Some readers might have noticed the conspicuous absence of The Walking Dead from my post on tv worth watching. Though it has earned over 5 million viewers in its premiere episode, I was worried that the show didn’t have the heart of the comic books. However, after seeing the third episode I am glad to welcome this new series, which looks to be heading toward less zombie killing gratuity, and more dissections of what it means to exist within this apocalyptic setting.
The first two episodes of The Walking Dead are about providing scope for this zombie epic; they take place within a downtown Atlanta that is vacant save for roaming herds of zombies. As with Lost‘s inaugural showing, you see a lot of the production budget on screen for the first episode The Walking Dead. But as the financial tide recedes and viewers are hooked by their first few dates with the show, the characters are allowed to take center stage. In a world without traditional law and order, how do the characters conduct themselves? What do they do with the nastier parts of society – racism, spouse abuse? These are the questions that make zombie stories great. Less than the zombies themselves, it’s the apocalyptic settings that zombies always inhabit that allow for an intriguing analysis of ourselves.
Which is why I would also highly recommend Max Brooks’ book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Formatted along the lines of Studs Terkel’s famous (and great) book, “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II*, WWZ tells the story of the zombie war through a patchwork of personal stories. From a black market organ transplant surgeon to a member of the U.S. President’s Cabinet, each short anecdote gradually reveals the scale of the zombie war. It’s an easy, very accessible read, that’s also surprisingly intelligent. I could just imagine Mr. Brooks asking 4 star Generals to draw up a combat plan against the undead – it goes into that level of detail. With the great reception garnered by The Walking Dead, hopefully Paramount will take some risks with their adaptation of World War Z, which is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2012.
A more recently published book called The New Dead is another good read. An anthology of zombie short stories, this thing has made me laugh, cringe, and even cry. It’s interesting to see not only what stories each author wants to tell using zombies, but how they each use stylistic touches to provide texturing.
Finally, if you haven’t seen 28 Days Later, which single handedly ushered in the current zombie Renaissance with its zombie-like monsters, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
*If you’re someone who gets bored by history’s focus on big battles and political maneuvering, “The Good War” is a great antidote. It’s quite revealing to hear from one man who was a conscientious objector and how he was persecuted; or a Navy man who still hasn’t received benefits for the cancer her contracted after being on the bow of a ship as a nuclear explosion went off miles away. “The Good War” will completely re-shape the way you look at World War II.