Emmy voters should embrace ‘The Walking Dead’

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is not only the biggest hit on cable, it’s also delivering the kinds of numbers the broadcast networks have all but given up on. However, it’s usually overlooked in conversations about the best work on television, especially when overshadowed by “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” on the same network. But Emmy voters, you should approach it with fresh eyes this year.

Except the obvious makeup and effects nominations at the Emmys, stunt bids at the SAG Awards, and a sole Drama Series nod at the Golden Globes, “Walking Dead” hasn’t been a factor at awards, probably because of its subject matter: aesthetes and TV industry pros don’t take a show about zombies seriously as art. Just a lot of violence and viscera – of which there are plenty.

But making a zombie story in a series format instead of a standalone feature film gives the show the opportunity to dig deeper. This has never been simply a show about the undead feasting on brains. It’s about moral choices and psychological consequences; how do human beings reconcile their once civilized nature with a newly uncivilized world. “The Walking Dead” more closely resembles Cormac McCarthy‘s “The Road” than most zombie movies.

Its fourth season ended Sunday night on an uneasy note at a stronghold called Terminus that was supposed to be a new sanctuary. The episode wasn’t perfect, and neither was the season, but the show is gratifying in the way that, despite its massive success, it has avoided the kind of formula storytelling that normally handcuffs broad-appeal hits. It goes on interesting tangents, shuffles its characters around in new and interesting ways, and has the confidence to slow its pace when needed. An episode full of action mayhem may be followed by a two-hander devoted entirely to character development. The cast is so deep that lead actor Andrew Lincoln was absent from several episodes before the season’s home stretch. No network show would do that.

The best episode of the season was one such Lincoln-free hour: “The Grove,” which featured the deaths of two young girls. Children are usually untouchable in popular entertainment, even the most grisly horror stories. But the show didn’t off a couple of kids just for shock value; instead it paid off a long-building story and further examined the morality and psychic damage of the world our characters now live in.

If submitted for Emmy consideration, “The Grove” deserves nominations for writing and directing, and the MVP of that episode, Melissa McBride, deserves a nomination for Drama Supporting Actress. Over the course of the series, McBride’s Carol has evolved from a victim of abuse to a hardened decision-maker, and the actress has taken some of this year’s toughest character turns – the virtuous Carol has killed in cold blood – and turned it into a remarkable study of moral compromise: in the zombie apocalypse, the old standards of right and wrong no longer apply.

People rarely consider zombie horror stories for the acting, but in this case they should, because McBride gave one of the best performances on any TV show this season. And there were other standouts, like Scott Wilson as doomed voice of reason Hershel, Norman Reedus as renegade in search of purpose Daryl, and Danai Gurira as sword-wielding Michonne, who became a warmer and fully developed character this year.

I suspect “The Walking Dead” would have had more success at the Emmys if it weren’t coinciding with HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Sometimes the TV academy will embrace one genre show, but there’s rarely room for two. It was “Quantum Leap” for a while, then “The X-Files,” then “Lost.” Afterwards, “True Blood” got one year in the spotlight before “Game of Thrones” became the show that stands for all fantasy on the awards circuit.

In that case, Emmy voters, maybe you should stop looking at it like a fantasy show. Consider it the character study it really is.

Do you agree with me that “The Walking Dead” deserves major Emmy nominations? Predict Best Drama below and respond in the comments:

13 thoughts on “Emmy voters should embrace ‘The Walking Dead’

  1. Carol’s turnaround has been truly unbelievable. She was first a non-entity, then a whiner who viewers wanted fed to walkers…and now, she is possibly the most layered and developed character on the show. Very impressive, especially considering how the writers had previously botched female characters like Lori and Andrea. This year they have certainly redeemed themselves by deepening Carol as well as Michonne. Id vote for Danai Gurrira as well. Her dream sequence was one of my favorite ever moments from the series, and her performance that episode was impeccable.

  2. Thank you Dan for writing this article I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Though I don’t think it has a chance as a drama series nomination I really hope Melissa McBride gets nominated. If she gets nominated she has a good shot of winning in a weak field (other than Anna Gunn)

  3. Great article. The Grove was heart-breaking, thought provoking and beautifully delivered. It will remain me for a long time. I am a huge fan of the show and would love to see the entire cast and crew receive recognition, but none more than Melissa McBride based on her performance this season.

