I sense a strong crossover amongst Game of Thrones and Walking Dead fans. Amongst my friends, amongst Zimbio readers, and across the internet in general, the two (arguably) most violent shows on television seem to attract the same kinds of fans. I, for one, certainly enjoy both series. They both carry a sense of authentic dread and mortality unheard of on TV, and they’re both unafraid to kill off main characters in the name of story. That keeps both shows unpredictable and thoroughly addictive.
**Spoilers ahead for both shows**
Overall, I think Game of Thrones is the much stronger show. That’s based mainly on the mythos of the Known World, forged in the mind of author George R.R. Martin. Thrones comes from a monstrous book series that rivals The Lord of the Rings in depth, language, and epic narrative scope. The Walking Dead comes from a comic book series. Nothing against Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, who created the comic, but the writing doesn’t compare much to Martin’s novels. What the two shows have in common is how each respective source informs the fan base. In both cases, readers look forward to major events because they already know the stories. This is why TWD and GoT fans are so rabid. There’s no one more entitled than a fan who’s “read the book.”
Here’s where the two properties really diverge, though:
The Walking Dead, as once again evidenced by the first two episodes of season seven this year, tends to break up its narrative into lone episodic segments. That is, the show devotes entire episodes to subplots, such as last night’s introduction to the Kingdom. This usually results in a staggering loss of momentum.
Game of Thrones, on the other hand, weaves all of its plots and subplots together in every episode. The HBO series is a clinic on how to edit an epic television saga. Each show contains five to seven storylines and the way they flow and merge together is absurd genius. We’ve seen this before on another HBO series, The Wire, but Thrones has more major players and more locations.
GoT isn’t immune to the stand-alone episode, but they’re very rare and always reserved for a major event. “Blackwater”, “The Watchers on the Wall”, “Hardhomme” and “The Battle of the Bastards” were all stand-alone episodes, but also three of the best shows the series has ever produced.
The Walking Dead does the exact opposite. They use stand-alone episodes as a seeming break from the most intense action. For example, season seven began with the show’s most anticipated episode ever. In a scene straight out of the comic, Negan bashes Glenn’s skull to pieces and does the same to Abraham (not in the comic). Daryl is taken. Rick and the remaining survivors are left beaten and broken. It’s powerful television and a fitting start to the season.
Then, instead of picking up where episode 701 left off, the Walking Dead writers take us to the Kingdom AKA the Most Boring Place in the Apocalypse. Little happens. We meet King Ezekiel, his pet tiger Shiva, and are introduced to his obnoxious manner of speaking (did he work at Medieval Times?). Carol convalesces. Morgan trains Ben to use a stick. Yawn. It seems like the entire episode could’ve been condensed into something smaller and woven within the main storyline so we don’t have to leave Rick, Maggie and company. Did we really need 50 minutes on the Kingdom?
So why the drop off? Why would the beloved AMC series slide into neutral and destroy any sense of momentum the show had established with that brutal and brilliant season premiere? Why can’t The Walking Dead learn how to edit storylines together the way Game of Thrones does?
In short, it’s a testament to the talent involved on Thrones. In fact, most epic TV series resort to the Walking Dead formula of a disjointed narrative across multiple episodes. It’s easier. Lost comes to mind as a major offender. It’s rare that a TV show boasts the same kind of production value as a major Hollywood film. But Thrones does. And that translates to how the show is put together as well as how it looks onscreen. In fairness, TWD has more episodes per season (16 to 10) than GoT, but they’re shorter. TWD is also made with commercial breaks in mind which must be a major pain in the ass writing-wise.
This is a complicated issue, but the main takeaway is that fans don’t like spending an entire episode in one spot. And they especially don’t like waiting an entire week for their favorite show to come back, only to spend it with a brand new character who speaks like he’s at a Renaissance Fair. Negan just killed Glenn and Abraham. Let’s get back to that.