Is The Walking Dead Getting Boring? An In-Depth Analysis of Action Scenes

Awhile back I wrote an article about The Walking Dead that plead for patience. In that article I tried to show that even boring seasons are constructed with larger themes in mind. Unfortunately, this didn’t even begin to address all the problems people currently have with the series, so in this article I’d like to address a few more concerns starting with a complete breakdown (episode by episode, season by season) of how much time the series dedicates to exciting moments. Then I will use this data as a springboard to discuss the other issues people have with The Walking Dead.

What is an Exciting Moment?

For the purposes of this article, I define exciting moments as scenes with amplified tension or deep interest. More specifically: Any scene where a walker showed up and was a threat to characters (I excluded a few of these if the mood wasn’t threatening), or a human showed up and we weren’t sure if they were a threat to characters or not (like when Jesus first bumps into Rick and Daryl). I also included sex scenes (because I think to a certain degree these are devices for audience interest), major character deaths, and any scenes with heightend dramatic significance (like reunion on The Hilltop in the latest episode).

Here’s a sample breakdown from Season One, Episode Four:

15:16-17:57
Glenn’s plan begins, get attacked by rival group
161.00 seconds

22:34-26:04
Rick negotiates for Glenn
210.00 seconds

27:32-29:00
Negotiations conclude
88.00 seconds

39:26-42:00
Walkers attack camp
154.00 seconds

Episode ends 44:16
Total episode runtime in seconds (minus intro): 2621
Episode excitement average: 22.38%

A few notes about the numbers:

  • I didn’t double check the math (except when I accidentally recalculated half of Season Five). You can see the full data here.
  • Each episode is a few seconds off because when the screen goes black for commercial break there is no picture and no sound, but the runtime continues and I did not count these seconds (it’s probably about five seconds per episode).
  • I counted the length of the Season One introduction as 34 seconds initially instead of 35 and did not bother to recalculate the averages.

 

A Complete Breakdown of The Exciting Moments in The Walking Dead

Season 1 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “Days Gone Bye” – 18.98%
  • Episode 2 – “Guts” – 30.49%
  • Episode 3 – “Tell It to the Frogs” – 14.29%
  • Episode 4 – “Vatos” – 23.38%
  • Episode 5 – “Wildfire” – 6.02%
  • Episode 6 – “TS-19” – 40.38%

Season 2 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “What Lies Ahead” – 20.95%
  • Episode 2 – “Bloodletting” – 18.20%
  • Episode 3 – “Save the Last One” – 28.03%
  • Episode 4 – “Cherokee Rose” – 7.47%
  • Episode 5 – “Chupacabra” – 28.86%
  • Episode 6 – “Secrets” – 7.66%
  • Episode 7 – “Pretty Much Dead Already” – 26.71%
  • Episode 8 – “Nebraska” – 25.25%
  • Episode 9 – “Triggerfinger” – 34.71%
  • Episode 10 – “18 Miles Out” – 28.85%
  • Episode 11 – “Judge, Jury, Executioner” – 13.58%
  • Episode 12 – “Better Angels” – 23.26%
  • Episode 13 – “Beside the Dying Fire” – 34.43%

Season 3 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “Seed” – 37.61%
  • Episode 2 – “Sick” – 30.07%
  • Episode 3 – “Walk with Me” – 21.21%
  • Episode 4 – “Killer Within” – 50.00%
  • Episode 5 – “Say the Word” – 34.14%
  • Episode 6 – “Hounded” – 11.58%
  • Episode 7 – “When the Dead Come Knocking” – 52.89%
  • Episode 8 – “Made to Suffer” – 61.68%
  • Episode 9 – “The Suicide King” – 28.96%
  • Episode 10 – “Home” – 31.68%
  • Episode 11 – “I Ain’t a Judas” – 5.79%
  • Episode 12 – “Clear” – 16.33%
  • Episode 13 – “Arrow on the Doorpost” – 29.04%
  • Episode 14 – “Prey” – 29.96%
  • Episode 15 – “This Sorrowful Life” – 20.20%
  • Episode 16 – “Welcome to the Tombs” – 50.25%

