Holiday Binge-Watching and the Walking Dead

The holiday season isn’t just an occasion to search McDonald’s for the McRib (and points to those who also noticed that McDonald’s added other Christmas menu items, such as the holiday pie and eggnog shake). Holiday vacation means long dinners, large groups of relatives, and rehashing family history—which means it’s the perfect time to binge watch TV on Netflix. If you have an iPad Mini, you can even binge watch under the table during family dinners.

What tops your binge-watching list? For me, it’s The Walking Dead on AMC. I binge-watched it last Christmas and have kept caught up. It is the only thing I watch on AMC. I’m sorry, but I’m not attracted to recreations of the 1960s (Mad Men) or drug dealing teachers (Breaking Bad). Give me post-apocalyptic horror shows any day. The special effects are great, and seeing what happens to the world after a zombie attack is always interesting. These zombies, unlike the ones in World War Z, don’t run; they slowly walk. And yet they prevail simply by the force of numbers and, of course, being hungry.

What really makes The Walking Dead a great show is not the special effects or the wrecked Wal-Marts—though these provide lots of great scenes. What makes it a great show, as with other great science fiction, is the interaction between the small group of survivors. There is always a heroic but flawed leader: the former sheriff Rick. There is always an older man who plays the voice of conscience (this older man is also always eaten by zombies when his noble efforts are proven futile in a tough, Hobbesian world). This time, the older voice of conscience, a former veterinarian, was killed by one of the all-time great villains to ever appear on TV: the Governor. There is the double-samurai-sword wielding amazon warrior, who reminds me of the pilot of the Firefly. There is Rick’s young son, who is growing up in the new realities of the zombie world.

This cast of characters make for rich stories on how human beings interact in the face of adversity. They form a little governing council. They engage in great debates over how to balance security against individual liberties, as when they have to decide what to do with a captured member of a hostile gang or whether to quarantine the sick. They have to choose what is worth keeping from the pre-apocalyptic world and what is not. Will they keep the institution of marriage? How will they educate children? What replaces the market as the way of allocating resources? Is everything to be decided by a Hobbesian calculus when life does become nasty, brutish, and short? Necessity truly is the mother of invention here, but in terms of social organization, not technology.

The Walking Dead, in the guise of a zombie thriller, actually raises deep political, economic, and philosophic questions of the first order—it has probably done more than legions of philosophy professors to get viewers to think about these basic questions of the good life. Give me The Walking Dead over endless hypotheticals about runaway trolleys any day!

  1. Scott Abel
    James Lileks: I binged on “Fringe,” and am bereft because it’s over and I’ve nothing to take its place. · 3 hours ago

    I mourn that you are done with Fringe, because I’ve been mourning ever since I did. What a wild, uneven, ride, but it pulled it all together in the last season. Unlike Lost, it had a plan. It was satisfying. And then you wanted the next book …

  2. Byron Horatio

    I’ve watched TWD off and on and find it tiresome. The first season was good and the second a bore. Why does no one seem to take fortification or defensive site selection seriously? Just amble around a farm in the middle of a field, have an occasional guard posted, needlessly waste ammo to familiarize people with guns. As a gun aficionado, the unlimited ammo thing gives me facial ticks. But that’s me being petty. Anyway, build a moat, dig a trench! Barricade, anything! At least the prison was better, except for leaving a critical mass of zombies to form and just knock over the gates. I dislike the constant self-reflection of the characters and found myself rooting for the conscience-less governor. At least he wasn’t always sniveling and pouting. I loved Breaking Bad because there was always a sense of finality you could see. Hank would find out and Walt was dying. TWD seems to restart every other season or so and I don’t think the writers really know where to take it. And lastly, how does every zombie story begin with Army tanks being easily conquered by hoards of dead?

  3. Danny Alexander

    #18 Byron Horatio — Plus if they’re Zombies there’s minimal risk of a measure-countermeasure “arms-race” type spiral.  I doubt that there’s a Zombie General Staff or a Zombie War College in the story arc where The Best Zombie Military Minds are convening to determine doctrine, strategy, and the like.

  4. Erika Kinder

    For something ridiculously fun, try Supernatural. There are 7 or 8 seasons on Netflix. The first season is incredibly campy, but the heart of the show is the relationship between two brothers. By season 4 or 5, there’s grim reapers, greek gods, and an season arc involving the biblical apocalypse. Also, its an homage to classic rock music, and never takes itself seriously. If you’re a sci-fi fan, the show is hard to beat.

    Another great option is Magic City, a series about a hotel owner reluctantly involved with the mafia in Miami during the time of Fidel Castro’s rise to power. One of the main characters is a Bond Girl (the one from Quantum of Solace).

    Other series worth a watch (or rewatch): Jeeves and Wooster, The Sharpe Series (the one time Sean Bean was allowed to play the good guy), and Black Adder. 

  5. Scott Abel

    I almost gave up on The Walking Dead. Then the episode, “Clear” showed up in season 3.

    You can watch it at the link. Just scroll down the page.

  6. kennail

    If you like post-apocalyptic drama, pay attention to and the development of his “Big Bat Problems?” movie.  There’s also his “common sense resistance” effort and his Virtual President series.

