Why do certain shows such as The Walking Dead, Lost and Battlestar Galactica gain such powerful followings that they might actually seem cult-like? Of course, these are not the only shows on the air or that have been on the air that have gained this insane level of popularity. For instance, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are and were also high up on the cultish list, but for the purposes of this article, it is these first three mentioned shows that will be focused on.
There is a fine line that separates an entertaining and popular show from one that has the insane following of another one like The Walking Dead. For instance, Person of Interest and Almost Human are both very fun to watch. They have interesting characters, stories and dialogue yet neither of them are followed by their own talk shows and neither of them can make common household items such as pudding and crazy cheese trend on Twitter. Perhaps Talking of Interest and Talking Human just do not sound quite as catchy as Talking Dead.
The Character Depth Factor
Shows like The Walking Dead, Lost and Battlestar Galactica have obtained their cult followings for a variety of reasons and one of the most basic ones may just be the incredible depth and back-stories their characters have. These back-stories are often presented in a way that gives them an insurmountable amount of depth, but at the same time, maintains each character’s realism and believability. In Lost for instance, every episode focused on a single character and that episode would transition between the present day and their past life before they crashed on the island. Battlestar Galactica had a similar approach, although The Walking Dead builds its character’s depth in a completely different fashion.
Yet, in all three of these shows, there is at least one or two characters that the audience member can almost certainly relate to and at the same time, at least one or two that they are the polar opposite of. In almost every show that does not have this “cult-like” following, a character is either seen as being (metaphorically) black or white. They are good or evil and if they do happen to change sides, it is almost always for some small reason or because it is going to benefit them in that moment. In shows like The Walking Dead, Lost and Battlestar Galactica, almost every character is “grey.” The show’s protagonist will always have visible flaws and the worst antagonist will always maintain at least some redeeming qualities.
The Unpredictability Factor
Perhaps there is no bigger master of unpredictability than George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. In an interview with Conan O’Brien, Martin explained that he wants his readers to feel fear and suspense every time they turn a page because the next character might not survive. “You’ve achieved that,” responded O’Brien.
However, Game of Thrones is not the only show to have created this same level of fear and suspense. In fact, The Walking Dead, Lost and Battlestar Galactica all have and had this same type of fear present. There is no sense of security when watching any of these shows. Any character could die at any point. Not even the main protagonist is ultimately safe and that is what makes it more exciting.
On most action or thriller type shows, there usually is no sense of real trepidation when watching because the hero will almost certainly save the day and come out unscathed. With The Walking Dead, Lost and Battlestar Galactica, their cult followings have been earned because the audience has an emotional connection to the characters and they are legitimately concerned their favourite character might not make it out alive. It is a great reason to keep watching and hope that there will be a “happily ever after” at some point. But that is the fun part, because nobody really knows for sure.
Opinion by Jonathan Holowka