Writing for TV: The Walking Dead Pilot
Who would’ve guessed in 2010 that The Walking Dead would continue to be a staple in modern television 12 years later? With its final and 11th season ending this year, there is much to analyze from the show, specifically how it was so successful.
Sure, the popularity of the comics is one point, but none of that matters if the content isn’t good (look at the recent cancellation of BatGirl). At its center, The Walking Dead is a show about human instinct—individuals and their decisions while battling for their lives. So, what makes this show so successful? Let’s see!
Still from 'The Walking Dead'. Photo credit: Syfy
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the show follows many different characters who try to survive after a worldwide apocalypse of zombie infection has devastated civilization. The zombies, known as walkers to the center gathering of survivors we follow, move around searching for fresh meat.
Though the apocalypse trope is appealing to most, the show wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has without complex characters. Every person has a character to root for, hate, relate to, or be interested in (meaning its target audience is more significant than most television series). The ability to have a slew of complex characters makes it a sprawling show, giving us plenty of stories to follow.
Goals and Conflict
It can’t be said enough that no television series can be successful without goals and conflict. Even basic sitcoms that are special episodes have conflicts in each episode for the character to deal with. As you can expect with an apocalyptic show, there is endless conflict in The Walking Dead.
Though not every storyline, character, or scene works, its ability to keep us in tune for the next episode makes The Walking Dead appealing. Whether it’s Rick’s family dynamic to direct conflict with the Governor or Neegan, a lot is going on with The Walking Dead conflict-wise. Remember, conflict can make a break or script; don’t neglect it.
Right along with complex characters and conflict comes character relationships. How does a particular character feel about another character? Are they around each other? How do they act when they’re around one another? These are questions quickly highlighted in The Walking Dead's dense nature.
We see it early on in the show with Rick and his family. That relationship furthers with the group of survivors and their respective relationships with one another. Loved ones, enemies, friends, former friends, and strangers are all vital to a script, with The Walking Dead having everything within the character relationship dynamic.
Changing Characters and Scenery
The Walking Dead’s biggest strength is its longevity, much of which is due to its changing characters and scenery. It’s not the same antagonistic force against the group (besides the Walkers), keeping it interesting for us to watch the series for years to come.
A writer should have future scenarios in mind while trying to sell a television script. Though The Walking Dead had source material to take from, there are countless original scripted television series that can pitch the future of the show. Plan; you never know what’ll happen.
The Use Of Suspense
Suspense is best used early in the show, causing the audience to follow and watch what’s to come story-wise. In The Walking Dead, the pilot episode begins with Rick awakening from a coma and finding that the world has changed.
The audience doesn't have the foggiest idea of what has happened, anything other than Rick, so they continue to watch to find out. Be that as it may, when you bring up suspense, you must also answer them. It doesn't need to be in the same scene, but remember to answer some vital questions later.
Intensity and High Stakes
Furthering the idea of suspense comes the notion of intensity and high stakes. A zombie end of the world permits the writers to increase this intensity, making the stakes vital for the characters and the audience.
Stakes refer to the obstructions that come up, blocking the characters from their respective goals. If they fail, someone will bite the dust, lose a loved one, or lose hope. High stakes cause the audience to be deep with the characters, and that is a ton of what makes The Walking Dead so exciting. We care about what occurs to these individuals.
Community and Morality - Taking Risks
The varying groups in The Walking Dead highlight the theme of community and morality. It’s a show that’s not scared to kill off a character, even if that character is a fan favorite. Taking risks is a massive part of excellent television series; not fulfilling can cause boredom in the audience. The wickedness of the average character is arguably worse than the walkers, accentuating the show’s ability to take risks, even if it doesn’t pay off all the time.