When you draw out characters like this, not only do they become stale and two-dimensional, they begin to affect the other characters' development as a direct result. So instead of killing off the governor, you let him live and other characters die in his place to push the story. Then you try to bring it back full circle so you can connect and return to the storyline from the comic. Again, poor writing leads to poor storytelling. And the impact of small decisions like this aren't even comprehended until a season or two later when you realize you invested all this time "hating" or "loving" a character, just to see them die a underwhelming death.

    Unfortunately most people don't realize that shows like this are only successful because of ratings, and for obvious reasons this leads to having too many cooks in the kitchen. All this makes for unnecessary concessions. The end result is two distinct fan-bases that the show is supposedly trying to satisfy: the people who followed the comic from day one, and those who began watching a tv show about zombies. People from the latter are more likely to approach the show in a very nonchalant manner, which is fine, and not care about the comic or its storyline. I imagine that many viewers fall into the second grouping, those who watched shows like Lost, and would rather be spoon-fed simple linear story-lines.

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