OK, let’s face it: Journalists can’t resist writing about “The Walking Dead” right now, because anything with that big an audience — and that avid kind of genre following — is going to generate traffic. In this case, we’re all just doing the equivalent of making loud noises, hoping to lead a few of the zombies in our direction.
Guilty as charged.
Still, with that disclaimer out of the way, five random thoughts about “Dead’s” run over the last several episodes, in what has been simultaneously a terrific, game-changing and weird second half of its season:
- The last two weeks have each offered riveting scenes that involved little more than a couple of actors sitting and talking. British actors, as it happens, albeit with Southern accents. Last week, it was Andrew Lincoln calling back to the show’s infancy with the return of a character played by Lennie James. On Sunday, it was a gripping encounter between Lincoln’s Rick and the Governor, the sadistic leader of a rival group, played by David Morrissey. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how many fine British actors are populating U.S. series, mostly because they’re so bloody good at sounding like Yanks. Still, as “Dead” builds toward a seemingly inevitable face-off, a brief nod to what a sensational addition Morrissey has been.
- In the course of this season, “Walking Dead” is essentially rewriting the books on what’s possible for cable series, ratings-wise. Coupled with History’s “The Bible,” in fact, the major networks could be in for a very long next three weeks on Sunday nights, and DVRs should be working overtime.We like to think about a broadcast network that does poorly finishing fourth. Through March, they could be looking at sixth, seventh or worse.
- For all its success, AMC is paying a price for the decision to change showrunners again, creating all kinds of awkward situations at the various panels and events eager to honor and cash in on the program’s popularity. To his credit, departing exec producer Glen Mazzara has taken the high road, but that hasn’t stopped his brethren from weighing in on his behalf, and it’s cast a cloud over what should be the network’s extended victory lap.
- While “Walking Dead” has hummed along swimmingly despite that distraction, “Talking Dead” has veered away from being mildly interesting to cheerleading unctuousness. During the last flight of episodes, the talk show devoted to the series — a brilliant idea, in theory, to inexpensively spread the wealth — regularly featured Mazzara or EP/comics creator Robert Kirkman to discuss that night’s episode. They obviously didn’t give much away, but they at least offered some insight into the creative process. Lately, AMC has been stocking the hours (expanded from a half-hour previously, creating even more time to fill) with actors — not associated with the show, necessarily, but those who just happen to be fans.Don’t get me wrong: Eliza Dushku and Joe Manganiello are plenty easy on the eyes. But watching host Chris Hardwick try to lead them through drooling sessions singing “Dead’s” praises can be tough on the ears. Unfortunately, the lead-in is so spectacular as to buoy this creaky vessel, providing little incentive to fix what appears to be working.
- AMC has been extraordinarily aggressive about using “Walking Dead” to try to boost other programs and market the network — planting clips in different reality shows, repeating episodes in black and white, stuffing each hour with promos.What is a series like that worth to a network — especially when its audience is four or five times larger than what AMC attracts most nights? How can you begin to calculate the value? While I’m not sure, I have no doubt some agents, managers and attorneys are currently working on a formula.