Comic books Constructed World Novel Discussion of film/TV series Discussion of genre Review of Horror Fiction

That’s not how it’s supposed to go! – Sticking with Conventions (Not)

When authors write in the form of a specific genre, let’s say, Historical Fiction, there is always the play-off between realism and accurate historical detail, and fictionality and suspension of disbelief. Some authors go to extraordinary lengths to get every smidgen of detail correct, in so far that it can be proved, while others take giant leaps of imagination and make it all up as an alternate reality. Anything is OK, so long as the author is consistent with this world that they are creating. (And you know how picky some readers are, tracking facts chapter by chapter…much can go wrong.)

Take The Walking Dead, a TV show that’s now in its 11th season and 117th episode, that has been running since 2010. I’m a late convert to this phenomenon. I have binge-watched every Star Trek episode there is. And lately, I’ve watched non-stop the Korean TV show Extraordinary Attorney Woo, starring Park Eun-bin as “Woo Young-woo” and Kang Tae-oh as her boyfriend, “Lee Jun-ho”. It is soberly realistic, but also clever and witty in its portrayal of an attorney with severe Asperger’s Syndrome. The series writers pull no punches – Woo Young-woo doesn’t somehow turn into a charming, likeable woman. She remains thoroughly awkward and hard to deal with. Her illness is debilitating and this is how the series depicts it: realistically.

Park Eun-Bin as attorney “Woo Young-woo” about to let Kang Tae-oh as “Lee Jun-ho” hold her hand for a few seconds. Just a few seconds.

I’ve also binge-watched Fauda, which is also painfully true to life in its portrayal of the fauda (Hebrew: פאודה, from Arabic: فوضى fawḍā, meaning “chaos”) of operations in the Israeli Defense Forces and in those of their enemy, Hamas. And lordy, what fascinating fauda the whole thing is. It is systematic and fully anticipatable fauda. You just know it’s all going to go wrong. Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff developed the series by drawing on their own experiences in the Israel Defense Forces. That explains the degree of realism, which Israeli viewers have criticized negatively. They say it’s not that bad in real life.

Inexplicably sexy Lior Raz, who plays the lead role of “Doron” in Fauda.

Nothing hangs together in The Walking Dead – not even limbs

By contrast, The Walking Dead, my current binge-watching favourite, is just a complete mishmash of zombie apocalypse ideas. Often the portrayal of the zombies or the apocalyptic world in which the survivors find themselves, don’t add up or make sense, and frequently there is an enormous plot-hole or glitch in the logic. You have to wonder: what were the script writers thinking? Or smoking?

For instance, if the zombies move so slowly and have bits falling off them, why do people get caught by them? It’s simple, if you can, just move away. Walk! You don’t even have to run! They can’t even jump! And, if they are dead, sometimes with their innards hanging out, or with no jaws, why do they need to eat anything, especially humans? How can they digest anything? And if everyone is infected with the zombification pathogen in any case, why bother using medical treatments on humans? They’re going to turn into zombies when they die. Why waste the bandages and the medication?

It turns out that the zombies, the antagonistic, deadly force in The Walking Dead universe, are author Robert Kirkman’s version of the zombie world in George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Kirkman is the author of the comic book series The Walking Dead. Beginning in 2003 and published by Image Comics, the series ran for 193 issues.

Kirkman’s version in the comic books is different from the zombies in the TV show. There is a comprehensive, detailed Wiki on how the zombies get made, look, move, eat, die, etc., and the differences between versions of zombies.

The conventions for depicting zombie characters in the Horror Fiction genre have become established over the decades, reinforced by prolific authors like Kirkman and long-running TV shows like The Living Dead. Some writers bow to the conventions, including what level of realism they should incorporate in their writing. Some do not – and the fans will always pick up on the deviations and inconsistencies.

Kirkland and thriller writer Jay Bonansinga have co-authored ten novels of The Walking Dead, in which they detail the rise and growth of the zombie apocalypse: Rise of the Governor (2011); The Road to Woodbury (2012); Just Another Day at the Office (short novel, 2012); The Fall of the Governor – Part I (2013); The Fall of the Governor – Part II (2014); Rise of the Governor (2014), The Road to Woodbury (2014), Descent (2014); Invasion (2015), and Search and Destroy (2016).

