Three (Zombified) Faces of The Walking Dead

Zombies are in right now.  Very in.  And one of the biggest zombie franchises in media right now is The Walking Dead.  Now, I’ve seen a lot of discussion about individual incarnations of that franchise, but I haven’t seen them laid side-by-side outside of “the TV show is better,” or “the comics are better” debates with my cooler coworkers.  So, I mean to fill this hole in the oeuvre of Walking Dead criticism.  I’m going to hit what I feel are the key three incarnations: the comic series, the TV series, and the Telltale Games video game.  No, I’m not going to touch the novels, or the Survival Instinct video game (which I have, at best, heard it referred to as “a not terrible shooter”), so even my broad discussion may not be broad enough for some readers.

The logical starting point has to be the comics.  It is how The Walking Dead came to be, for which I have to give it my apprecWalkingDead1iation.  Surprising to me was the fact that even though it has spawned other things that I enjoy so thoroughly, I don’t actually care much for the comics.  Now, bear in mind that I have not read anywhere near all of the series, though I have read a sizable chunk– up to issue 20 or so.   That being said, my thoughts and critiques may no longer be valid for the comic books.  But, here’s my thoughts about what I have read:

First, I do feel like the story is an overall positive element of the series.  That said, the drama between characters sometimes gets very thick, and I feel like there is frequently a lack of cohesiveness with how abruptly plot-shaping elements are thrown at the audience (SPOILER ALERT:) such as how abruptly Hershel’s younger daughters are murdered (END SPOILER).  As a reader, I felt very jilted, no longer really connected with the movement of the story.  It isn’t that every surprise in the story needs to have foreshadowing or the like, but some level of buildup helps.  If there is buildup, I can read even the most terrible twists which hurt my favorite characters and enjoy the experience, taking it as part of the thrill ride.  When there isn’t, as with The Walking Dead comics, it’s like the writers are cheating the audience– any extreme change can happen in a flash.  I guess it just made each issue feel like a one shot story, not a continual story.  Additionally, the general pacing of the story was too rapid, never slowing to allow the reader to savor the experience of being put into the universe created by the writers and artists.

I feel like many of the characters are strong and interesting, but that a number of them are just… unpleasant.  For example, the choices the writers made for the character Dale really discouraged my interest in continuing to read the series.  There are just some things that shouldn’t happen.  Even in a zombie apocalypse, just… no.

My final struggle with the comics is the dialogue.  Honestly, the characters just don’t seem to talk like real people.  Every interaction feels very clunky and unrealistic. I couldn’t get a solid feel for any of the character’s voices.  Without the occasional regional colloquialism it would be really hard to tell that they’re in Georgia.  I feel like the scripts all needed another draft to get all this ironed out.

My next move is to the television series, which is how I (and probably a majority of The Walking Dead audience) came to be familiar with the franchise.  I heard a little about it before it came out, but latched onto two key things: that it was going to be a TV series about a zombie apocalypse, and that Frank Darabont was involved.  Naturally, being a fan of both zombies and Darabont, I was excited, thinking that if the man could do Stephen King right, he could certainly do zombies right as well.TheWalkingDeadPoster

And it was with great zeal that I watched the pilot– which was superb.  I was very quickly drawn into the story, my enjoyment paused only for me to roll my eyes a little bit at the staleness of the idea of waking up with the apocalypse already well underway.  The special effects were strong, especially with the iconic half-zombie crawling through the grass.  I really appreciated how seriously the show took zombies, not going with a bunch of bad actors and writing as seems to be so common with supernatural TV series (like Supernatural).

I continued to enjoy the heck out of the first season, quickly consuming the episodes in a short period of time.  I liked the strength of the cast of characters– each was very strong in their motivations which made their interactions with the others tense, worthwhile and realistic.  The action was compelling and, where it fitted, stomach-churning, especially in the second episode.  The season finale was a little over the top, but still kept the fun of watching quite high.

