Zombie culture has reached new heights with television, cinema, comics, novels, conventions, and every other form of popular media you can think of. AMC’s The Walking Dead, now in its 6th season, is one of the most popular television shows today and spawned the sister series Fear the Walking Dead last summer. Meanwhile the lesser-known series Z Nation has just finished its second season on the SyFy channel.
Z Nation isn’t The Walking Dead; instead it follows its own path. It’s not about philosophical dilemmas, character monologues, or complicated storytelling. Z Nation is all about fun, with moments of dramatic tension. While The Walking Dead takes after Dawn of the Dead, Z Nation has the edge of Shaun of the Dead. Z Nation is produced by The Asylum, makers of the Sharknado franchise. The SyFy series has the B-movie sensibility one might expect, but with much greater entertainment value than anticipated, particularly in the second season. The comedic camp of Z Nation is refreshing after being immersed in the serious drama of The Walking Dead.
Both series make for great TV. Though both tell a story of survival in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, their approaches to the genre are different. In The Walking Dead the central characters come together to help one another and rebuild a sense of community. In Z Nation the story revolves around a group of people who traverse the zombie-filled American continent to bring a man immune to zombie bites, thanks to an experimental vaccine, to California to develop a cure. While The Walking Dead is drama with zombies, Z Nation is a zombie drama. We love both series. Though some have accused Z Nation of copying The Walking Dead, we can’t help but think The Walking Dead could be improved by incorporating a little of what Z Nation has to offer.
Z Nation is a fun zombie romp, while The Walking Dead is a solemn, survivalist slog. In season 2 of Z Nation we see zombies from a Wisconsin Cheese Day Parade that include a clown, a tuba player, a cheesehead, and a woman from a kissing booth. A giant cheese wheel let loose serves to slow down the approaching zombies. Not all the humor is so over the top, but Z Nation has some great zombie gags. The Walking Dead takes a real-world approach to the apocalypse, while Z Nation is unadulterated entertainment. Except for Tara’s occasional one-liners, The Walking Dead doesn’t have a lot of humor. It could take itself a wee bit less seriously—after all, it is a zombie show.
Slung objects make great weapons
Golf balls, pool balls, rocks, or whatever is on hand to throw or sling, seem pretty effective at breaking the skulls of the Z Nation zombies, at least when 10K throws them. Slingshots are quite useful in killing zombies, and have been known to do some damage to mechanical objects. A slingshot could be a great weapon against the mushy-skulled, slow-moving zombies on The Walking Dead. They could really benefit from expanding their weaponry beyond machetes and guns, and the occasional bat.
It feels good to have a purpose
Though finding a cure to the zombie apocalypse has been a side story on The Walking Dead, it’s never been the central theme. In Z Nation the central characters are traveling across the country to get Murphy, who is immune to zombie bites, to a California lab to find a cure. The fact that anti-hero Murphy is so incredibly unlikable and difficult makes the mission that much more interesting. This heroic undertaking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They may be trying to save humanity, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from being killed along the way. Sometimes it’s the fault of desperate rogues, but the well-intentioned protagonists of Z Nation cause an awful lot of mayhem in their efforts to save the world. The Walking Dead deals out hope in small doses, both to its characters and audience. Viewers have learned that hope almost inevitably leads to disappointment. Z Nation takes its sweet time to get to California, letting us enjoy the journey without feeling the futility of post-apocalyptic life.
Animal zombies are cool
In Z Nation we experience zombified animals, including a dog, bear, sheep, goat, horse, camel, raccoon, fox, and others. There’s even phyto-zombies—part zombie, part plant. Who knew how fun reanimated animals attacking humans could be? There are some friendly animals too, because it’s nice to see a dog as a pet, not a meal.
Zombies are the scary ones
Though some humans are pretty bad news, more often than not it’s the zombies you need to be afraid of in Z Nation. In The Walking Dead, unless they’re in a herd, zombies have become secondary threats. While walkers tend to lumber, Zs move fast. Sure, sometimes the zombies meander on Z Nation, when it serves the plot, but these zombies are a dangerous threat. Blasters are a type of zombie that are quick and hunt in groups. That’s right, on Z Nation there are different kinds of zombies. Though walker herds are scary, some sort of zombie evolution might pump up the fear factor on The Walking Dead.
It’s fun to talk about zombie shows during the zombie apocalypse
In The Walking Dead world the concept of reanimated corpses that eat people never existed. They’re called walkers, biters, creepers, roamers, lurkers, and lots of other names in The Walking Dead because no one has ever heard of the Z-word. In Z Nation, zombie culture was alive and well before the apocalypse happened. This allows for fun references to George Romero, Max Brooks, and even The Walking Dead. Just like Shaun of the Dead, reanimated cultural references are fair game.
Both of these zombie-inspired series are worth watching. You can watch The Walking Dead on AMC or amctv.com. The Season 6 midseason premiere of The Walking Dead will air on February 14. If you want to catch up on recent episodes, check out our recaps of The Walking Dead. You can watch Z Nation through these providers. Z Nation will return in 2016 for Season 3. Tell us what you think about The Walking Dead and Z Nation in the comments below.