On my last research trip, I started watching TNT’s Falling Skies. The rest of the people I worked with watched the Walking Dead. I was curious about both, so when I came back from the trip, I bought the first season of Falling Skies and the first two seasons of the Walking Dead. I was then able to watch all the new episodes in season three of the Walking Dead and of Falling Skies. While both series have strong points, I find myself more drawn to Falling Skies.
The first season of the Walking Dead has some genuinely creepy moments. You know when you start watching the show that you’re watching a show with zombies, which means you have certain expectations about gore, death, creepiness, and survival. The best way that stories like this seem to work is when you have someone who is forced to discover the new aspects of the world without knowing how it got the way it is. It makes the world new and unique as the character(s) have to figure out how to survive in a strange and different version of the world they used to know. It also builds nostalgia for the way things used to be and the characters continue to strive towards the normalcy that they used to know.
As the show carries on, especially into the second season, it becomes more about the personal drama between survivors and less about zombies and horror. Granted, the scariest monster I can think of is the human monster, but also think about how much time the Walking Dead spent on the relationship between Rick, Shane, and Lori. The Walking Dead seems to focus greatly on the bad, terrible things that people do to each other in order to survive and potentially poses moral or ethical questions that many people may not find themselves suited to answering even in the world we live in now. The show wants you to focus on questions like whether or not it’s wrong that Lori and Shane were having sexual relations when Rick was out of the picture. Or how far is too far for a person to go to protect the people they love. Perhaps even the time-honored classic question of who decides who ought to live and who should die.
Basically, the Walking Dead focuses on all the negative aspects of a future without all the technology and luxury most Americans take for granted. The “good guys” make a whole bunch of decisions that they would never have made the same way before the world ended and zombies took over everything. Best friends attempt to kill each other over the affections of a woman who seems as petty as they get. Young children learn how to kill living humans better than anyone else in the group, and seem to kill without remorse. Other groups take what they need from survivors and then flat out murder the people they took supplies from in order to maintain control over their claimed territory.
All in all, it’s a selfish world. Which is part of the reason the Walking Dead can be and is classified as horror. Horror is supposed to show you the worst of the world and do it with a message along the lines of sometimes, life just sucks.
So what makes Falling Skies a more memorable show for me? I’m supposed to be a horror writer, so why wouldn’t I automatically flock to the Walking Dead‘s banner?
One of the key ingredients for me with Falling Skies is the difference in humanity that Falling Skies demonstrates. Yes, there are characters out there who are doing less than stellar things to the other human survivors, but everyone knows those people are just being human. Even though they’re not the best people, you still empathize with them because they’re human. And sometimes, life just sucks.
But here’s why there are a lot more horrific elements in Falling Skies than there is in the Walking Dead. One of the key reasons is that the different aliens in the show all have the ability to take control of situations and people. Zombies don’t. Zombies bite you and you get infected and then you bite everyone else. Or you just die and turn into a zombie. Whatever works best. But aliens can use super creepy eyeball drugs to take over your brain and body and make you do things that are counterproductive to the human race as a whole and also make you betray everyone and everything you love and believe in.
Imagine being a good, upstanding citizen and then being abducted by aliens and forced to betray your friends, family, and loved ones. Then, through some random miracle of science, all of your alien mind control is gone. Now you have to live and work with the same people who you betrayed. You’ll have the deaths of your family on your conscience for the rest of your life. And no one will ever treat you the same. Most people are likely to never trust you again. When humans as a whole are social creatures, how would that affect your psychological stability?
In a lot of ways, situations like that are far more horrifying because they’re subtle, long-term problems that will never have a true solution. And that’s a lot more like real life, which makes things a bit more unsettling.
There are some genuinely creepy moments in Falling Skies. In fact, for me, there have been more cringe moments for me in Falling Skies than in the Walking Dead. Especially the eyeball bug. And the hallucination alien facehugger thing. The ways people die because of the aliens are not simple and the people never really know who their friends are and who the enemies are.
The family dynamic in Falling Skies is also a lot stronger than in the Walking Dead. I never really felt like Rick actually cares about Carl, whereas Tom obviously cares deeply about Hal, Ben, and Mat. Even faced with the potential that his sons may not have humanity’s best interest in mind, Tom still fights for his kids, believes in them, and loves them unconditionally. But that only adds to the element of horror when his daughter starts doing some downright creepy things. So what do you do about alien babies? Do you love them? Or remove them? Or are you going crazy and your kid is actually fine?
In my opinion, the psychological impact of Falling Skies has a lot more fertile ground to grow rather than the Walking Dead. And in a lot of ways, I think the unknown or imagined horror is a lot more terrifying than the easily identified zombie or humans trying to cause problems. I do enjoy both shows very much, but if I had to choose between the two, I would easily pick Falling Skies.