Congratulations to AMC and The Walking Dead. Initial numbers and interest are so high that AMC has already signed on for another season. Pretty much all of us have written about how great it is, so I won’t bother on that note.
However, there is one thing that stood out to in the 2nd episode. Without giving away any spoilers, they introduce a serious element of racism into the plot. The sad fact is that racist antagonists are all to cliché and racism is often tacked onto a character to “prove” just how evil they are, rather then letting their actions and character show it. I will give you an example, Crimson Tide, starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. It is a pretty good movie and has good acting, dialogue and loads of suspense. (I won’t rate it because it has been SO long since I have seen it so it isn’t fresh in my mind.) Denzel Washington plays a young naval officer who stages a mutiny on a nuclear submarine to keep the trigger happy captain (Gene Hackman) from launching missiles and starting World War 3 without clear orders to do so.
Gene Hackman’s character is a total bastard the entire movie and you already hate him by the end. However, near the end, he makes a racist comment towards Denzel’s black character. When I saw it in theatres half the audience went “oooh” as in, NOW he is really, really bad, but to me it felt incredibly forced. There were no racist comments or connections throughout the entire movie and now they have to tack it on just to make sure we know Hackman’s character is bad. If you have to resort to that then you probably failed as a storyteller to begin with. The same often goes for stories with Nazi’s as well. Such as the last James Bond movie, Quantom of Solace, when in the end they reveal a secret Nazi organization still in existence. (Really? After 60 years they couldn’t think of a better villain?)
The Walking Dead didn’t need racism. It is already engaging and has a horrible evil that causes enough conflict as it is. Yet being set in the south, they decided to go ahead and add it to the subplots, and they made it work really well. The characters were believable, the dialogue good and the racism felt sincere, not merely tacked on as a cheap plot devise.
Now I am not naïve here folks, I know that sadly enough, racism still exists in America. (I’m from Texas, ever hear of Jasper?) Obviously racism is necessary in many movies and there have been some great movies about racism. (Mississippi Burning) It is a valid topic. For that matter so are the Nazi’s. It’s especially hard to make a World War 2 movie without them, but let’s not trivialize something evil or use it to make excuses for bad storytelling.
On a side note, as bad as they are, zombies are the most tolerant and accepting lot there is. They will eat anyone and all can join. Way to be progressive!