Since The Walking Dead has lasted 11 seasons, the show has needed to evolve to avoid becoming stale, and the final season has stolen elements from every previous season to build towards its conclusion. At its core, The Walking Dead is a survival horror show set in a zombie apocalypse. However, its focus on its characters means that occasionally the zombie and horror elements have taken a backseat in order to develop the dramatic narratives and relationships between its characters. The shift in emphasis has also led to The Walking Dead changing its genre focus a numerous points. Sometimes this is in reaction to a loss of its audience and an attempt at reinvention, other times it’s because the source material also evolved.
Adapted from the hugely successful comic of the same name by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead retains many of the same plot points but also deviates from its source material in parts, such as with the addition of series-original character Daryl Dixon, who isn’t in the comics. The Walking Dead season 11 roughly adapts the final arc from the comics, which deals with Rick Grimes helping to make the Commonwealth a more just place for its citizens and his group to live in. It also deals with Rick’s death, which concluded the comics.
With Andrew Lincoln’s departure in season 9, the Commonwealth arc has had to be changed in the show. The actor will return as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead movie after the show ends, and there are rumors that he may also make a cameo in the final episodes of season 11. After many long seasons, it’s probably time for The Walking Dead to end, as there are only so many reinventions a show can go through. So here’s how The Walking Dead changed genres, and how season 11 will combine them all for its last hurrah.
How The Walking Dead Changed Genres
The general trajectory of the Walking Dead comics first resulted in the show altering genres. The Walking Dead season 1 is pure survival horror, with Rick Grimes and his group without a safe home. Yet when they reach Hershel Green’s family farm and stay there for the entirety of season 2, the adaptation primarily became a character drama, with the main focus being the power struggle between Rick and Shane. The show remained a character drama for a long time, yet the introduction of the Governor changed things. For the first time, there was a human antagonist, and the show became less about the battle between the living and the dead, and more about the conflicts between the living. In seasons 3 and 4A, the action moved to the forefront of the show more, and this saw The Walking Dead‘s popularity soar, but the aftermath of the prison destruction changed the show entirely.
With Rick and the survivors on the road, The Walking Dead introduced elements of the mystery and adventure genres. Rick’s group was split, all with the sole purpose of refinding each other while they staggered across new places and threats along the way. The second half of season 4 was also tied together by the overarching mystery of Terminus, a supposed safe haven. Although Terminus proved to be quite the opposite, mysteries still remained in season 5, as with Father Gabriel’s backstory and the question of who captured Beth Green.
When Rick’s group eventually did find a safe haven in Alexandria, this forced a shift in tone again. As Alexandria was generally safe, the survivors adapted to a mini modern society, even being assigned jobs within their community. As the apocalypse only featured in the background, storylines including Rick’s relationship with Jesse crept into the show even though they felt like they did not necessarily belong in the violence-ravaged world of The Walking Dead. With the functioning society and romantic plots, The Walking Dead ventured into something akin to a modern drama during season 5B.
The Walking Dead season 6 proved a turning point for the series as it became an all-out action drama and arguably remained so for too long. With the huge walker horde and the simultaneous threat of the Wolves, The Walking Dead season 6 was the most relentlessly action-packed portion of the series, and possibly the series’ peak. The highly anticipated conflict with Negan and the Saviors that began in season 6 and consumed the next two seasons is where The Walking Dead lost many viewers. The constant war and development of a good versus evil dynamic between Rick’s group and the Saviors leaned into the action genre. However, the “All Out War” arc from the comics was dragged out for too long, and once it was concluded, The Walking Dead needed a complete reinvention to try to entice viewers back in.
This reinvention was spearheaded by Angela Kang, who became the new showrunner for season 9. Kang installed, in her own words, a “Western vibe,” which was essential for the “new chapter of the show.” Modern infrastructure crumbled, supplies were limited, and the survivors used horses and handheld weapons, rather than cars and guns. While seasons 9 and 10 took on features of the Western genre, the Whisperers story arc also brought back mystery and horror to the show, which was severely lacking during the All Out War Arc. With the groundwork laid in seasons 9 and 10, it enabled The Walking Dead season 11 to combine elements from every previous season.
