Zombies vs. robots: The Walking Dead takes on Westworld in Sunday night genre TV face-off

Eenie-meenie-miney-mo. Villainous Negan, about to smite one of The Walking Dead heroes with his barbed bat, is not the only one with a choice to make during Sunday’s season premiere of AMC’s zombie series.

Lovers of drama with supernatural elements may also be facing a tough choice: whether to tune into the trusty old Dead, now in its seventh season, or check out the newer charms of HBO’s robots-and-cowboys dystopia, Westworld. Both will be airing this Sunday night in the competitive 9 p.m. ET time slot. But which will win the hearts of genre-television-loving audiences? Here’s what each show has going for it — and against it.

Walking Dead weapon: Loyal audience

In a packed and competitive TV landscape, The Walking Dead has achieved what once seemed impossible for a show so non-mainstream in its subject matter: ratings that kept on growing season over season. During the most recent season, most episodes averaged 18 million viewers, making it clear that it can’t be just the horror lovers who are tuning in. Walking Dead fans are genuinely invested in its characters.

Case in point: last year’s apparent death of fan favourite Glenn Rhee caused a fan uproar on social media (spoiler alert: Glenn eventually returned, rather miraculously in one piece). 

Walking Dead pitfall: Cliffhanger overkill

Speaking of Glenn’s not-quite-death, one thing many Walking Dead fans have been complaining about lately is the show’s shameless use of cliffhangers.

Negan Walking Dead

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan in The Walking Dead: The victim of his bat, Lucille, will be revealed in the Season 7 premiere. (Gene Page/AMC)

The Season 6 ending in particular, with new bad guy Negan swinging his bat at the head of one of the show’s heroes (but which one not shown) angered many fans mad over its clear manipulation of the audience’s emotions

Walking Dead weapon: Deadly ladies 

As providing better roles for women is a hot topic in Hollywood and beyond, ladies of The Walking Dead are proving themselves more than capable of taking care of business. Whether it’s machete-wielding Michonne or Carol, the once-abused wife who evolved into the mother of all warriors, the women of this show are rarely damsels in distress.

Michonne Walking Dead

Danai Gurira stars as Michonne in The Walking Dead. (Frank Ockenfels/AMC)

To the showrunners’ credit, they even changed some male roles from the comic book into female roles on the show: Douglas Monroe, the wise leader of Alexandria, became Deanna Monroe on the show. 

Walking Dead pitfall: It’s getting long in the tooth

The problem with spending six seasons in the zombie apocalypse is that it’s tough to keep the surprises coming. By Season 3, we were just gleaning the rules of this scary new world such as, “There’s no such thing as a safe place” and “You should fear people more than you fear zombies.”

But by now, both those points feel a tad repetitive, with the main group of heroes encountering one monstrous group of humans after another, and losing every place of refuge they happened to find. The point has been made, rather hilariously, by Monty Python alumnus John Cleese (apparently a Walking Dead fan) in this new video.

Westworld weapon: Top notch everything

It was advertised heavily during the fanatically watched Game of Thrones season finale. It has a roster of stars, both established and respected (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton),  but also on the verge of stardom (Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright). It has J.J. Abrams as its executive producer.

And if you’re finding yourself humming its theme music or noting its memorable use of pop songs in Western settings, you have Ramin Djawadi to thank, the scoring wiz behind Game of Thrones‘ iconic theme. HBO tends to have the “go big or go home” philosophy when it comes to investing in its shows, and it’s clear that with Westworld, the network decided to go big.

Westworld pitfall: Rape as character development device

HBO faced criticism for using the brutal sexual assault of its female characters as a character development device on Game of Thrones.

  • Game of Thrones rape scene prompts outraged fans to quit the show

And it looks like the network has not changed its approach. By the first episode, we already saw a bevy of android prostitutes hawking their services to disturbed human patrons, and a sweet farmer’s daughter get dragged by her hair to be assaulted by the chilling Ed Harris.

Thandie Newton Westworld

Thandie Newton is cast as Maeve Millay, a prostitute android with a complicated past and growing conscience, on HBO’s Westworld. (HBO Canada/Bell Media)

To be fair, by episode 3 it’s pretty clear that the robo-ladies of Westworld are the very ones developing a superior conscience and fighting back, but many were disappointed to see rape reduced to a tool to move the plot forward on such a sophisticated show.

Westworld weapon: Early high ratings, positive reviews

It’s hard to imagine now, but in its first season, Game of Thrones averaged only 2.5 million viewers per episode. Westworld had more than three million in its first episode. Unlike many fantasy shows, Westworld also had positive early press. Many TV critics already put it on the list of the year’s best, and its current Rotten Tomatoes rating is 91 per cent — certainly an asset The Walking Dead never had in its pocket (despite its devout fan following, it has never really swayed the critics, nor won major awards except for its make-up department).

Westworld pitfall: Too Lost-like

Sure, some people loved Lost. But even for the most loyal fans, the show’s metaphysical themes and constant demand on the viewers to stretch their perception of reality got cumbersome by the show’s end. You can already see this happening in Westworld.


Teddy (James Marsden) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) try to survive one of many gun fights in Westworld. (HBO Canada/Bell Globe Media)

While its theme of the androids being “more human than humans” is beautifully articulated, the bits where the same scenes or occurrences repeat themselves over and over, but with different outcomes, can get confusing.

In conclusion 

This Sunday night at least, more will likely tune into The Walking Dead because it has an established audience and AMC is included in less-expensive cable packages than HBO (so more people have it). But Westworld has growth potential that’s as vast as the theme park it portrays.

The worlds both shows operate in are cruel and uncompromising. But genre-loving viewer’s choices don’t have to be. There’s always PVR.

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