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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Some musings on The Walking Dead


It's been something of a quiet week at 5D headquarters this week. It could be that people have other things on their mind at this time of year, winter is something of a depressing mistress for me I must admit. The other reason (some would say the more plausible) for the lack of messages from the outside Sci-Fi, horror & fantasy world may well be that finally people have come to their senses and have essentially seen through my cunning facade of appearing to have some iota of clue that I know what I'm talking about - It was only a matter time, I'm not one to argue with irrefutable logic.

Regardless of the explanation, It seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a little ramble and musing, perhaps even something of a love letter, to The Walking Dead. It is a tale that for the past 10 years or so, been something of a love and obsession for this here blogger. It is also a story that, thanks to a certain TV adaptation, has now seemingly become a similar object of obsession for much of the world - and this leads me to an initial problem.

Groucho Marx, when resigning his membership of a particular club, famously gave his explanation for doing so because " I just don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." Its a notion that I can completely empathise with. Ever since I can remember (something that is getting longer and longer each year with ever depressing regularity) I have much preferred to be a group outsider, away on the sidelines doing my own thing. This inherent need to not to follow the crowd  has become so powerfully ingrained within me that there have even situations when I have opted out of something that I enjoy simply because everyone is doing/watching it. There is a psychologist term for it - it's called being an idiot.

I'm not really sure where this unease with being part of the mainstream comes from. I just know that on more times than I care to remember I have avoided entertainment that the majority likes, and instead have found my own alternative and less well known sources, only to then disown those same sources when others then latch onto my 'discovery'. Conversely, I've also been known to wait until a particular thing becomes less popular, or even disliked, until I then decide to give it my full affections. I know, I know.......I'm a weirdo perhaps. All I know is that Groucho and I are seemingly cut from the same cloth (except for the fact that he was funny, while I am not) in that we find the mainstream majority opinion as being something to avoid at all costs. 
Just a small section of my Walking Dead obsession.
So for much of my life I have, and continue to be, an idiot. Though there are the occasional things that buck my distrust of the mainstream trends. The Walking Dead just happens to be one of those very exceptions. 

I discovered the Graphic novels a couple of years after they first appeared back in the dim and distant days of 2003. Yes, yes I know......once again I was quite ineptly behind the times. It certainly wasn't the first or last time. To be precise it was the summer of 2006 in which I first discovered the stunning artwork and storytelling that depicted a world where an unknown apocalyptic event has transformed the majority of the human population into slobbering, rotting flesh-eating zombies.

You have to remember, that this was a time when the contemporary horror scene was yet to find itself surrounded by a collection of shiny sparkling vampires, shuffling lumbering zombies or towns full of impossibly good-looking people in search of blood that is true. No, in those far more innocent times the comic book adventures of Kentucky Deputy sheriff Rick Grimes, a man who is wounded in his police role and emerges from a short coma to see his world now infested with undead, was for me a hugely enjoyable trip into gory zombie fantasy land. This story of Rick, his family and small group of fellow survivor who spend each day trying to adapt and simply survive  in this crazy new world, was simply intoxicating.

As luck would have it at that time, I had landed a new & reasonably well paid job which not only meant that bills could finally be paid, plus I could buy good quality red wine, but it also allowed me to buy up every copy to date (and ever since) of that wonderful series. I was in regular zombie heaven.

C'mon Rick, the penny will drop any minute....
A few years later (2010 to be once again precise) I learnt that the story was going to be adapted for TV, much to the suspicion and jealousy of some of my fellow Walking dead aficionados. I must admit that for a time I too shared their disquiet, though maybe not quite for the same reasons. I had read for months before the show aired many comments of fans worried in regard to such things as the authenticity of the story being lost and the potential of a glossy and insipid watering down of the gore for TV. There were indeed a plethora of other Graphic novel fan concerns. 

The thing is, I don't tend myself to get that precious about how the written word will fare under TV or film adaptation. There are some within the Scifi, horror & fantasy community who feel a strong degree of 'ownership' of literary material that to a unknowing third party would seem that it was actually them who had written it in the first place.