Season 4 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “30 Days Without an Accident” – 27.48%
  • Episode 2 – “Infected” – 36.43%
  • Episode 3 – “Isolation” – 20.88%
  • Episode 4 – “Indifference” – 17.65%
  • Episode 5 – “Internment” – 24.25%
  • Episode 6 – “Live Bait” – 13.18%
  • Episode 7 – “Dead Weight” – 11.90%
  • Episode 8 – “Too Far Gone” – 66.05%
  • Episode 9 – “After” – 22.09%
  • Episode 10 – “Inmates” – 20.77%
  • Episode 11 – “Claimed” – 35.01%
  • Episode 12 – “Still” – 9.07%
  • Episode 13 – “Alone” – 15.87%
  • Episode 14 – “The Grove” – 23.10%
  • Episode 15 – “Us” – 19.61%
  • Episode 16 – “A” – 34.71%

Season 5 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “No Sanctuary” – 61.56%
  • Episode 2 – “Strangers” – 20.89%
  • Episode 3 – “Four Walls and a Roof” – 36.60%
  • Episode 4 – “Slabtown” – 27.01%
  • Episode 5 – “Self Help” – 20.88%
  • Episode 6 – “Consumed” – 26.63%
  • Episode 7 – “Crossed” – 19.81%
  • Episode 8 – “Coda” – 48.17%
  • Episode 9 – “What Happened and What’s Going On” – 15.34%
  • Episode 10 – “Them” – 9.88%
  • Episode 11 – “The Distance” – 14.86%
  • Episode 12 – “Remember” – 11.47%
  • Episode 13 – “Forget” – 4.33%
  • Episode 14 – “Spend” – 34.37%
  • Episode 15 – “Try” – 20.06%
  • Episode 16 – “Conquer” – 46.35%

Season 6 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “First Time Again” – 37.17%
  • Episode 2 – “JSS” – 47.36%
  • Episode 3 – “Thank You” – 46.20%
  • Episode 4 – “Here’s Not Here” – 9.25%
  • Episode 5 – “Now” – 5.35%
  • Episode 6 – “Always Accountable” – 22.30%
  • Episode 7 – “Heads Up” – 10.79%
  • Episode 8 – “Start to Finish” – 39.79%
  • Episode 9 – “No Way Out” – 71.08%
  • Episode 10 – “The Next World” – 18.05%
  • Episode 11 – “Knots Untie” – 13.94%
  • Episode 12 – “Not Tomorrow Yet” – 33.41%
  • Episode 13 – “The Same Boat” – 36.37%
  • Episode 14 – “Twice as Far” – 35.27%
  • Episode 15 – “East” – 19.63%
  • Episode 16 – “Last Day on Earth” – 47.03%

Season 7 Average:

  • Episode 1 – “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” – 84.23%
  • Episode 2 – “The Well” – 14.70%
  • Episode 3 – “The Cell” – 35.72%
  • Episode 4 – “Service” – 56.64%
  • Episode 5 – “Go Getters” – 32.51%
  • Episode 6 – “Swear” – 23.29%
  • Episode 7 – “Sing Me a Song” – 63.31%
  • Episode 8 – “Hearts Still Beating” – 44.88%

 

Notes About the Breakdown

As you can see from the numbers, the most exciting episode is the one where Glenn dies (84.23%), followed up by the episode where the Wolves invade Alexandria (71.08%). You might disagree with this result so here’s the reasoning behind it.

As I worked on this project, I told a friend of mine about it. He suggested that all the scenes with Negan are exciting because he’s unpredictable. And if you haven’t read the comics this is true; we never know what Negan is going to do or say in a scene because he is unstable. That’s why a lot of the episode percentages in Season Seven are so high because if Negan is onscreen that counts as a moment of tension. Unfortunately, the longer Negan is on screen and doesn’t kill somebody, the less interesting and less tense the scene becomes. Until he arbitrarily kills again (like when he kills Spencer) and then for a brief time his scenes will be more tense. Nonetheless, I still counted Negan scenes as moments of tension because they’re structured that way.

You’ll also notice that Season One has a relatively low average for excitement and Season Three has a high average. This is interesting to consider given the popularity of these seasons. The “best” season is highly subjective, but here is a breakdown from a few sources.

