Kirk and Grimes. Kirkman and Roddenberry. More makeup artists than should ever be allowed in one place. Star Trek and The Walking Dead are two of the most beloved franchises in pop culture history. While fundamentally different, the two have more in common than unique science-fiction storylines and dynamic, intriguing ensemble casts. Here are seven reasons why.
1. What Is Dead May Never Die
Okay, I may be inviting in another franchise here, but it’s true.
After three seasons of Star Trek on NBC, the show was cancelled in 1968 until it was raised from the dead to cult classic status in syndication. While the Original Series (TOS) is the stuff of legend, the canon continues to be undying, extending its annals to an astounding 12 (soon to be 13) major motion pictures, as well as spinoff shows including an animated series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.
The Walking Dead (TWD) was created by Robert Kirkman as a comic book series first published in 2003, and continues to be published in its original form more than 12 years later. In 2010, AMC piloted the hit television series based on the comic and it seems the show itself may be as resilient as its zombies, showing no sign of slowing down entering its sixth season as it chases dense, ongoing source material.
Despite the abundance of original source material, Kirkman has not rest, spinning a multitude of alternate narratives, including gripping video games producing new fan favorites that has fans clamoring for crossovers (see Clementine), and now the real proof that TWD canon has a lasting television presence: spinoff series Fear the Walking Dead. As fans and critics have taken to the fresh set of faces and challenges in the new series, all the signs are present for an ever-expanding television and multimedia universe that could rival Star Trek’s nearly 50 years of relevance.
2. Boldly Going
Who could have possibly explored more than Starfleet? They’ve been to Vulcan. Romulus. El-Adrel IV? The crew of the Enterprise and their mission to boldly go where no one has gone before has shown us many corners of universe. Why? Because science! Also, because they were essentially interstellar vagabonds who couldn’t find their way home.
Roddenberry created Star Trek with his love of Westerns in mind. Like Roddenberry’s inspiration, Kirkman’s world is by definition lawless, with a former law man fighting instead for family and fatherhood–for a while.
In many ways, the characters in The Walking Dead also wander aimlessly in a vast unknown expanse passing through fundamentally different worlds. Sound familiar? Atlanta. The CDC. The farm. The prison. Woodbury. Terminus. Alexandria. Los Angeles. Each new location holds a secret more terrifying than the last, unearthing the darkest realities of human survival. That, my friends, is the final frontier. And while the Star Fleet crew climbs aboard the Enterprise, the survivors of the zombie apocalypse climb on Rick Grimes’ shoulders. Make no mistake—Rick is their Enterprise. Which brings me to…
3. Andrew Lincoln is the New William Shatner
Truly, Andy may have surpassed Bill in his meme-worthiness. And while Bill has his trademark start-stop, Andy’s dead eyes, head tilt and “Corals” have become dear, dear friends to us all. Also, never forget about this gem:
Whenever Andy tilts his head, I involuntarily climb the walls in my living room, gnaw at my fingertips and whisperscream, “Do it!” Because whatever “it” was, just got real. He is Steve Carell’s killshot personified.
While Andy/Bill have transcended their roles, looking at Rick/Kirk, they are both clearly captains—first and always. Kirk will never settle with a lover, as he says himself, “I’ve already got a female to worry about. Her name’s the Enterprise.” Rick Grimes is exactly the same, unable to distance himself from the preoccupation of keeping his family safe. Carl is, in many ways, his Enterprise, but in many ways not. Like Kirk, his preoccupation with duty can be more of an obsession than a practical response to his surroundings (see Pete, and Edith Keeler).
Which brings us to…
4. SHIPPING! And We’re Not Just Talking About the Enterprise!
All the shipping! Kirk and Uhura! Spock and Uhura! Glen and Maggie! Daryl and Carol! Riker and Troi! Picard and Crusher! Data and Tasha! Lori and driving! Admit it, you too wanted to see what happened if Lori got with a steering wheel just one more time…
Shipping is one of America’s most favorite pasttimes, and these casts provide enough sparks to light a barn on fire. Although, The Walking Dead stands out as the only show whose fans actively campaign to kill off characters that annoy them. Or, in the case of Beth, somehow stand between Carol and Daryl. Instant death threats. Conspiracy theorists still believe Carol’s arrival at Grady was no accident.
Take note, America. Shippers get heard.
5. New Guy? Yep. He’s Dead.
Redshirts. The Real Walking Dead.
It’s a running joke that is virtually guaranteed: Redshirts were killed so often on Star Trek: TOS that it eventually became an industry term for a character killed shortly after being introduced. Recently the Redshirt curse has been challenged by percentages of crew type aboard the enterprise, but for the sake of sheer body count—which is, of course, all we’re interested in—the Redshirts win hands down.
To be fair, characters of The Walking Dead are not as immediately recognizable as Redshirts—but they are there in abundance. In fact, we can safely assume there may never be another television series with as many Redshirts as The Walking Dead ever again. In five seasons, there have been 252 hilariously diverse deaths. Full disclosure, this number is not adjusted for deaths of reanimated characters, named characters whose first and only appearance on the show is as a zombie—or livestock (see Buttons, Flame, Violet, etc.). If you want to get technical, the true number is probably closer to 200.
In short, if we haven’t seen you before, there’s a good chance we won’t be seeing you again.
6. THE FANS!!!
I mean, are you kidding me!? “Trekkies” even have their own name! I can’t believe “Walkies” hasn’t starting trending yet, but fans of the show are as die-hard as they come. In fact, the creators of TWD know their fans so well they constantly throw plot and character curveballs that deviate from the comic narrative. Not only is it entertaining to watch this infuriate purists, it also keeps fans constantly guessing and multiplies their obsession.
In addition, both series have enjoyed tremendous volumes of fan fiction—something Gene Roddenberry was famous for encouraging—some of which has even gone on to win awards. The Walking Dead, an amazing show on its own, also has The Talking Dead, an Emmy-award winning talk show dedicated to the series which airs immediately after new episodes.
Seriously, you guys, can’t we just admit “Walkies” is a thing and cement the cult status? Sheesh.
7. Challenging Bias
I’ve saved my favorite for last. The two shows do much to explore diversity, compassion and the human condition when the universe becomes smaller—Star Trek expands out, while The Walking Dead shrinks inward.
To begin, what could possibly foster the appreciation of diversity better than the exploration of interplanetary races? How about the exploration of the human psyche in post-apocalyptic Georgia?
Sure, they seem distant at first, and credit Star Trek: TOS for being among the first to initiate the public dialogue about interracial romance with the legendary Kirk and Uhura kiss—one of television’s earliest. Even though the kiss was scripted as “forced,” it was undoubtedly progressive for the era.
Star Trek: TOS and subsequent spinoffs continued to demonstrate how to appreciate differences between cultures, races, and genders—both alien and domestic. Off-screen, prominent Star Trek actors have utilized their fame to advocate for the LGBT community.
The Walking Dead makes the universe smaller through catastrophe, causing worlds to collide as cultural, racial and gender bias are challenged while characters realize their survival is dependent on one another. On one hand, even Merle’s incessant bigotry is tempered. On the other, the show contains many prominent characters with diverse racial and cultural backgrounds and features several interracial and homosexual relationships. And with the casting news of Jesus—a gay comic character and fan favorite—the characters of TWD will only continue to challenge the way we think and behave around difference. This is perhaps the most important mark these two universes will leave on us.