For me, different mediums are entitled to treat the source material in any way they want. Reading a book is an entirely different experience from watching the same thing on screen, which is as it should be. I could never understand the controversy amongst fans (and I am a big time fan) about the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, to name but three. If you love the books then simply don't give a flying fig about an adaptation that deviates from the source material. Honestly, who cares? The original source material will always be there to be cherished. And do you know something else? (I'm saying this quietly now), but sometimes those changes can work.......cough....Haldir's Elves at The Battle of Helms Deep....cough!.......really works in the movie...........cough!

No, my particular worry was very different, namely that I would now be becoming part of a 'bigger club, and like Groucho, I didn't think I wanted to be a part of it.

Boy was I wrong.

I did try to dislike the TV series, I really did. Even when I heard that the mercurial Frank Darabont was going to be initially at the helm I had decided beforehand that I simply didn't want to be part of of what I saw as the inevitable watering down in the mainstreaming and mass-popularity that would take place. I can remember on that night in 2010 when I sat in front of my television to watch the 1st episode, arms crossed and a fixed facial expression that signified that I wasn't going to enjoy myself, no matter what.

Well five seasons later, that has somewhat changed, Actually, if truth be told it changed about 3 or 4 minutes into that first episode. Yes, the show deviated almost immediately from the comic source material, and in probably in far too many ways that irked many fellow comic fans. In fact there are far too many examples of how the show has changed the original concept and storyline to mention them all here - but I'll state a couple.

"I don't remember you from the books, Daryll"...
"That's ok, I don't remember you being such a bad bitch, Carol"

1) The fabulous characterisation of Daryll by Norman Reedus has become for many the cornerstone of the series, galvanising a whole industry of 'If Daryll dies, we walk" T-shirts whenever proceedings look as if Mr Dixon might finally succumb to the Zombie bite. However, the character simply didnt exist in the original comic series and was invented purely for the TV series. However, it works.

2) The character of Shane stayed around far longer on TV than in the novels, but again this worked. The portrayal by Jon Bernthal of a man slipping ever deeper into dark insanity was a masterstroke.

3) Many of the characters seem to have become polar opposites of their comic book creations; for example Carol never really loses her meakness and self doubt in the books, yet in the TV show she has become the epitome of female power with a character ark of incredible maturity and intensity. In addition, the much maligned Andrea (who it's safe to say, was never much of a fan favourite) who on screen simply went from naivety, on to insessent complaining and finished on just plain stupid was far different from the strong purposeful Andrea who is also the lover and confidante of Rick (and still very much alive) in the comic book.

I know that these and many other examples have been a constant source of controversy amongst Walking Dead fans. However for me they not only mostly work but it means that the two can be enjoyed entirely seperately on their own merits. It would be a brave person who denies that when it comes to pivotal and powerful scenes, nothing does it better than a TV show at its best.  

The 'Tag, you're it' game at Terminus starts getting hardcore..
The Walking Dead series boasts perhaps more than most. I won't try to include all of my favourite as I'm sure there will be countless others that I'll ( an others, no doubt) will be kicking myself over after forgetting to include them. However I'll mention just a small number of my personal favourites off the top of my head.

* Shane shooting Otis as they try to evade the shuffling hords.....I can still hear the screams.

* Carol's lost daughter emerging from Herschel's barn and Rick stepping forward to deliver the killing shot.

* Darryl & Merle saving  Rick et al when they return to the prison

* Hershel's demise at the hands of the Governor.

* Carol saving the group from being hung on meat racks & the subsequent breakout at Terminus.

* Beth's death - Still shaken over that!

Now before the inevitable "I can't believe the numpty didn't mention (insert favourite scene here) Or (insert other favourite scene here)"  - well as I said, they were just a few of my personal stand out moments of a series that seems to have an infinite number of stand out moments. I know, I know! - I didn't even mention Michone......

The simple fact is that the series has provided some of the more genuinely jaw-dropping televisual experiences that I have ever had. The simple fact is that Monday nights here in the UK may finally have some meaning once again when The Walking Dead returns after its mid-season break.

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