At the time of writing this article, Rotten Tomatoes ranked the seasons like this, and placed Seasons One and Five as the best:

  • Season 1 – 89%
  • Season 2 – 83%
  • Season 3 – 88%
  • Season 4 – 86%
  • Season 5 – 90%
  • Season 6 – 78%
  • Season 7 – 70%

Metacritic ranks the seasons like this, placing Seasons One and Three at the top:

  • Season 1 – 8.1
  • Season 2 – 7.0
  • Season 3 – 7.5
  • Season 4 – 6.7
  • Season 5 – 6.9
  • Season 6 – 6.2
  • Season 7 – 5.8

And while I don’t consider this to be wholeheartedly representative of The Walking Dead subreddit, this was a fairly popular ranking of the seasons on one thread:

  • Season 5
  • Season 6
  • Season 4
  • Season 1
  • Season 2
  • Season 3

Which had similar results to this strawpoll from The Walking Dead subreddit:

  • Season 6 – 25%
  • Season 5 – 22%
  • Season 4 – 18%
  • Season 1 – 17%
  • Season 2 – 10%
  • Season 3 – 8%

Despite the fact that two sources consider Season One to be the best, there isn’t a lot of excitement in that season (22.25% on average). In large part, this is due to the fact there’s only six episodes that season, so any episode that has a low amount of exciting scenes drastically changes the average. Then look at Season Three, which Reddit consistently ranks as the worst. It has has one of the highest averages (30.08%). This indicates that it’s not that the content of the show is boring, or that the show runners aren’t trying to make engaging content, but that there are greater thematic intentions behind each episode and season that decide their quality.

 

In Defense of Slow Episodes

According to my data, the most boring episode is Season Five, Episode Thirteen, “Forget.” For those that don’t remember, this is when Rick and his group have been in Alexandria for a little while and Deanna invites them to a house party. In this episode, Sasha is still hurting from the loss of Tyreese and is spiralling towards thoughts of suicide. This is also the episode where Rick, Carol, and Daryl conspire and steal some weapons from the armoury, Aaron and Daryl try and save a horse then have a spaghetti dinner, Carol threatens Sam in the armoury, and Michonne hangs up her sword.

When you watch The Walking Dead week in and week out you probably look forward to watching an exciting episode. When you tune in one week and find it’s an episode about a dinner party you are probably disappointed. While I’m sure a lot of people don’t have problems with this episode in particular, there’s every reason to consider it a fairly dull episode given that the only exciting moments are when Daryl and Aaron are trying to catch a horse and walkers show up. But this episode has loftier goals and themes.

This episode is about juxtaposing Rick’s wild, survival-driven group with the civilized Alexandrians. There’s a reason that when Daryl and Aaron find that horse Daryl says, “The longer they’re out there the more they become what they really are.” He’s not just talking about the horse, he’s talking about people — he’s talking about himself.

The entire episode crackles as Rick’s group tries to adjust to civilization. Sasha is so far gone that she uses the family photos in her house for target practice. She gets so uncomfortable at Deanna’s party that she screams at someone then leaves. Meanwhile, Rick sees the Alexandrians as a thing to be conquered. He senses Jessie’s attraction to him and you can see that, despite the fact that she has a husband, Rick wants to take her for his own. When he sees Jessie and her husband together later, he slowly places his hand on his gun. Then he hears a walker outside the wall and Ricks presses himself against the steel because his animalistic side calls to him.

When Aaron makes his speech to Daryl, or when Michonne hangs up her sword, these are scenes that help give us the sense that Rick’s group is slowly changing.

You’re good out there, but you don’t belong out there. You need to be out there sometimes risking your life. So do I. But the main reason why I want you to help me recruit is because you do know the difference between a good person and a bad person.

Again, this probably isn’t an episode most people hate because it has all the main characters in it, but it’s a good example of how the show works towards thematic goals, even at the risk of being boring. Episodes that don’t focus on main characters or spend too much time in secondary locations (or storylines) is a problem with Season Seven.

 

Season Seven Problems

Season Seven of The Walking Dead has a lot of problems. Some of them the show has been carrying around for awhile, some are new.

For one, I think fans feel a bit betrayed by the show’s manipulative tactics, like in the episode where they made it seem like Glenn died when he actually crawled under a dumpster. I can’t really defend this as it creates a mistrust in the audience that is difficult to lose. I do wonder, though, if this is a result of the manipulative nature of the show. For example, in order to care about the deaths of minor characters, the show must magnify their loss by humanizing them just before they get killed. This happens in Season One when Amy and Andrea are in the boat reminiscing about their Father, and in Season Six when Denise is on the road with Daryl and she tells Daryl that he reminds her of her brother. There are also more involved manipulations throughout the series, like the plotline that was solely designed to get us to care more about Beth, only to kill her to make the audience feel as hopeless as the characters on the show. I think some of the more unpleasant manipulative scenes may occur because show runners are actively engaged in telling stories to manipulate the viewers, and the more often they do this the greater their chance of making a misstep.

