Eh? I’m late to this party and should have talked about it over three years ago when Z Nation first started? Heh, maybe true, but whatever. I’m here now and I’m doing it today.
Oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT.
I’m not going to bury the lead this time: I prefer Z Nation to The Walking Dead. Unpopular opinion? Perhaps. I suspect, however, that it’s less unpopular than it was one year ago, or two, or three. Ratings for The Walking Dead have been falling steadily, and the plot has spent the last few seasons perfecting the art of filling a whole broadcast hour without actually moving forward. Seems to me, The Walking Dead is starting to lose steam.
Below, I’m going to compare the shows in a few different areas. I’ll try to be fair, but we both already know what the end result is going to be. I still watch them both, so I would like to see TWD recover, but in the meantime…well, read on.
First, overall impressions of each show. Both are definitely good and generally worth watching, so going straight to a comparison would do them each a disservice.
The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic show with a relatively simple premise. One day, Rick wakes up in the hospital and there are zombies. Everywhere. He stumbles out to look for his family, and eventually finds them and some other survivors along the way. With a reasonably sized-group formed, they struggle for survival for the next several seasons. At first, the show has a good pacing and a nice mixture of zombie killing and interpersonal drama. It’s really interesting to watch. Then they get to the farm, and it’s never the same after that. The pacing slows to a crawl, but the character interactions remain high quality, so it’s worth sticking in there for another few seasons. On the whole, it’s a good enough show to watch, particularly in the beginning. If you can handle the gore and slow pace, keep watching through to the current episodes. Otherwise, stop when they leave the farm. Just trust me.
On the other hand, Z Nation is like a ridiculously overdone parody of The Walking Dead. The setup is also pretty simply. There’s a guy called Murphy who’s immune to the zombie virus, and our group is trying to get him to California where there’s a lab waiting to synthesize a cure. A little more plot-oriented than TWD, but not altogether that much more complicated. Where it really shines is in the comedy and pacing. The show is one big road trip through zombie infested America, and it’s best enjoyed as such. Every episode brings a new locale, and usually some fun twist on the basic zombie formula. Fighting/surviving zombies is front and center in this show, so there’s no real issue with it becoming a soap opera as it goes on.
And now for the comparison. Also known as the bit where I tear TWD apart and say why I think Z Nation is better. Let’s have some fun!
First I will consider each in terms of overall story/plot. REMINDER: I’m not shying away from spoilers in my comparisons.
In The Walking Dead, the story starts off like many other zombie movies: it’s about a man trying to get to his family and see that they’re safe. He accomplishes this goal fairly quickly, but in the process the show sets up several seasons of character drama. His wife is involved with another man, and several of the other people they meet have problems which are going to rear their ugly heads. Bit by bit things fall apart, and they start moving from place to place searching for a little safety. Nowhere ever lasts long, as either zombies or people force them out and destroy what little sanctuary they find. However, this process is usually very slow and by the time the group is finally moved, you’ll find yourself relieved to see that something is finally happening.
Z Nation, on the other hand, does almost nothing but move. Most episodes show the group on a different part of their cross-country trip, and every place has something new and interesting to offer. From a church to a newsroom, they’ve got it all. In fact, it moves around so much that sometimes you wish they’d stay put a little just to explore the very interesting ideas a little more thoroughly. The initial setup gives the team an important mission to do, which they set about doing for the first couple of seasons. Then they finally manage to do it, and that’s when things get interesting. We’ve only just got to that in this most recent season, but the impacts of everything that’s happened so far are obvious and real.
Both shows feature deaths of main characters, but in TWD, these deaths happen often to keep the ever expanding cast at a reasonable size. In Z Nation, main characters are only killed infrequently, after relatively long arcs which build them up so you actually miss them. Except at the very beginning. The beginning is a blood bath.
Overall, the plot in Z Nation is better. This is largely because there actually is one. In The Walking Dead, however, they do character drama like a soap opera. Whether this is a good thing is dependent on if you like that way of doing things. All I can say for sure is that it makes it seem like not much has actually happened for the last three or so seasons of content. I like both, but Z Nation gets the win here.
Next, pacing. Ok done. Z Nation wins.
