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The Walking Dead is Great, But a Big Problem Still Lies in It's Future

09/10/2015 13:51 BST | Updated 08/10/2016 10:12 BST

As the more observant reader will have noticed, it's October. Everyone has their favourite thing about this time of year but for fans of gore, suspense and people having all their things broken, one event stands apart as the most looked forward to - the return of AMC's The Walking Dead. The post-apocalyptic drama series has been running for four excellent seasons - and season 2 - and the sixth season will begin broadcasting in the UK later this month.

The return of the show has become a staple of the television calendar and ranks alongside programmes like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black as among the best in US entertainment exports. It could be part of the reason that younger generations struggle to believe that American telly was the butt of jokes; dismissed as a plethora of cop shows, games shows and god-awful soaps. If you're young enough to use Tumblr, you may just have to take my word for it - that used to be the case.

If it wasn't already obvious, I love The Walking Dead. I like zombie related stuff in general but I was a late convert this time. I hadn't seen it until, thanks to a couple of close friends gently haranguing me; I binged on the first three seasons. However, I like it because it not only gives me my prerequisite zombie splatter violence but also presents difficult issues, like fidelity, and PTSD in an uncompromising and honest way. There really is something for everyone in it. If either zombies or straight drama usually put you off, please do still give it a try if you haven't already, there's still plenty to like.

However, this doesn't stop there being a fundamental problem with The Walking Dead, and media that uses zombies as a story-telling or framing device more generally.

Zombies are a great backdrop to use when telling a story about people; consider the way the relationships between Rick, Carl, Lori and Shane are shown in The Walking Dead, for example. The zombie apocalypse turns-off all their mundane distractions and allows the viewer to see how their lives are affected by one another.

The same thing happens in World War Z with Brad Pitt's family and in the Resident Evil mythos with the Redfield siblings. It's as if zombies allow us to have a backdrop we're all familiar with so we can ignore it and focus on character development and interaction. It is a bit odd that we can put the end of the world out of our minds in order to watch to a couple bickering or a bit of infidelity. But hey, people are odd.

The problem lies with achieving closure or resolution - the idea that some form of normality has resumed. A distinction is important here, between what we might call an "outbreak" and an "apocalypse". For simplicity, I'll say that an outbreak occurs when zombies have set up shop in one or a couple of areas e.g. Racoon City and The Mansion in the Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil. An "apocalypse", conversely, is your 28 Days Later, Dawn of The Dead and The Walking Dead scenario in which society is totally finished with no hope of it getting back together. Think about it as the difference between waiting until the army arrives and needing to become the army yourself.

This is the corner that The Walking Dead has walked itself into. From the start, it followed the standard zombie apocalypse formula, albeit in a very refined, polished and effective well. We started with a chap waking up in hospital, then we were following a plucky band of survivors through their trials and tribulations, people died, went missing, turned (both into zombies and on one another), we enjoyed a spot of cannibalism and currently find "our group" - a term co-opted by fans - bringing a bit of outsider reality to another group that has managed to recreate suburbia away from the shambling ghouls. However, what's stayed consistent is that the world is over and it's because of the zombies.

This presents the show makers with a really difficult problem - in terms of the overall story arc - that will keep getting kicked down the dusty, corpse-strewn, traffic-less road as the seasons pile up but will have to be dealt with eventually.

How do we, as viewers, get our resolution?

It would be very, very easy for Rick to wake up in his hospital bed with the events having all been a coma-induced dream - imagine the increase in demand for flaming torches and pitchforks if they decided to do that.

Perhaps it could be revealed that the outbreak (no longer an apocalypse, remember) was confined to the USA and the rest of the world has placed the Americans into quarantine - this would only serve to deflate all the events we've come to get so involved in thus far; it would turn down the volume on the entire narrative because the rest of the world could have done something about it. It would also be an anti-climax unworthy of the show. But, and this is something only the writers will know, is it possible to avoid being anti-climactic in this setting? I genuinely don't know and I'm unwilling to guess.

The point is that the makers of The Walking Dead have to, eventually, do something very difficult - solve the zombie apocalypse without cliché, anti-climax or flippancy. But hey, relax, it's not like it's.... oh, right.

The end of The Walking Dead is, hopefully, some seasons away; however we all worry about our favourite shows making an unforgivable mistake at the end (ask fans of The Sopranos for notes) and The Walking Dead will have to jump out of this trap sometime. I think it'll be the test of how the show will be remembered and it deserves to be remembered fondly. Let's hope the makers are up to it. The show has been too good up until now for a cheap conclusion.