The Walking Dead

The striking thing that I noticed about The Walking Deads first episode, ‘Days Gone By’ is the stark, minimal feel to a post-Zombie world. There’s no music, just the footsteps, birdcalls and buzzing of flies that hang in the air as the action moves forward. The TV show, which has thus far broken all viewer records for the host channel AMC, seemed like an almost guaranteed hit for the channel. The reasons for the success extend beyond the inclusion of zombies, but because the show is something that resonates with a modern audience.

Zombies have been on the rise in recent years: major film productions have been popular, such as 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, (And of course, the George Romero films that have come out) in addition to books such as Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, World War Z (And The Zombie Survival Guide, both by Max Brooks) John Joseph Adam‘s Zombie anthologies, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austin), with The Walking Dead remaining popular in print form, and now jumping mediums to the small screen, where it seems like it’s well suited for television.

As an adaptation goes, The Walking Dead is off to a decent start. Rather than giving into the impulse to make a show that was high on action and rapid pacing, the show’s creators have gone in the opposite direction: Days Gone By, much like the comic, is paced slowly, and the end result is a fairly slow episode: in any other context, I would have found the show fairly boring – there’s plenty of suspense, but one major element (the whereabouts and wellbeing of Grime’s family) is revealed fairly early on. The first major encounter with a mass of the undead doesn’t happen until the end of the episode, in a particularly frightening scene as Grimes and his horse are surrounded.

As it stands, The Walking Dead is possibly one of the better takes on the zombie genre thus far: the message and point of the show isn’t about the undead themselves, but the world around the survivors. Zombies stories have been rife with allegory, and both print and motion picture versions do exactly that.

A standout moment in Sunday’s episode saw some discussion as to how people hadn’t prepared for the events that transpired. Given the political climate present in the country at the moment, it’s not a hard leap to imagine. Zombie fiction tends to lend itself well to a libertarian dream of a more down to earth rule of law, without the worries of infrastructure and government, living on one’s own wits and instructs. Then there’s the guns.

The decline of the U.S. economy is something that has been at the forefront of political and economic news for almost two years, and I can’t help but wonder if shows such as Jericho (cancelled after a season and revived, only to be cancelled again) would have better succeeded if it had aired just a couple of years later. Other shows that have reflected the political feelings of the day have done well critically, such as SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, HBO’s True Blood or Fox’s 24. While this isn’t a singular contributing factor, relevancy is something that a public audience will relate and respond to.

Here, amongst the shambling zombies, there’s a good set of themes that the series seems to have picked up on and incorporated into its storylines. In addition to the rise in popularity of the zombies themselves, The Walking Dead has an exceptionally bright future. Indeed, it’s already been renewed for a second season to follow up the first six episodes that compose the first season.

While the zombie bandwagon has been an easy thing to jump on – the popularity is only going to peak from this point on – The Walking Dead is a good example of both an adaptation and of the use of zombies. The original comic book seems to have translated very well, with creators understanding the overall picture and changes needed for the small screen. Like any bandwagon, there have been a number of stories, films and comics that have included zombies to some extent, with widely varying levels of quality. The focus, for some of the best stories, it seems, should be not on the zombies themselves, but on the people that they effect. While I’ve tried to avoid fanboying the craze, the show offers a quality story, rather than gimmicks to help it succeed.

Beyond the successes of a zombie show (the first that I’m aware of), the introduction of a well executed and received genre show is a very good thing, especially in the middle of a television season that has been lacking. The Walking Dead is looking to be a compelling and interesting drama. Thus far, it looks like it’s lining up to do just that.

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4 thoughts on “The Walking Dead

  1. I don’t know if it is a libertarian’s dream… those on their own do not do well in the Robert Kirkman universe. They slip into abject savageness. Of course it is not a liberal’s dream either for obvious reasons. I would say it is a Roman Republican’s dream. There is NEEDED cooperation. There is organization. There are also brutal consequences for not pulling your weight. Every human that you come across is immediately sized up. Will this person be an asset to us? Will they be dead weight? Will they be a danger? These determinations are made rather quickly and they need to be made quickly.
    The opening of The Walking Dead has a massive conceit in that we never see the fall of civilization, we only see before and the after. We do not know how the government handled the crisis. We do not know where they lost things and finally collapsed. Was it incompetence? Battle doctrine? Maybe there were just too many zombies and not enough bullets. Max Brooks deals more effectively with these questions. If the events of his book are to be believed, California is a bastion preparing to push back and take the East Coast in a few years. But for the people in the Kirkland Universe, there is only what they know and the day to day events therein. There you MUST be careful and YOU are responsible for your own safety.

    If you have not kept up with all 78 issues of the comic, you are truly missing out on a classic. And BTW, the zombie craze has not peaked. It will peak after World War Z comes out. Zombies are a genre and as long as there are humans in different combinations and different situations, there will always be stories to be written.

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  3. Hey, happy to have found your blog. There actually is another zombie television series called “Dead Set”. From wikipedia:

    “The series is set in the Big Brother house, and was first aired on E4 on 27 October 2008. The five episodes, aired over five consecutive nights, chronicle a zombie outbreak that strands the housemates and production staff inside the house, which quickly becomes a shelter from the undead.”

    I believe it just got put on the IFC here in the states sometime last month. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet but am looking forward to it.

    • Ah, yes, Dead Set. Haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard of it – someone at work was telling me about it the other day. It’s nothing I’m going out of my way to watch (premise seems too gimmicky), but I’ll grant that there’s another zombie show out there. I’m sure there’s others.

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