The second season began strong for me as well, and I finally began to choose favorite characters (Daryl and Dale– who is not creepy, like his comic book counterpart) to invest in.  The intensity was strong– and then took an interesting, and admittedly not altogether positive, direction.  The move to Hershel’s farm was too safe, and brought a shift from a survival epic to, well, what almost seemed like a soap opera that happened to have zombies.  The acting was still good, but the story seemed stuck, with series of episodes just being extended arguments that went in circles.  If my memory serves, there was an episode that had only one zombie, and with a show title like The Walking Dead, that doesn’t jive with me.  The end of the season definitely picked up a lot, resolving a lot of the drama that was, at times, downright frustrating to watch.  The last few episodes almost make up for the way the season dragged on midway through.

The third season, though, made me forgive the series for my issues with what had come before.  Immediately the intensity of the series went (forgive the cliche, I’m drawing a blank on better phrasing) full-throttle.  Within a few episodes, the shape of the story had changed in fascinating ways, forcing the characters to grow individually and as a group.  The conflicts with the Governor and Woodbury made for some of the best television I’ve seen since Firefly.  To celebrate how good the series had gotten, I quickly began attending Walking Dead parties for new episodes.

My concerns for the third season are much more minor than the prior ones.  Mostly, I feel like the Governor needs to be fleshed out more solidly, particularly in the lack of clarity of what his motivations are.  He’s a bit too much of an enigma, and that actually took away from how scary he potentially can be.  My other concern was that the last five or so episodes really could have been done in two.

Must say that I’m really excited about the season 4 premiere in 9 days.

Finally, the Telltale Games video game, which is my favorite iteration of The Walking Dead by far.  Let me just start by saying that if you haven’t yet, you should play it and why are you still reading this?  Just go play.  With that out of the way, here’s my description of what it’s all about:

The game is set in the same universe as the comics, and features two notable characters therefrom– Glenn and Hershel, though both of them are only in the game for parts of the first episode.  Other than their inclusion, and the details of the apocalypse, the story is very TWD-game-covermuch its own.  The main character, Lee Everett, was headed to prison for the murder of his wife and the senator she was adulterous with. Abruptly, the police car taking him there hits a Walker and crashes, freeing the prisoner and giving him his first interaction with the undead.   Soon he finds a little girl named Clementine and takes her under his wing, promising to protect her and try to find her parents, who were out-of-town when the crap hit the fan.  Soon his group grows, hell breaks loose, and he has to work with those whom circumstance throws in his path.

So, a pretty basic zombie apocalypse plot, but one rarely seen in the video game genre.  Instead of being a flashy shooter, showing off the latest aiming mechanics and lots of action, the story moves at a slower pace, with game mechanics based mostly on making decisions.  You often make choices that result in your teammates living or dying– and you have to live with the consequences.  Each character is strong and compelling, and there is a surprisingly powerful emotional draw that some of them have.  In all seriousness, this is the only video game that has almost brought tears to my eyes.  You really care about what happens to most of these characters– and the game’s story reacts to what you say to people, and what you choose to do.  There is some truly dark and terrifying moments– the turning point in episode 2 left me speechless.

Plus, there’s so much good to be said of the visual style of the game.  It takes the style of the comics and improves on it, translating it in a way that was a surprisingly effective blend of realistic and cartoony.

Again, just go play the game.  It’s honestly the best thing The Walking Dead has to offer.

So, there’s my thoughts.  I’m sure my thoughts won’t line up with many other fans of the franchise, but I’m interested to hear others’ opinions.

 

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The Telltale game definitely had some of the best voice acting I’ve seen (or, rather, heard) in video games. I also agree that the second season was difficult to watch. However, (SPOILER ALERT!!!) I think that it was summed up rather well when the lost girl was among the barn full of zombies that everyone was so willing to destroy. I definitely think the Governor has motives, mostly in that he is a control freak because of his past as a desk jockey and for losing his daughter. I think he had anger issues in his normal life and then when he got a taste of power and he went insane. In my opinion. he WAS a good leader (even with the experimentation) but now he’s gone too far and I hope they kill him off soon.

  2. […] Three (Zombified) Faces of The Walking Dead (partisobscurum.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] I love the idea of horror in the comic book medium.  It used to be quite prevalent, but has in recent decades mostly faded to the backdrop of the industry, so it is quite refreshing to have recently read and enjoyed a horror comic series.  This is particularly the case with how disappointed one of the most popular horror comics made me. […]


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