The Walking Dead has been at the top of the zombie food chain for nearly seven seasons, with its dread-fueled, head-smashing, stomach-turning action. It has great acting and I-didn’t-see-that-coming plot contortions that are more twisted than a zombie’s leaky intestines.
But it has its flaws. And here’s the thing: I think Z Nation, the other zombie TV show currently airing, has a better grasp of reality than the current reigning zombie king of television.
Because I’m writing for Blastr, whose parent company owns the Syfy Channel, where Z Nation airs, you might consider my opinion biased. So I’ve decided to up the ante and include an even more biased opinion: the co-creator, writer and co-executive producer of Z Nation, Craig Engler.
Here are four things he -- and I -- believe Z Nation (beats TWD over the head with a bat) does better than The Walking Dead.
Z Nation has humor
The Walking Dead is grim. Grim grim grim. Merle Dixon had some funny lines, and the moment where prisoner Alex thought Carol was a lesbian was amusing. But as anyone who has ever seen our favorite characters die—by zombie, human, or baseball-bat-related trauma—knows, The Walking Dead isn’t funny.
And that’s just not realistic.
Engler said, “If you look at soldiers in the field in World War II, they were facing terrible odds, and they would still play practical jokes on an another. That sort of black humor gets you through the day.
“Our characters, even though they’re in a zombie apocalypse and everyone is dying, they still find moments for humor and levity.”
That includes killing zombies with the Liberty Bell and a giant cheese wheel, as well as the moment a depressed character breaks into a run when she learns of an open bar.
Psychologists know that humor is a coping mechanism that helps victims survive suffering. But those moments of levity are a rarity in The Walking Dead.
My favorite exception: the season 5 episode “Try,” where Rick can’t stop telling Deanna if she doesn’t fight, she will die. Michonne’s response was perfect:
Z Nation uses technology
If The Walking Dead is all about realism, where are the solar panels and hand-crank generators?
The Walking Dead seems to exist in a post-apocalyptic, yet not at all, industrialized world. The walkie-talkies that Rick and Glenn (R.I.P.) employed at the beginning of the show have been sporadically used (albeit a little more frequently in recent seasons).
Wind, water, steam, and sunlight can be harvested to keep civilization running, as well as help electrical defenses and offenses. Yet Rick and the Ricksters haven’t bothered to take their zombie killing into the 21st century. Or even the late 20th.
Meanwhile, on Z Nation, Citizen Z used to provide information to our core protagonists from all the way in an Antarctic listening station, and a vaccination is the thrust of the overall arc. We also see our characters wrestling with issues of nuclear power plants and a tech grab at Roswell, New Mexico.
Engler says, “It always seems strange to me in The Walking Dead…that nobody picks up a radio and tries to contact somebody else. When you do the research into radio in an apocalypse, which we did for Z Nation, the technology isn’t terrifically hard, and it broadcasts over a wide range. So it would be pretty easy, theoretically, for survivors to keep in touch.”
Z Nation's protagonist isn't a white guy
Have you noticed that almost a dozen black men on The Walking Dead have died? Morgan and Father Gabriel are currently standing, but characters like Tyrese, T-Dog, and Noah (oh gods, Noah) have been offed brutally.
Rick Grimes, the leader of The Walking Dead's post-apocalyptic crew, may have an inclusive band of followers, but he’s still a white guy.
As for Z Nation, African-American actor Harold Perrineau’s character Hammond, was ostensibly the leader…for one episode. He was then replaced by a white guy, Garnett. Who was then killed off and replaced by an African-American woman, Roberta Warren.
Engler is proud of Warren, played by Kellita Smith, “a strong female lead of our show…a female action lead.”
Z Nation's characters ultimately have a plan
The characters in The Walking Dead are steeped in misery, and they’re struggling to survive, every. single. episode. With the start of season 7, our heroes are back to living one day at a time, with no plan for the future (other than doing Neegan’s bidding). In short, they have no hope.
However, people who have hope are better at coming up with “different strategies for obtaining a goal,” according to Psychology Today. Hope also “increas[es] the chances [people] will actually accomplish their goals.” A lack of hope therefore means they’re less likely to survive.
Z Nation’s characters, on the other hand, want to save the world. Even Murphy, the human survivor of a zombie bite who has broken free of the original mission—use his blood as a vaccine—now leads a band of human/zombie hybrids for the express purpose of saving humanity. Well, a hybrid form of it, anyway.
According to Engler, Z Nation’s characters “want to regain humanity and save [themselves] They’re actually trying to find a cure.” And isn’t that better than a wallow in woe?
So if watching your favorite Walking Dead characters either get bludgeoned to death or become work mules to a psychotic becomes too wearying for you, you know which zombie-based show to take a bite of.