Walking Dead, Discussion Two
Welcome to week two of our ongoing discussion regarding the Walking Dead series. This week we are tackling some of the later sections of the series (TPBs 7 to 14), while also delving into what characters and moments have really defined the series. So Anth, we discussed the first six books with you having not read the next eight, how has your perspective of the series shifted?
I did not foresee the fallout of the prison arc's ending, but you knew SOMETHING was going to shake them out. The survivors began to question Rick's decisions, and habits of old crept back in. Their leader had chosen to keep them alive, having the testicular fortitude to make the hard call. Second-guessing makes you soft and costs the group fatally.
Yeah, I continue to marvel at the ability to up the ante, narrative-wise in this way. I feel like just when the characters start to 'relax' (along with the reader) he changes the conditions dramatically. That first major arc of the series, ending with the death of Lori, was about survival and hope for the future. But as the narrative has progressed, we've seen every reassurance of the old society torn up until the characters themselves are forced to adapt or die.
They have been taunted by all the creature comforts of the old world but the common denominator at the various "secure" settings is every time the group settles down, they soften up and DIE.
Definitely. The characters that have managed to survive this long are the ones willing to find a new role in the new world.
Even little Carl gets it! He doesn't want to Trick or Treat along with the other kids because he'll get soft, and knows that will lead to death.
I'm glad you mentioned him specifically (and not just because Carl's fate will be the key to the next bit of the narrative). In a way though, Carl becomes the perfect symbol for the new zombie way of life. He, unlike the rest, knows what has to be done to survive (i.e. killing Ben, the burgeoning psycho kid and torturing of cats).
We've come a long way since Old Yeller - Carl kills Ben, one of his few friends left in the world. Carl understands and feels remorse for his actions - just like his pops - but realizes he is the only one that could take necessary action. I wonder how soundly I'd sleep, travelling with a pack of strangers through zombie infested streets. Where do you hike to during the End of Days, Mr. Reynolds?
Heh, movies have taught me that you want to be in a shopping mall during a zombie apocalypse. Gotta hand it to Kirkman for coming up with the curveball idea of holing up in a prison (even if their plan got ruined by a full grown psycho with a tank).
Haven't you watched the last third of those movies, man? Eventually you've got to get moving when A) Zombies break in, B) You run out of supplies or C) Someone turns on you! Being on the move is the only way to survive when you're hunted, nowhere is safe. When Rick returns to his police station the second time to re-stock, and reunites with Morgan, it's clear he couldn't have stayed and remained sane.
You know, the Morgan character is a great device for showing the 'stay at home, hang onto the familiar' type of logic. Rick is driven initially to move, obviously, but it is clear that by travelling, not only do you give yourself a chance to survive, but you probably have a better chance of keeping your sanity.
Isn't it funny how 'familiar' no longer remains a valid description of Rick's town? We attach to familiar settings a sense of safety that the survivors can assume no longer. It's like going back to your old elementary school, knowing where everything is, but in the bathroom there are zombies trying to grab your ankles. Kirkman tries to tell the reader we can never really go home. If we want to grow outside of our habitually self-imposed boundaries, we must forge onward. Dorothy would be PISSED! Shotguns and cannibals and zombies!
Oh my? Now if this were Walking Dead, that obvious joke would be followed by someone not only booing me but threatening to cut off my hand. But seriously, we've been using the word 'familiar' which can sometimes mean 'repetitive'. In a book like this, a fresh setting isn't the only thing needed; the characters have to develop in meaningful ways to create that feeling of investment.
I think they develop plenty. I remember relief at seeing Michonne's face. The gang re-uniting at the farm after being scattered for days was the last thing I expected in this series. Usually we expect characters to come back from certain death (just not as reanimated corpses)! This was refreshing after being mired in the death of main characters.
But that's just it! By the time of Michonne's return, Rick losing his hand, the collapse of the new walled city, the reader is definitely on high alert and invested in the story as quite literally anything can happen. Kirkman actually conditions the reader to resist settling in with a specific set of characters, since they can be suddenly killed off or tossed into a different setting. And what pushes the tension even higher is the notion that they have as much to fear from other people as the zombies themselves.
Yeah like the damned cannibals! Man, those guys kept everyone on their toes for a while. The tainted meat joke from Dale was priceless, way to serve up revenge on those immoral SOBs! We saw the darkest side of the survivors yet, balancing any moral high ground we thought they would establish; slaughtering one by one those who would cause harm to their group.
Sure, it was a great showdown moment, but before we get carried away I wanted to mention something about moments like that that can rankle me. Now, I've praised Kirkman's writing but I feel like it can sometimes get a little heavy handed, making sure we understand completely the motivations and emotions of the characters.
Is the writing oversimplified? Yes. But the style of the book lends itself to a more nuanced approach. Imagine reading a novel with nothing but quotation marks and a bit of dialogue qualifying text. Kirkman doesn't get the luxury of subtlety in this medium, because he chooses to forego any narration whatsoever. I think what is missed in subtlety is made up for by his execution of dialogue-only storytelling. Also, there are a ton of panels in Walking Dead where the reader is handed a character's expression, and we are left to imagine what he/she is thinking. I think this offers a fun balance to the lack of narration.
To be clear, I don't object to the language being used. As I've said, the dialogue captures the speech of your average person (thrown into a zombie apocalypse). I have a problem with the occasional heavy melodrama and obvious plotting. It is not enough to have something bad happen to someone, it must first be foreshadowed in obvious fashion to really drive the point home. My hackles go up every time I see one of those narrative flashing signs saying 'Danger Coming Soon!'.
Are you going to give any example or are you just assuming we can read your crazy mind?
Broadly I will say that there are too many dramatic speeches from Rick and sometimes too much soap opera style arguing. Actually, you know how in movies when someone coughs and it turns out to be a real obvious device to foreshadow a fatal illness? There are chunks of this series that feel like that.
Alright, you make a valid (if somewhat vague) point. There are times, though that I was completely caught off guard. What really surprised me was the attempted suicide of Glen's wife -- especially when all that lovey-dovey newlywed stuff was being stuffed down our throats. Kirkman doesn't even address the rationale behind it! There were no signs, leading to her choice, that whole mess seemed unnecessary and distracting.
But this is what I mean! For me, the series begins to drag with melodrama and get bogged down in some bizarre and uncomfortable relationship dynamics.
I guess when you're being hounded by zombies 24/7, relationships can feel kinda… dead? Baahaha! So we get it, there's not much opportunity for honeymooning when you're on the run, let's move on - it's not what the books are focused on.
My point is, that mostly Kirkman gets it right. I mean, we've spent two columns praising the series in general (great tone, solid characters, crisp art) but I wanted to point out that some of the character melodrama is laid on a bit thick.
Fine, but being eaten alive certainly deals with that! So who is safe moving forward? The survivors have always relied on Rick, and would all be dead if not for him. That dependence is spelled out under the guise of re-assurance from the group. But now, at the end of trade 14, we see Rick barely escape with his life, and Carl has a bullet through his face. I think Rick's time may be coming! Any predictions?
I think you are crazy if you think Rick is going to get killed anytime soon. His character arc provides the foundation for the series!
Come on, one prediction!