You can watch most episodes of The Walking Dead in 16x fast-forward on your DVR without missing a single plot point. Try it with the finale; I watched the whole episode in about eight minutes while eating breakfast cereal. So, after speed-watching The Walking Dead and listening to Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan sigh wearily before pelting the show with shade, I began to consider my own disappointment with The Highest-Rated Show on Cable. All good postapocalyptic/dystopian fiction takes some basic building block of society, puts it into something akin to a snow globe, and shakes. The creator applies his or her core fictional conceit — zombies, nuclear war, environmental collapse, bird flu, whatever — to some societal dynamic, and imagines what would happen to that dynamic under the stress of the end of the world as we know it. Stephen King's The Stand is about the way groups choose to govern themselves. Children of Men is about how central reproduction is to a civilization’s ability to maintain control. The Handmaid’s Tale is about society’s governing of the female body.
All of the societal themes that The Walking Dead could and should explore are given short shrift: The show only acknowledges race through Merle, who is basically a caricature of a virulent racist with no shades of gray whatsoever, yet the show is set in the rural South. Among our survivors are three sets of parents and children, yet we get very little feel for what it would be like to raise a child under the constant threat of the undead and the Governor’s depravity. The search for baby formula for Rick’s newborn child existed solely as a mechanism for Maggie and Glenn to be captured by Merle. You can count the number of times Rick has held his baby daughter, or even inquired about her well-being, on one hand. The Woodbury community’s allegiance to the Governor is an excellent opportunity to explore themes of freedom versus security. Instead, the way he’s portrayed — combined with the fact that people regularly walk alone from Woodbury to the prison — makes you wonder why anyone would ever stay there.