Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably at least heard of AMC’s”The Walking Dead” by now. The drama/horror series is in its sixth season. According to forbes.com, the season 5 premiere became the most watched cable show in history. The series follows a small group of survivors in their travels through a zombie-infested world.
The show is popular for a myriad of reasons but the most important reason is the writing.
“The Walking Dead” writers know how to surprise viewers with storylines that most viewers can’t see coming.
Spoilers if you haven’t watched every episode yet*
Characters like Carol emerge from their scared cocoons to become heroes to the group
Rick struggles with his morality for the first few seasons, debating courses of action with his best friend Shane.
As time passes, you see Rick become even more like Shane, making quick, sometimes brutal, decisions to ensure his and his group’s survival.
With the success of a show like “The Walking Dead”, imitators will follow.
One such successful imitator is Syfy’s “Z Nation.” “Z nation” is a comedy/drama that also takes place in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. It is currently in its second season.
If you watch both shows, you start to notice some striking similarities.
Both shows follow a small group of survivors. Both groups are made up of people that come from diverse backgrounds and different races. Both groups are on a mission.
In “Z Nation”, the group’s mission is to transport a former prisoner, who may hold the cure to the zombie virus in his veins, to a CDC lab in California. In “The Walking Dead”, the mission is more about survival and holding on to the hope that some form of civilization can come back.
There is a brief storyline in “The Walking Dead” about a possible cure. A man claiming to be a scientist named Eugene says that he has the knowledge needed to create a cure. He convinces a small group to transport him to DC where he says there are resources to synthesize the cure.
But as they get closer to DC, Eugene loses his nerve and fesses up to his lie. He isn’t a scientist and there is no cure.
“Z Nation” has a strong black leader named Warren who experienced significant loss due to the events of the zombie apocalypse. She lost both her husband and later her lover.
“The Walking Dead” has a strong black leader named Michonne. She lost her son and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend killed their son in order to protect him from the new world. Michonne, in turn, used her boyfriend’s zombie body as a shield from other zombies.
“Z Nation” has a likable old man named Doc. He’s a hippy who provides comedic relief and is somewhat of a father figure to 10k, a young man who is very skilled with a rifle.
“The Walking Dead” had 2 likable old men named Dale and Hershel. Dale was a father figure to several characters and Hershel was the father of 2 daughters, both of whom outlive him. He is also a voice of reason for Rick, the show’s main character.
Similarities in Dialogue:
Toward the end of the first episode of season one of “Walking Dead” entitled “Days Gone By”, Rick kneeled next to the first walker he encountered at the beginning of the episode. He whispers “I’m sorry this happened to you” and shoots her to put her out of her misery.
At the end of the last episode of season 1 of “Z Nation” entitled “Doctor of the Dead”, Murphy, the former prisoner who may have the cure, stares down empathetically at the world’s first infected person and says “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about all of it” and stabs him in the head.
In “Z Nation” in the episode entitled “Fracking Zombies, 10k experiences frustration and takes it out on a zombie and says “Shut up.”
In “The Walking Dead” in the episode entitled “Bloodletting”, Daryl takes out a walker using his crossbow, also telling it to shut up.
Audiences who watch both shows will also notice stark differences. The two shows are on different networks and have different writers and producers. One show refers to the dead as zombies while the other never uses that word.
“Z Nation” has more comedic relief and is lighter on character development. “The Walking Dead” has brief few and far between moments of comedic relief and many of the characters have experienced major changes in personality, philosophy and perspective. But “Z Nation” may also take that route in time. It hasn’t been on nearly half as long as “The Walking Dead”.
Whether or not you favor one over the other, they are both enjoyable for different reasons. “Z Nation” doesn’t take itself too seriously and offers some lighthearted dialogue and far-fetched story lines. “The Walking Dead” is scary, dramatic, character driven, and has longevity on its side.
So what do you think? Is imitation of “The Walking Dead”a high form of flattery? Or is “Z Nation” a cheap knockoff of a hugely popular show?