  7. Fred Cole

    You should try the book of World War Z. It sounds like you’d enjoy it.

  8. Dan Hanson

    There are no zombies in it, but we’re immensely enjoying Downton Abbey.  We watched the first season last week, and the show keeps getting better.

    It’s the story of society and relationships among the aristocracy (and their servants) in the U.K. on the eve of WWI – and during WWI.  The casting is brilliant, and the story lines will appeal to everyone.

  9. Mark Wilson

    I’ll suggest Jericho as another great series that explores the kind of issues you mention in your post.  It takes place in rural Kansas after a nuclear attack on US cities.  It is my favorite series of all time by far.  Great characters, political, philosophical, and family issues in every episode, great and flawed leaders, outlaws, and desperate friends who become enemies so they can take what they need to survive.  It’s on Netflix too and the whole series runs only 30 episodes so it’s great for binging.

  10. Stephen Dawson

    I found Season 2 of TWD utterly frustrating. Okay, at the start of the apocalypse the survivors are disorientated and take a while to develop their strategies.

    But Season 2 has an underlying (but unintended) premise: our heroes are astoundingly stupid. Too dumb and thoughtless to survive.

    An accident at the start gets them into a difficult spot, to be sure, but there’s no evidence they have a sensible goal: find a moderately large, defensible position with an emergency escape route, just in case things don’t work out.

    The kind of thing they stumble upon in Season 3, for example.

  11. Troy Senik, Ed.
    Bruce Hendricksen: Dexter. · 10 hours ago

    Do yourself a favor and hang it up after the superb season 4, after which the show completely slips its moorings. There’s a mini-comeback in season 7, but it’s not worth wading through all the other drek to get to. Michael C. Hall is fantastic, but the second half of the show’s run just doesn’t hold up (the final season is actively infuriating). Same dynamic that happened with two of my other recent favorites, House and The West Wing, which both had four great seasons followed by four utterly mediocre ones.

    I just finished the second season of American Horror Story, not having watched the first or the current one, and was surprised by how much I liked it. It’s not for everyone — while it doesn’t actively work as horror per se (you won’t be jumping out of your skin), it’s extremely macabre and a lot of our readers will likely find it disturbing. Not everything works (it’s put together by the folks who did Glee after all), but Jessica Lange’s performance is truly impressive. Not for the squeamish, but compelling nonetheless.

  12. Commodore BTC

    Lilyhammer on Netflix is the most pro-American show on TV and a ton of fun

    Not a fan of TWD. It is utterly devoid of humor or hope. Just miserable characters endlessly circling the drain, until they die and are replaced by others.

    Incredible effects though. 

  13. Frederick Key

    The Holiday Pie was not nearly as disgusting as I thought it would be. Washing it down with an eggnog shake would have been too hard-core even for me.

  14. Franz Drumlin

    Like a Mormon in Las Vegas I spent most of my adult life walking past the multi-series fleshpots wondering what all the unseemly fuss was about. Then, last August, I watched the first episode of Breaking Bad. Hooked. I binged the rest of the series, having seen the finale episode only last week. Never again. I’ve taken the pledge. No Wire or Sopranos or Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or House of Cards for me, thank you. If you have a story to tell, get it done in one sitting or I’m outta here. Life is too short.

  15. Danny Alexander

    Never saw Deadwood, so will likely binge-watch that.  Time permitting, I may try binge-watching Season 1 of The Wire also, since I missed out on that as well.

    Refuse to watch WD or other Zombie fare for political reasons having nothing to do with Hobbesian this or that:  Quite simply, nothing has shaken my conviction that the Zombie phenomenon is  yet another collective Hollywood effort post-9/11 to divert American focus away from the clash of civilizations with totalitarian Islamism.  It really boils down to nothing more than a con job on the public.

  16. Casey

    Binge watch? I haven’t even sat down in six years!

  17. Commodore BTC
    Dan Hanson: There are no zombies in it, but we’re immensely enjoying Downton Abbey.  We watched the first season last week, and the show keeps getting better.· 1 hour ago

    Wait till the action really heats up when Jason Statham is hired on as the new valet. 

  18. Manfred Arcane

    Game of Thrones is really boss viewing – but not recommended for binge-watching.  Too much bile build-up after every episode – need to give it time to dissipate a bit, otherwise you might turn into one of the “Others” before you know it.

  19. James Lileks

    Danny: “Deadwood” is the most profane show ever filmed, if that stuff bothers you. Al Swearengen is well-named. (And based on a fellow with the exact same name.) I loved the show, and when you eventually meet a Mr. Hearst, it’s not just any old Hearst.

    I will watch “Walking Dead” to the end, but it means nothing to me anymore, not after the mid-season break. I wish there was more exploration of the abandoned world; that’s far more fascinating than an hour’s worth of people throwing up blood in a dank unlit prison. While Rick was a great character in the first few seasons, and still has a ragged desperate decency, I really came to like old man Herschel. And not just because the last time I saw that actor he was the jittery Dick Hickock of “In Cold Blood.” 

    I binged on “Fringe,” and am bereft because it’s over and I’ve nothing to take its place.

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