How The Walking Dead Season 11 Combines Every Season
After the more stripped-back action scenes in previous seasons, The Walking Dead season 11 begins all guns blazing, signaling its return as a modern action drama. Season 11, episode 1, “Acheron: Part 1,” opens with Daryl leading a team to scavenge a military base filled with walkers. For the first time in a while on the show, all the cast are equipped with guns. The lack of ammunition in the world of The Walking Dead is forgotten and enables the show to bring back action set-pieces. The second episode, “Acheron: Part 2,” also reintroduces walkers as a real threat again, as most of Maggie’s crew are wiped out during their mission through the subway tunnel — bringing back the claustrophobia and survival horror that was prevalent in early seasons of The Walking Dead.
The Reapers storyline also echoes the All Out War arc in seasons 7 and 8, with the survivors going against another well militarized and armed group. Since the Commonwealth is the most advanced society in The Walking Dead, it makes sense that guns and militaries were reintroduced, as the Commonwealth can believably have such things at their disposal, and the survivors must be able to match them. Strangely, however, although the Commonwealth use vehicles in the comics, in the show they continue to utilize horses and wagons more. Since the use of guns has returned, the use of vehicles may have been too far detached from the Western feel of seasons 9 and 10.
The Commonwealth is what enables The Walking Dead season 11 to combine genre elements from every other season. With the advancement of the society in the Commonwealth, safety is mostly assured. This has allowed modern drama elements to come to the forefront, as the survivors adapt to a full-functioning society again, begin getting jobs, and forge new romantic relationships. These elements had been completely abandoned since Rick’s group first entered Alexandria.
The Commonwealth being such a densely populated and political sphere has infused season 11 with a lot of mystery, too. Questions have been posed about the underground rebellion brewing in the society and Lance Hornsby’s hidden base of operations. Furthermore, the struggles between the main survivors about whether they should trust the Commonwealth have led to character drama remaining a feature of the show. This aspect is also best highlighted by the evolving relationship between Maggie and Negan, which sets up their future spinoff show, Isle of the Dead.
How The Walking Dead Copying Itself Sets Up Season 11, Part 3
After the destruction of Hilltop, Maggie and Daryl will lead the survivors on the road, which has not been a major plot thread since they reached Alexandria in season 5. As a result, similar adventure elements should be prominent in season 11, part 3, with the group having to discover temporary places to stay and being completely detached from any society. However, the survival horror that The Walking Dead was first known for will likely be even more prevalent. Maggie’s group will be threatened by walkers as they trudge on the wall, but they’ll also be hunted by Lance Hornsby, who was last seen leaving Oceanside’s fate to the flip of a coin. The Walking Dead season 11, part 3 teaser trailer shows off a large zombie hoard likely heading to the Commonwealth, and in order for the finale of the show to feel like The Walking Dead, this hoard should inflict huge damages on the community and survivors.
Due to the comic’s story and Connie leading the investigation into the Commonwealth’s elite and the missing residents, the modern drama and reorganization of power when Rick’s group first entered Alexandria will be mirrored on a much greater scale. The Walking Dead season 11, part 3 will see the insurrection in the Commonwealth that happened in the comics, yet due to the abundance of action so far in season 11, this may be a bloodier affair than the source material, especially since Rick may not be around to put an end to the violence. Furthermore, with the possibility of a Rick Grimes return and numerous story threads remaining untied, there are more mysteries than ever. Luke and Virgil have been absent from the show for a long time, Michonne’s mission has been forgotten, and the Civic Military Republic could also make an appearance. The Walking Dead season 11, part 3 will hopefully answer all those questions when it returns in fall 2022 when it will have elements of every season that came before it.