Saturday, April 05, 2014

Grab Me (Just Don't Bite)

I'm now into Season Three of the AMC series, The Walking Dead, and it occurred to me that there's a lesson to be learned here about emotional hooks.

I know this is the horror genre, but stay with me.

After being hounded by my husband (a lot) to watch this show on Netflix, I finally gave in.  I'm not a fan of horror, save a few novels (Stephen King's "Christine" comes to mind) and films (the Robert Englund version of "Phantom of the Opera" - dated but still pretty good).  Horror movies are no fun for me.  People just die.  They're cannon fodder.  I'm not terribly concerned about anybody, because it's all a giant bloodbath.  Maybe it's the sensationalism of the violence, or the fact that no one has enough characterization to get me interested in him before he buys it.  Show me a deep horror film, and I will eat my words.  Until then, I'll stick to psychological thrillers like The Sixth Sense when I need the chill factor.

 Seasons One and Two of The Walking Dead were not all that exciting: setup, intro, etc.  Lots of running and hiding and shooting zombies.  As a writer, it's hard to watch a show like this and wonder why they're wasting ammo, and what the women do when, God forbid, they have a period and become instant zombie bait for a week.  Yeah, it's hard to shut off that internal editor.  My husband hates watching a movie with me. :)
But then came Season Three.  The first episode of this season surprised me.  The characters started acting like a team, like a family.  When a couple of the group had to make a supply run, I worried that they'd get "home" safe.  And then it occurred to me that I had begun to be emotionally invested in the survival of these people.

Maybe the writers had a lightbulb moment, because universally - no matter what genre you're into - you're not gonna make a reader or viewer care, unless you make them care.  It's a shame it took them three seasons to learn this, but learn it, they did.  I cheated and skipped ahead to the next season to watch an episode that had aired on television, and one of the principal characters, Daryl (played by The Boondock Saints' Norman Reedus), has a breakdown after toughing it out for three seasons. It was a real rip-my-heart-out-and-squeeze moment, maybe even a little more emotional than usual because this is the horror genre.  How surprising, I thought.  And all it took was a little focus on characterization.  If Daryl dies, I will riot.

I'm still not a fan of horror, as a rule - but it was interesting to find that universal truth being applied to a genre not often associated with emotion.  Make me care.  'Cause it isn't about the zombies.  It isn't about the action.  It isn't about the shoot-em-up sensation that is survival in the post-apocolypse world.  It's still just about the characters.

I hope sincerely, for the fans of this show, that the writers continue to grow the characters and draw their viewers' emotions into the story, because that's what's working.  Time will tell.

RATING: Three of five stars


  1. I think part of the trouble with the Walking Dead is the lack of truly sympathetic characters. Then when you start to like someone, they die. I love the show but I'm a fan of the horror genre anyway. I like the scares.

    Not to say that I don't adore our beloved redneck Jedi with a crossbow. ;-)

  2. I agree - the minute you like someone, they're killed off. That's why I worry about Daryl. My standing rule for that show is, "Don't let them write you a subplot!" :)