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The Walking Dead – Ep. 1 – Zombie Tofu!

November 5, 2010

The first episode of AMC’s new series The Walking Dead fittingly premiered on this past Sunday / Halloween to record-breaking numbers for the network. 5.3 million people tuned in to see the world end with a snarling whimper. Why do people keep tuning in, buying tickets, reading comics about zombies? What is it about them that keeps them growing in popularity?

I think I have the answer. They are the tofu of storytelling. They can take on any writing flavor.A zombie film can be about a robbery, a romantic comedy, a social commentary film, an action film, a military drama, a suburban murder mystery. The list can go on and on. What makes them tofu? Zombies completely lack character. Literally. There is nothing going on upstairs. Normally, in any medium, this would be a horrible situation, to have an antagonist with no character. Imagine Darth Vader, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Khan, without their larger than life personalities. Imagine them without their soliloquies where they attempt to rationalize their evil ways. What would be the point? Zombies don’t need this. By simply existing, they amplify the already existing foibles of the living characters.

Hi Mister. It isn't personal. I just want to eat your face off. Okay?

In the case of the zombie as antagonist, the conflict is similar to Man Versus Nature. Zombies do one thing, and one thing only. They kill. They’re not doing it to be mean. There is no master plan. They don’t want to impede you from finding your loved ones in the face of global calamity. They just want to eat your face off. The side effect of you becoming a zombie is not the zombie’s goal. Any attempt to reason with a zombie will be met with the same response as if you asked a hurricane really nicely to move on to the next town.

Utilizing this empty glass of an antagonist allows the creators of the show to completely focus on the haggard survivors.

The Walking Dead is based on a comic book published (almost) monthly by Image comics and written by Robert Kirkman. The first issue was released in 2003 to critical acclaim within the comics field. It is the story of Sheriff’s Deputy Rick along with a ragtag group and their continuing survival in a world full of the walking dead.

It is clear what sort of story The Walking Dead has set out to tell us. Neither the comic or TV show wanted to tell the story of the fall of mankind. That would be an entirely different kind of flying. All together. It would have been an action movie. This is something quieter. The desired tone needed to be set right away. How did they accomplish this? They removed the main character from the fall of man all together. Rick was in a coma through the initial zombie infestation. He wakes up weeks after being shot in the line of duty and has no idea what happened to the world.

So, when the story begins, we as the audience are learning about this dead New World along with him. This allows for exposition like “The dead walk,” “You have to hit them in the head,” and “Are you bit?”

If you are into the whole zombie thing, and I’m sure you are if you’ve read this far, the hospital scene might be familiar. In 2002, 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle, used the exact same introduction for its main character Jim. Jim was a bike messenger who was hit by a car and woke up 28 days after the zombie uprising. The hospital setting is a practical one. Both Jim and Rick were set up with precious intravenous fluids, which kept them alive through the comas. This might lead you to believe that The Walking Dead ripped off this zombie storytelling tool of waking up to the world gone wrong. You’re right, and you’re wrong, They both did.

Eighteen years earlier, The Quiet Earth, an Australian Science Fiction film directed by Geoff Murphy, written by Craig Harrison, and based on a novel by Bill Baer, also utilized this introduction for a character. In the Quiet Earth The main character, Zac Hobson, wakes up stark naked in bed. He is naked because he has been reborn into a post apocalyptic Earth in which mankind has simply been erased. This re-birthing concept can be applied to the awakening of all three characters; Zac, Jim, and Rick. They were each reborn into a world turned gruesomely upside down.

1...2...3... Wake up!

The comic version of the Walking Dead is currently up to issue #78, and shows no sign of ever ending. Characters have come and gone. The setting has changed many times. There is one constant, they are surrounded by the walking dead.  I enjoyed the first episode of the show and hope it has the same staying power as the source material.

More Zombie Talk after Episode two.

A note:

I intend to write about the Walking Dead on a weekly basis throughout the season.  I’m going to watch horror films that influenced the zombie genre, do comparisons, review the episodes and the comics, and basically immerse myself in all things undead.  If you have any thoughts, know any films I should watch, or want to call me a raving lunatic, feel free to do so by posting a comment or emailing me at . I’m going to add a link to the blog which will allow you to click on the Blogging Dead Tag, which will list all the posts I’ve written on zombies so far.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy! – Rob

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2010 5:40 pm

    Interesting Read…you seemed to love zombie a lot.
    Good luck with your project 🙂

    • November 9, 2010 9:24 pm

      It is a genre that I do enjoy very much. I don’t really know why. It just happened.


  1. Walking Dead – Ep.1 Days Gone By (full episode!) « Cinema Fantastica!

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