‘Zombie, oh Zombie, wherefore are thou Zombie?’
‘ ’Cause of a virus, Juliet, hhhhuuurgh…’

The idea of a zombie (a reanimated corpse) is said to come from Haitian, Central African or Congolese beliefs, and the word “zombi” was first recorded in English literature in 1890 (as the Google Ngram shows).

Google Ngram of terms “zombie, “zombi”, and “walking dead”

It really took off with the film Night of the Living Dead, but the actual term “zombie” wasn’t used in the film. That came later, thanks to fans. Night of the Living Dead spawned a raft of zombie films and TV shows, and rules for the zombies and the ways humans deal with them. For instance: we know zombies eat brains, right? That’s a rule. They stagger along and groan “BRAINZZZ!!” and then they kill someone and eat their brains. Yum yum. Eating anything else makes them sick. Remember the very funny film A Little Bit Zombie (2012)? Our nerdy hero turns into a zombie, and now he’s got to eat brains. But there’s no mention of brains at all in The Living Dead. Sacrilege!

A little Bit Zombie film poster – with a nice meal of brains.

Mindless (relaxing) blood and gore

In this TV show, fans and critics have been hard-pressed to find explanations for the plots, what with the zombies being so inconsistent. But it is a kind of mindless enjoyment, just guilt-free indulging in gruesome executions in every episode – decapitating zombies with axes, stabbing zombies in the brain with swords, shooting zombies between the eyes, burying zombies alive in pits, chopping off their bits one at a time, picking zombies off like sloths being hunted on a game reserve, when they’re just slowly stumbling along, arms out, bellowing blurhuggg huuuugh!… I’m not even talking about the gladiator fights in which the zombies have been de-fanged. Or the medical experiments.

Rick Grimes: You’re a man of God. Have some faith.

Hershel Greene: I can’t profess to understand God’s plan. Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.

The Walking Dead dialogue

So zombie-wise, this show is unapologetically extreme. The human characters are also mostly nasty or flawed, by the way. I’ve seen scenes of torture that these days would be just plain cancelled – and I admit I mostly heard those scenes since I had my eyes closed. The plot-holes and lack of logic and consistency make the show even more of a mindless, unguilty pleasure.

Shane Walsh: THESE THINGS AIN’T SICK! They’re not people! They’re dead! Ain’t got to feel nothin’ ’cause all they do, they KILL! These things right here, they’re the things that killed Amy! They killed Otis! And they’ll kill all of us!

Rick Grimes: Shane, enough!

Shane Walsh: Hey you’re right, man. That is enough.

[shoots one of the walkers]

The Walking Dead dialogue

With my critical thinking firmly switched off, I sit through an episode per night, enjoying my glass of rosé at wine-o’clock and thanking the stars that I don’t have to do things like carry out a Caesarean on a zombie. The first four seasons of the show that I’ve already watched have not the slightest shade of political correctness about them. In fact it is as though race, gender or politics is simply unimportant. What matters is attitude and skills.

One of the gutsy survivors is “Michonne”, played by Danai Gurira, a very angry, katana-sword-wielding woman. She takes no prisoners and can smell a psychopath a mile away. And she loves chopping zombies up into chunks and making mincemeat of stupid white men. She’s refreshingly bad.

Another protagonist is a doe-eyed Asian guy, “Glenn”, played by Steven Yeun, who initially can hardly put a sentence together without stuttering. But he gets his bad boy shoes on and by season four can survive a lengthy beating and then win a fight with a zombie…while he’s tied to a chair.

Daryl Dixon: You got some balls for a Chinaman.

Glenn Rhee: I’m Korean.

Daryl Dixon: Whatever.

The Walking Dead dialogue

How this depiction of societal malfunction in an apocalyptic world will develop, I don’t know. I’m not reading up on the plots. I am watching it and switching off my brain while I do. In short, I recommend it – it’s so consistently illogical that it’s enjoyable.

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