Monday, August 22, 2011

The Walking Dead (Comic)

Behind vampires, zombies are perhaps one of the most overdone horror threats of the past decade. Certainly, compared to the vampires, it is harder to point to well-known zombie series/books/movies, but they are definitely out there en masse if you know where to look. Where the vampires have Twilight (*vomit*), Underworld, Anne Rice, Dracula, True Blood, and many many more, the zombies have George Romero, 28 Days Later, Left 4 Dead, and The Walking Dead.

Most of you likely know of The Walking Dead as a recent TV series created by AMC. I say screw that series. I haven’t even seen it yet, but I’m going to judge it nonetheless. This review is about the comic book series, which is so good in its own unique way that I have zero confidence in a TV series’ ability to replicate it. Let me explain why.
The Psychology of Man

The premise behind The Walking Dead involves a policeman waking up from a coma in a hospital in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Most signs of society and civilization are gone, zombies are everywhere, and survivors are scarce. This is not an original premise.

What makes The Walking Dead unique is its willingness to delve as deep as it possibly can into the human psyche and how people react and change when placed in an incredibly dangerous and often depressing setting. As is often said, you don’t know who you are until your back is up against a wall, and this series explores our reaction to crises. It would surprise you to see someone, who originally appeared ineffectual in the real world, stand up and become hyper competent when the zombies strike. But this, among many other changes, do occur and are indicative of humanity’s ability to adapt or break in the face of incredible stress.

This psychological focus on people and an intense delving into the characters of those who survive the zombie threat are what make this series a compulsive page turner. It also helps that just about every character can be empathized with in some way, even when they are driven to do horrible things in the name of self-preservation. The main character, Rick, is a prime example; though he is unofficial leader of the group, we are able to watch as his personality is slowly warped over time from confident, humorous dude to a hounded and scary-determined guy who flies into a near-psychotic rage whenever his family or friends are threatened.

Morality through the Lens of Survival

Another major exploration of the series is into how our civilized morals stand up when faced with an overwhelming do-or-die threat. This is a more common theme among zombie stories, but The Walking Dead nails it with a detailed aplomb that is near terrifying in how brutally real it feels. “Thou shalt not kill” swiftly becomes “murder if there is any slight threat to your people”. Questions of who should be leader are tossed aside in the need to find a strong figure to lead the group, no matter how vicious or sadistic they might be.

To that point, it should be noted that The Walking Dead is a very dark and personal tale. If you are looking for a humorous foray through the realm of zombie, see Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. If you are wanting a look at how society and the world at large would be affected by a zombie apocalypse, see World War Z. Instead of any of those things, The Walking Dead follows closely a handful of characters, their thoughts, feelings, and changes as they traipse through the undead wasteland searching for food, shelter, and hope. It is gritty, nasty, and often brutal, but that only makes the moments of humor, love, and brotherhood stand out all the brighter.


In the end, it is this incredibly close, poignant, and often vicious look at human nature that makes The Walking Dead incredible to read. And it is this which makes me feel it would be impossible to translate well to TV or film. The sheer amount and detail of conversation between all the characters, the fact that the zombie encounters can often tend to be few but emotionally powerful moments, and the nasty shit that goes down... I just feel that the average TV studio wouldn’t be able to capture all that and would be very quick to jump to putting in more action and zombie killing at the cost of the overall psychological focus.

Guess this means I need to watch the series to see if my judgment is warranted, hmm?

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