What The Walking Dead could stand to learn from The Vampire Diaries

At first glance it would seem that The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries have next to nothing in common. They are geared at completely different audiences, and many people who tune into one would not be caught dead watching the other. I, however, happen to watch both.

What the two shows do have in common (besides undead characters that want to kill people) is that they are both character dramas. You do not tune into Diaries because you particularly care if the characters are actually going to find the cure for vampirism (or the moonstone, or kill Klaus, or get Katherine out of Elena’s body) but in fact because you enjoy the interplay between the characters. You want one amazing moment between Damon and Stefan or one major breakdown for Caroline. Similarly, you don’t tune into Dead because you’re actually worried that the zombies are going to kill everyone or that the prison is going to be taken down by the Governor. No, instead, you want to see if Rick is going to cave under the pressure. You want one more moment when you see an endearing hint of humanity in Michonne or to see a hint of monstrousness in Carol.

But there’s a big difference between how the two shows deliver their characters. Dead seems convinced that, since this is a character drama, there doesn’t really need to be a plot. No, it’s fine to drag out an episode for-freakin-evah of people wandering around in the woods or running desperately from one town to the prison or just sitting around and worrying that maybe the fence is going to break.

By contrast, Diaries runs through plots so fast that if you miss a few episodes you’re like, “What? Stefan’s not evil anymore. I thought for sure Stefan was going to be evil all season.” They don’t spend much time focusing on the plot, because they know it’s not important. In fact, more often than not, whatever plot they have going on is ridiculous and stupid and super implausible. No one cares, though, because we’re here for the characters.

Now, though we’re also there for the characters in Dead, the lack of giving the characters anything meaningful to do is frustrating. Sure, the zombie apocalypse would probably be boring most of the time in real life. Everything is boring most of the time in real life. But this is a TV show, okay, and while I’m mostly interested in the characters, I’m not really interested in watching them eat cereal. (That happened last week. It was like a whole scene. And there were supposedly interesting character reveals from the past or something, but GEEZ.)

Okay, see what Diaries does is it crafts silly plots–but the plots move the characters into interesting places. So, yeah, yeah, whatever, Elena’s in danger again. *eyeroll* But whenever Elena’s in danger, it forces Damon and Stefan into interesting places as characters. So we see a lot of great character dynamic and growth and change, and it’s all due to stupid shit like trying to make werewolf-vampire hybrids. The thing is, to the people on Diaries, this is life-and-death shit, so they’re totally willing to expose all the intriguing ooey-gooey goodness of their characters and really go all out. This makes the show fun to watch and compelling. It’s also nice, because the plots move sooo fast that if something really stupid is happening, you can be fairly sure that it won’t be happening anymore in about five episodes.

Dead needs more of this. It needs better plots that create better character dynamics. I was sooo glad when they left the prison, because the prison was boring as crap. I thought that out in the world, there would be more danger and the show would become exciting again. But the show is even more boring now that they’re out of the prison, due to the fact that everyone’s split up and the show is wasting time having people hide out in houses and eat cereal. Seriously? Dead needs the equivalent of a Sun and Moon curse. I’m just saying. Maybe these new people who are trying to get to Washington because they know what happened to the zombies will be it. Maybe the show will get interesting again.

Anyway, I have to say that I’m glad that I get a new episode of Diaries this week. That’s all. And I’ve also switched to watching True Detective before I watch The Walking Dead, which–until now–would have been heresy. Of course, True Detective is in a class of its own. One never touched by shows like Dead or Diaries. It’s a masterpiece.