  4. Yes! I totally agree with you. Melissa McBride is such a great actor! That episode… Oh, the feels…

  5. I just started watching this show about 1 month ago. It has be one my favorite show. I got so hooked on the show I caught up with TV with a few remaining episodes of season 4. This show & all of the actors in it are great. I love the way it keeps on changing & keeps you wondering what will happen next. I think the show and the actors all deserve an EMMY. October is too long to wait for season 5. I was going through withdrawal last night.

  6. Seriously? You want a show like this nominated? First of all, I think this show isn’t good, it’s overrated, just like True Blood was. People go so fast to changing everything, first we liked army movies, then vampires now zombies (yes zombies, there’s a word for it, nothing else will catch up no matter how much they try, read big marketing ploy to start a trend).

    This isn’t the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. This is a new generation, why people care about blood? Has anyone noticed the inconsistencies from big to small? (by small for example, “oh we live in a world full of zombies and have to be alert, we grow our hair cause there aren’t barbers/stylists but we do have time to shave our chest and all our bodies, except head hair and facial hair). Seriously, like I said, long ago we didn’t have to tell people do not try this at home, we were smart enough to know that, now kids watch this crap, just like killers, so is it ok to show people killing kids? (“what you talking about? it’s great you F****t, it’s a breath of fresh air” answer it isn’t) well, it isn’t, I wonder what kind of sick bastard created this, a world with no hope, no survival, survival means other thing, this is just killing for the lulz (read killing for “wow so innovative in a tv show”)

    Can’t believe you really want a shitty show like this win something? call me when people grow up and start liking shows that actually show some sign of humanity and overall, good writing, this show lacks it (read “we need 8 episodes as fill ins but only need 4, first, mid season break, mid season comeback and finale to actually make it go forward”). When this shows gets that, maybe we can “think” about giving it some awards, otherwise it should be denied the privilege, till smarter people come to realise what it is, a tv show about killing cause a real human person and fan of good tv writing and shows would just cancel this shit.

  7. TWD absolutely should be nominated the show is awesome . It’s not just blood and guts , it’s about the people and their choices how they will live when faced with impossible situations. If you don’t like TWD that’s fine but you’re missing out big time .

  8. I’m wondering how many episodes you have actually watched, JC Smith? This show IS about hope. Hoping that this apocalyptic world will have some sort of ending. They (the characters) are at a point now where they know the world will not be the same as it was but hope that the nightmare will end. This show does present signs of humanity in it but you also have to think about the type of world they are living in. Think about it, it is the survival of the fittest in an archaic manner (ammo is limited so you are forced to use other types of weapons to cause damage to a skull). Think about who could actually survive something like this and you are left with strong willed, strong personalities, and people who will go to any lengths to stay alive. Would you seriously accept anyone in an apocalypse to come traipsing into your home for sanctuary? I think not. You are going to be judgmental of who you accept. If all you see in the show is killing people and zombies, then you are not watching this show thoroughly enough. It goes beyond that.

    As far as children getting the wrong message from this show, that is up to the parent to be a parent. Personally, I have a four year old. He is not allowed to watch The Walking Dead. On occasion, while I was watching it on Netflix, he has gotten glimpses of it. I explain that it isn’t real. He also gets that the zombies are bad. And guess what, he doesn’t go around shooting people.

    I give this show enormous kudos for pushing the boundaries. *Pats JC Smith on the back* It’s okay not to like this show, you can go back to watching Downton Abbey which fits into the parameters you described. I also like that show. It is definitely more your speed.

  9. JC Smith, your entire post is laughable. Your grammar is atrocious and you obviously lack the cognitive faculties to appreciate the underlying theme of the show.

  10. JC Smith,
    Seriously?
    You are one of those super right winged individuals aren’t you. Is game of thrones considered any more violent, along with its non stop sexual themed stories?
    “we can start thinking about giving it some awards”? You are one person. 15 million people would disagree with you. We need shows about humanity?
    I hate to wake you up from massive idealism, but sadly, if great storytelling depicts real life or reality….we all know that the world isn’t ideal and much of it in the cruel light of day, can lack humanity.
    Tell me when you wake up from lala land Spielberg.

  11. ok so am i the only one in the world that is pissed that this show has constantly been snubed? So many great actors, such awesome affects? PLEASE give me a break.

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