In the five years that it’s been on the air, during which it became the most-watched show on television, The Walking Dead has never received an Emmy nomination outside of the technical categories. No director has ever been recognized, no episode has ever been extolled for writing, and no actor has ever had his or her performance singled out for Emmy recognition. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has a blind spot when it comes to The Walking Dead, one stemming from the assumption that a show about zombies isn’t worthy of being recognized for its creative and acting efforts.
That may have been true in the Frank Darabont years, when the series slogged through the forest and the actors delivered heavy-handed lines, often awkwardly. It may have also been true during the Glen Mazzara era, when The Walking Dead overcorrected and became an action-heavy series that frequently sacrificed character development for shocking moments.
However, under the current showrunner, Scott Gimple, The Walking Dead has become something far more than a zombie drama. It’s a show of substance, one about characters who evolve and who are transformed by their experiences. It’s a show about dread, heartbreak, and occasionally the joy of living even in the midst of desperate times. Gimple has built layers into the storylines, brought more humor to the series, and even dropped the occasional literary or Biblical reference.
Gimple’s The Walking Dead also explores weighty themes, chief among them the question surrounding what it is that makes us human, and how do these characters hold on to that in a world overrun with non-humans? That theme, again, is at the forefront of The Walking Dead as season six opens. Rick, on the cusp of losing his own humanity at the end of last season, comes face to face with a man who once lost his, Morgan (Lennie James), as Rick witnessed the last time the two were together in season three’s “Clear.”
From a storytelling perspective, it’s no coincidence that Morgan would reappear in Rick’s life now. Rick began his journey in the post-apocalyptic world with Morgan. Morgan nearly ended his own journey with Rick before Rick brought him back from the edge. “You can come back from this. I know you can,” Rick told Morgan three seasons ago. “This can’t be it. It can’t be. You’ve gotta be able to come back from this!”