Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This Zombie Apocalypse Is Getting Very Depressing

After reading the latest trade paperback of The Walking Dead, fans Trudi and Kemper were shocked and disturbed by the latest events and had a conversation wondering if a zombie apocalypse can get too grim. Extensive spoilers for the comics collected through Vol. 17 - Something To Fear and the third season of the TV show after the jump.

Kemper: Creator Robert Kirkman has said that he wants The Walking Dead comic to be a sprawling epic. One of the things that make TWD unique is that with an open ended story there's no end to the horror.

But after giving us a small sliver of hope that Rick's community might be able to start communicating and trading with other people in what I presume would have to be the first steps to reclaiming the world, Kirkman plunged his heroes right back into the depths of hell with the brutal death of Glenn at the hands of Negan. Once again Rick's people find themselves at the mercy of a psychopath with superior numbers, just like the infamous prison story-line with the Governor.

Trudi, has Kirkman finally gone too far? Is it time for something other than complete despair in the comics?

Trudi: I don’t think I would call it going too far, but I do question Kirkman’s overall motives here with an incredibly violent death scene of a favorite character. I don’t want to take anything away from what Kirkman's achieved to this point. I feel like he’s proven better than anybody in the genre the perilous, morally bankrupt life that awaits a society stripped of all its civilizing forces. However, with this latest Negan plot line, it just feels like same shit, different day.

We’ve already been through this with the Governor. From where I'm sitting, it's starting to feel like an exercise in sadomasochism, especially if the rest of the series continues in a similar vein of upping the ante on graphic, disturbing death scenes. At some point, all of this is going to descend into gratuitous torture porn. Maybe it has already? If you were Kirkman, where would you take this story next?

Kemper: I was very interested in what TWD had been doing before introducing this conflict with Negan and the Saviors. Obviously the nature of the core story means it's always going to be grim, but there should be some highs and lows. They had been in one long dark valley ever since the prison fiasco, and for a time it seemed as if Rick and his group were teetering on the verge of becoming little more than a pack of feral animals.

Having them become part of a community and Rick finding new purpose in going on the offensive against the zombies was a nice turn of events recently. Their discovery of the Hilltop community seemed like it could be the start of some kind of rebuilding storyline.

At this point, that would have been a welcome change from characters getting killed, maimed, raped or having half their heads blown off. (How exactly did Carl survive that one?)

The sudden appearance of Negan and the shocking death of one of the original group did feel like we were just going back to a Governor-style villain. To echo you: Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

While conflict and death are always going to be part of the story as long as Kirkman feels like keeping it going, it feels like it's time to explore this world more instead of Rick getting into another blood feud with a new warlord of the zombie waste land.

Trudi: I get where Kirkman is coming from in that a post-apocalyptic landscape with zombies would suck, but what would suck even more are the crazy-ass psychopaths no longer held in check out to slice and dice you and take what you have. Alright, we get it. The zombies are the easy part.

And what does it do to a survivor to take on the killers and repel them? Or in some cases, mutilate them? It's certainly changed Rick from the man we first came to know in the early issues. It's most definitely changed little Carl (A psychopath in training if you ask me. And yeah, how does someone survive getting half their head blown off exactly?) In many troubling ways, all the survivors have each been carved into new animals by forces beyond their control. It's been one tragedy heaped upon one depravity after another.

But now it's time to show us something else. The potential of Hilltop and all it promises is a direction that needs to be explored. Yes the world as it once was has ended. That doesn't mean the world has to end. It's easy to take the world down and smash it to smithereens -- the hard part from a storytelling perspective is building it back up again. Where do you start?

A mark of any great story is its ending. Kirkman needs to start thinking about an exit strategy -- good, bad, hopeful or bleak -- but some kind of resolution. Even if it's just to come to the realization that humanity starting over, all the way over, means a return to a caveman / tribal warfare / Medieval mindset. But that doesn't mean without attempts at building something, and striving to move forward. That's what carried humanity out of the Dark Ages. As humans, this is what we do. And I have no doubt it is what we would do again post the zombie apocalypse. I'm ready to get to that part of the story.

Kemper: Exactly. Following the George Romero template for a zombie apocalypse, Kirkman has firmly established that the undead are dangerous but people are the true monsters. However, in a movie or a novel there's an ending to it. Even if there are sequels or it's part of a series of books, you get a sense of closure when you finish a particular story.

In this on-going format that has firmly established just how truly shitty things will be after the zombies rise up, there needs to be some kind of larger goal or purpose for the reader to hang onto than just day to day survival. If they keep going this way, it's eventually just going to be Rick and Carl as the only two living humans on earth fighting over the last can of beans.

