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'The Last of Us' Is a Reminder of How Good 'The Walking Dead' Once Was

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 7, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 7, 2023 |


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Comparing The Last of Us to The Walking Dead in 2023 is like comparing freshly squeezed orange juice to rancid milk. It’s not a fair comparison. But there was a time — and people forget this — when The Walking Dead was delicious, wonderfully wholesome milk great for making hot chocolate. For the better part of six seasons, The Walking Dead was very good, and while The Last of Us comparisons don’t do it any favors today, I feel obligated to stick up for a series that normalized the twisted violence we’ve been privy to on the HBO series and, in some cases, did it better.

To wit: This week’s cannibal episode is great, but The Walking Dead did it better. Recall here that cannibal preacher David wants to take Ellie as his child bride, but in a scuffle after she bites his finger, Ellie reveals that she’s been infected. David has no idea what to think of that in terms of whether she is OK to eat, and Ellie takes advantage of his brief moment of confusion to turn the tables on him and repeatedly bash his skull in. It is dark, and it is heavy, but maaaaaaaan: It ain’t no Bob Stookey.

In the fifth season of The Walking Dead, Bob Stookey — played wonderfully by The Wire’s
Lawrence Gilliard Jr. — helps the group kill off a bunch of walkers. Unfortunately, he is bitten, and while everyone else is celebrating their victory over the zombies, Bob goes outside and quietly cries to himself. That’s when he’s abducted by Gareth, the lead cannibal from the Terminus community.

When Bob wakes up, he spies Gareth over a campfire, eating meat. Gareth tells him, “If it makes you feel any better, you taste much better than we thought you would …” Bob looks down and realizes that his leg is missing. It’s terribly upsetting. Bob starts to cry before … breaking into a brilliantly maniacal laugh. Bob’s been infected. The cannibal has just eaten his last meal. “Tainted meat!” Bob tells him. That’s how you take care of a cannibal in the zombie apocalypse.

I’ll also grant that The Last of Us, in both “Long, Long Time” and “Left Behind,” provided viewers with wonderfully told queer love stories, but that’s old hat in The Walking Dead universe, where several queer characters lost loved ones. Aaron lost his lover Jesus and his husband, Eric; Tara lost three girlfriends, including Merrit Weaver’s Denise, and there was one happy ending for Magna and Yumiko.

Was Melanie Lynskey a spectacular warlord leader in the Kansas City episodes? Yes, yes she was, but her character was a barely shaded-in version of The Governor, or Dawn Lerner, Gregory, or even Pamela Milton. Likewise, losing Anna Torv’s character in a second-episode sacrifice was a real heartbreaker, but we barely knew her! Meanwhile, Lori Grimes — around for two and a half seasons — also made a sacrifice when she insisted that Maggie give her an emergency C-section she knew would kill her to save her baby while her son, Carl, had to kill the zombified version of his own mother. Anna Torv making out with her fungal fiend has nothing on that!

What I’m saying is that The Last of Us may be the shiny new toy with the mushroom zombies, but save for the Cordyceps, there’s nothing in it that The Walking Dead hadn’t already done, occasionally even better than The Last of Us. I’m not saying that The Walking Dead is a better series — it wouldn’t be fair to compare 177 episodes to 8 episodes anyway —but what I am saying is that The Walking Dead shuffled and jerked so that the Clickers in The Last of Us could lunge and snarl. TWD deserves our respect.