What, you want more? Fine…
The Walking Dead literally doesn’t know when to stop with its events. The Farm stands out as a notable example. That drags on for so long that when they finally do leave, you might just go too. They’re in a similar position right now, dealing with an especially ruthless rival survivor group. Sure it’s interesting, but the same plot points repeat themselves so often that it’s now an exercise in endurance for the viewer, rather than a thrill or escape.
As I’ve mentioned, Z Nation runs on at a great pace, never settling in one spot too long. A few subplots do take too long to resolve, but the endings are at least satisfying once they do, so it’s not a huge problem.
Again, Z Nation wins.
Next up, acting:
Ok, here The Walking Dead definitely gets a win over Z Nation. The acting in TWD is most certainly excellent, and the breadth and depth of emotion on display is second to none. Andrew Lincoln (Rick), Lauren Cohan (Maggie), and Melissa McBride (Carol) in particular stand out and make you believe these (occasionally poorly written) characters are real people.
Z Nation has some good moments as far as acting goes, but they are much less frequent and never reach the level of emotional depth which fills each episode of TWD. There are only a few scenes, most of which are in season 2, which I would say are even worth comparing, to say nothing of possibly being better.
Easy win for The Walking Dead.
Now for the tone of each show:
The Walking Dead is very serious. As in, all the time. The rare moments which even resemble levity just make you think they’re about to kill off someone you like. It’s not nice. It is, however, hard hitting. At first, anyway. After four or five seasons, you get kind of numb to the unrelenting seriousness of the business on display. The fact that everyone always acts as if everything is a brand-new world ending disaster, when really it’s the same as the plot of the last season, makes it grate a little. However, the acting comes in to save the day again and keeps it feeling like unintentional self-parody.
Z Nation is functionally a comedy. Yes, there are serious moments, but they are fairly rare. Even when the death of major characters seems to be a real possibility, the writers are more than happy to disarm the scene with some joke or sight gag. It actually makes it more shocking when something bad really does happen, but for the most part it’s just fun and games. Some of the humour is a little too crude and can be unfunny as result, but enough of it works that you just kind of try to forget the others.
Which is better is very much a matter of personal taste, and as I’m the one who’s writing this, I’m giving the win to Z Nation.
Last category (not because I couldn’t do more, I just think this is enough): How are the zombies?/How is the action?
Well, it’s kind of tough to compare here. See, the focus of each show is different. The Walking Dead is more about its living characters and their interpersonal drama than about its monsters, while Z Nation is very much about coming up with creative video-game like creatures to terrorise our travelers.
In TWD, the zombies are mostly the same dead bodies in various states of decay. Fresh ones are fast, old ones are gross, flaming ones are on fire, and that’s usually it for variety. Except in a few cases when someone gets completely cornered, the zombies also never feel like a threat to anyone but the most infirm. The real meat of the narrative conflict comes from other living humans, both inside Rick’s group and outside. Inventive fights and shootouts occur and always help the show feel like it’s moving along. At least until the writers decide to bring it back to a screeching halt. That’s not the point though. The action is great, the zombies are not, and both happen too infrequently.
Z Nation, on the other hand, absolutely adores its zombies. At first, vanilla zombies are a real threat. Over time, the group learn to dispatch them with ease and headshots, however the show keeps throwing them new and different variants to tackle. At first it’s simple: maybe this one’s got a helmet or something. But as we go on they start stretching the limits of what a zombie actually is. Half-zombie-half-plant creatures, completely un-killable zombies which can only be stopped with Dead-Space style dismemberment (after which they’re still not dead), and other fun monsters await along our heroes never-ending journey. There are human enemies, and they are usually a bit more complicated for our heroes to take down, but the instances of these types of scene are relatively rare. Think the Psychos from the Dead Rising games rather than cannon fodder from Call of Duty. The action is fast and fun, and unique zombies usually get really cool/gory exits when all is said and done.
Long story short? Z Nation gets this one too.
So, who won? Well I told you up front that I liked Z Nation better (plus it won four out of five categories), so hopefully this isn’t a surprise:
Z Nation Wins!
Remember: I’m not saying the loser (TWD) is bad, just that I find the winner (Z Nation) more enjoyable for the reasons listed above.
Thanks for reading, if you’d like to tell me I’m full of crap and The Walking Dead is actually the best show ever created, you know where to find the comment button and I’d love to hear from you! If you agree, or like both, or don’t like either, that’s cool too! I like hearing as many other opinions as I can so I can get a really good feel for where you guys stand on stuff like this.