The death of Glenn bothered me not just because it featured a favorite character literally getting his brains beaten out, but also because Maggie and Glenn have always been the hope for the future in the book. They held together and planned for some kind of future, and except for Maggie's suicide attempt (yet another moment of happy grins all around from Kirkman), they had seemed the least damaged when compared to Rick, Carl, Michonne, etc.

So murdering Glenn seems especially bad because it feels like they've killed off any kind of hope for the future. Yes, Maggie is still carrying his baby, but now it's a fatherless child in a world of zombies and guys like Negan.

For all it's flaws, the TV show has struck a better balance of the grim realities of daily horror against some kind of future being possible. Rick taking in the remaining people of Woodbury at the end of the third season is a sign that he's got an eye on something bigger than just surviving now.

Trudi: I agree. The welcoming of the Woodbury refugees into the prison during the season finale marks a huge shift in Rick's worldview to me. It seems he's let his guard down and maybe realized rebuilding and moving forward starts with trust and inclusion, not suspicion and isolation.

Bringing it back around to the comics I feel as if Glenn was punished just for wanting to take his family away from the prison and embrace Hilltop. It's as if the mere thought alone of wanting something better brought the Angel of Death down on his shoulders. Further to the point, it was not enough for Glenn to die, he had to go out gruesome in a prolonged savage beating in front of the woman who loves him. If there was still hope to be had, there's its coffin nail right there.

Looked at side by side, we are left with very different feelings at the end of Volume 17 compared to the Season 3 finale. It's interesting to point out however that the title for the next volume in the series has changed from Abandon All Hope to What Comes After, a title portent of looking to the future rather than languishing in the pit of Hell. That's making me feel a whole lot more optimistic.

Kemper: It's funny that they're changing the next collection title from Abandon All Hope (And what reader hadn’t already?) to What Comes After. I wonder if that's a sign that Kirkman and Co. realized that they might have gotten a bit too far into the abyss?

It also seems like you and I are questioning if they went too far not so much because of the relentless despair, which has been there since the beginning, but because they killed off a character we both liked a lot in Glenn. Neither of us have mentioned Abraham taking an arrow through the skull, and while he hadn't been around as long as Glenn, he was probably my favorite of the newer additions. Or maybe it's just because Abraham's death was quick and relatively painless while Glenn's was an excruciating exercise in sadism that's caused us to focus on it.

Even if it's just a reaction to the ugly death of a long-time member of the group, I'm still wary of the direction they're taking. If the conflict with Negan just turns into a repeat of the fight with the Governor, then I'm probably going to lose interest quickly unless we start getting some new phases of life after zombies.

How about you, Trudi? Will you quit reading if The Walking Dead doesn't show you something different?

Trudi: I remain wary of the Negan plot line Kemper. The risk definitely exists that I will lose interest if in the attempt to deal with this new threat, we don't get a counter-balancing of it with an attempt to rebuild and move forward.

I agree that it wasn't just that Glenn had to die (a loss we would have keenly felt anyway) but that his death was so prolonged and bloody -- as you say "an excruciating exercise in sadism". If Kirkman's ultimate goal is to chase after more gore, more violence, more shocks, rather than explore the rebuilding of a world brought to its knees, than yes, I think I'll be out Kemper. I cannot imagine staying to the bitter end to only watch every original character left die quickly or be ripped to shreds until there is only Rick left, Kirkman's version of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The horror...the horror.

When not canning food in preparation for the coming zombie apocalypse, Trudi writes the Busty Book Bimbo blog in which she reviewed the latest Walking Dead collection..

The basement of Kemper's Book Blog is filled with toilet paper and Scotch. That's not because of zombies. He just likes to keep a lot of both on hand. He also reviewed The Walking Dead Vol. 17..


  1. You were both echoing a lot of the thoughts I've had about Walking Dead. Yes, I do expect some brutality, because zombies. But I am starting to feel like it's become brutal for the sake of being brutal, not to further the story. Because Walking Dead has such a reputation for violence and grim storylines, so Kirkman has to deliver that, even when the story felt (to me) like it was trying to lean towards rebuilding. The zombies are starting to fall apart, after all.

  2. It would be cool to see what will happen after a couple of arcs, I imagine Rick unifying all four (or more) communities, cleaning the deads off the streets and starting kind of basic kingdom, to read all the way from when he was a small town cop to his rise as a king (also not to rule out his downfall).
    Also cannot wait till Carl grows up a little, let him carry his own weight for a change.