I also don’t think people like the Season Seven episodes that focus too much on one place, like The Kingdom episode. I think it also bothers people that the show spreads out storylines and removes us from main characters too much. I can understand that, but I think that if The Kingdom and the group of women Tara found are going to feature in the upcoming war, then it’s helpful to spend time with them to get a sense of their worlds, their camp, and their mindsets, so that they’re a real group of people we invest in rather than convenient bodies to be used up.

Finally, I think fans are just tired. Seven seasons of a gruesome show is a lot to endure. When you watch the show on a weekly basis, the “bad” episodes hurt more because you have to wait that much longer to get back to characters you love or more exciting plotlines. I can’t say this definitively, but I think this is common for shows with more than five seasons — they reach a peak, then decline. Look at the ratings for The Sopranos, House, The Office, The West Wing, The X-Files (though there is a rise in the final season), and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yes there is a huge decline in The Walking Dead‘s ratings and this is definitely a big problem, but the longer a show runs, the more likely this is to occur, especially on a show like The Walking Dead where the overarching theme remains the same, season to season.

A lot of these complaints about the show are completely founded and I understand and agree with most of them (to a degree), but I think as long as The Walking Dead is true to its overarching theme it’s doing OK in my book.

 

What The Walking Dead is About

The Walking Dead is about one question the characters keep asking themselves over and over: “How do I live in the world now?” Every time something happens to a character that changes them, they must ask this question again. “How do I live in the world now that I know with certainty that we’re all infected, and we will all become walkers when we die?” “How do we live in the world now that Dale, the moral voice of the group, is dead?” “How do I live in the world now that the prison [my home] is gone, and my Father is beaten so badly he might die — how do I live in the world now that I’m alone?”

As long as The Walking Dead works towards this question, I think it is being true to itself. That’s why I don’t mind the Carol / Morgan plotline. I think it’s an interesting combination of characters who are asking themselves similar questions. For Carol: “How do I live in the world now that I don’t want to kill people, even to protect my friends?” And for Morgan: “How do I live in the world now that I’ve killed to protect Carol, when I told myself all life was precious?” And sure, the answers to these questions are coming extremely slowly, but I can appreciate that lofty questions take time to answer.

Most characters on the show are forced to ask themselves this question, like Daryl: “How do I live in the world now that my home [the prison] is destroyed and the family I swore to protect is gone?” Or Morgan: “How do I live in the world now that my wife and son are gone and I’ve lost my mind?” But the most interesting questions come from Rick, who is the focus of the series.

“How do I live in the world now, if I don’t know if my wife and son are dead or alive?” And once he finds them, “How do I live in the world now and protect my family? How do I be a husband — a Father?” And when they’re searching for Sophia, “How do I live in the world with morals now that survival is everything?”

There’s a reason why the episode where Rick eviscerates the guy has flashbacks to Hershel convincing Rick to become a farmer. These are the two opposite ends of Rick Grimes; the man who gives up his gun so he can put root in the Earth, and the brutally violent animal.

That’s why in Season Four when the walkers are clumping up on the prison fence, Rick’s glance back at the farm he’s built (and his subsequent plan to kill his pigs) is so powerful. Because we’re watching the precise moment he’s forced to ask himself: “How do I live the world now that everything I’ve grown, everything I’ve worked towards, must inevitably be destroyed?”

And why there’s an additional layer of sorrow to Hershel’s death, because just before he dies, he smiles when he sees that Rick has transformed. Because in that one brief moment, Hershel’s question has been answered: “How can we live in the world now as decent people when the biggest threat to humanity, is itself?”

And why Beth’s death was all the more crushing because she re-invigorated hope in Daryl, and as he carried her lifeless body in his arms, the characters (and the audience) had to ask themselves, “how do we live in the world now that hope is lost?”

That’s what The Walking Dead is all about.

One Comment
  1. Reply automaton December 22, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Great article, love the numerical analysis with the backing data.

    I’m not to into season 7 so far, but it’s hard to explain why.

Leave a Reply