With Kirkman, you’ll never be walking dead alone

By Mandy De Waal 15 October 2011

In 2003 writer Robert Kirkman created a comic book series about a small-town lawman called Rick Grimes who leads a rag tag bunch of survivors through an apocalyptic zombie-infested hell. The comic book was a winner, and six years later it spawned a TV series that was a global hit as well. For all The Walking Dead fans season two is mere days away from airing locally. By MANDY DE WAAL.

You wake up from a coma to a world gone mad, where the living dead walk and your city is overrun by animated corpses seeking fresh flesh for food. What do you do? Stay in the city or head for  the country? Do you take a motorbike or a car? What weapons will you favour? A shot gun, a flame thrower, a power saw or a cricket bat? Where are you going to get your weapons? And when it really comes to it do you know how to off a zombie so that it doesn’t get up again and start chewing off your right arm?

If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead like millions across the globe, you’ve already watched deputy sheriff Rick Grimes flee a small town in Georgia in the wake of a zombie apocalypse to get to the safety of Atlanta. But you know that when the lawman arrives in the big city he finds it riddled with ravenous cannibalistic ghouls, and that’s when the fun really starts.

Based on Kirkman’s incredibly popular comic books, The Walking Dead is a human drama that explores how a handful of survivors embark on a high-intensity life-and-death struggle in a world saturated with zombies.

Fortunately Kirkman’s narrative doesn’t follow his own advice for what to do in a zombie apocalypse. Speaking to iMaverick from the “City of Angels” in California, Kirkman said if he awoke one day to a world filled with walking dead, he’d take the easy way out.

“I’ve answered this question before and it is always horrible, so I do apologise in advance for the answer,” said Kirkman. “I am a very happy-go-lucky person, so don’t read into this question too much, but I have been working on these comic books for more than a decade. I have lived in this world through the writing, and I know how terrible it would be and how horrible things are so I would probably go to the nearest tall building and jump off.

“I don’t know what weapons are out there that would make me last so much as a week in this world. I don’t run very fast. I am not very brave. I think I would be eaten horribly and I would basically do whatever I could to avoid that,” Kirkman admitted, laughing.

What Kirkman may lack in speed and survival instinct in the real world, he more than makes up for in the realm of imagination which is why his comic books and the TV series are such phenomena. Last year the final episode of the first series was watched by 6 million viewers, after debuting in 120 countries.

“I guess to a certain extent it can be a little overwhelming to look back at the first season and its success, and move into the second season hoping to replicate that,” said Kirkman. “To try to maintain that kind of excitement can be a little daunting at times. To me it is really about continuing the work, telling good stories and doing what you set out to do. We are always going to be struggling to tell the best stories possible and knowing a lot of people are going to watch them is really driving us to be that much more excited about what we’re doing.”

The series not only hit the numbers, but was also a critical success and received rave reviews from even the most demanding pundits. Entertainment Weekly called it “the best new show on TV” and The Wall Street Journal said The Walking Dead was “…breathtaking in its small moments, in which the pain and glory of being human are conveyed with only the flick of a filmmaking wrist”. The New York Times declared the series. “…surprisingly scary and remarkably good”, while Rolling Stone said it was “a real achievement for a horror show on a basic-cable network”.

Story aside, the cinematography has a luxurious vista usually the preserve of full length features. The characters are so believable, the scenes are fraught with tension, the make-up is superb and the series has all the detail and believability of a big-budget blockbuster.

Kirkman said the second season, which premiers in the US on Sunday and which will hit local small screens on 18 October 2011, will be just as intense as the first. “A lot of our episodes are ending in amazing cliff-hangers that are really going to have you just itching for the episode after that. For me it is just about driving the story, and moving things forward and keeping everybody engaged. If it were up to me every single episode would end in this massive cliff-hanger that would have you dying to see the next episode, only because that’s the way I like to tell the story.” The new season will start airing on FX at 21h15 on channel 110 on TopTV.

While other zombie movies focus on the ghouls and/or the gore, The Walking Dead is distinctive for its human drama which compulsively obsesses on the “how would you survive a zombie apocalypse?” hypothesis. It is the minutiae which are so fascinating. The details of who gets to do the dishes and who pulls the trigger as the slog to survive continues day after day.

“I thought it would be fun to explore the gender roles and to see how the tension would arise from realistic discussions about ‘Can you shoot a gun? Well you can’t so I am going to go hunting. What can you do? Well, you do laundry.’ That’s an awful way to treat a person, but in a survival situation everyone kinda does what it is that they’re good at. I didn’t see it as a sexist thing because I know if I was alive in that situation, I would be the guy putting air in tyres. I don’t know what I would even be able to do to contribute to that group,” says Kirkman.

And which of you zombie lovers hasn’t spent hours, or even days, pondering how to survive a zombie apocalypse? A notion first popularised by George A Romero in his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, the ghoulish cannibal gauntlet theme is often played out in Hollywood. Recent zombie survival romps include Dawn of the Dead and its comedy homage Shaun of the Dead, and the ingenious Zombieland.

What sets The Walking Dead apart in this genre is a well-scripted storyline that feels like a roller coaster ride. Each episode is emotion-drenched and takes viewers through a gamut of feelings that include fear, joy, relief, anxiety and unmitigated horror.

“We have got one of two things going for us with The Walking Dead. Our focus on the characters and the human drama is intense. So we really get into how these characters are surviving and how they are interacting,” said Kirkman. “The other thing is that this is a continuing story, this is going to go on for years and years, so the chance to get to watch these characters exist in this world and to change over time is not something you’ll get from any other zombie story.”

Then there’s the close up view of the zombies which seems to peer right into whatever’s left of their brains. In the first series there’s an uncanny scene where a little girl who’s become undead picks up a teddy bear in a manner much like a child with a heartbeat would. “There are definitely little things that the zombies still remember from their life before. They are dead, but their brains are still working in some fashion,” said Kirkman.

The killer question? Given that zombies have such a massive appetite for flesh, why don’t they eat each other? “They don’t eat each other because they only eat warm, living flesh. They like their meat fresh.”

This is why you need a smart strategy to survive a zombie apocalypse. And if you’re clever and have really thought things through properly, surely you know a cricket bat’s just not going to cut it in a city filled with The Walking Dead. DM

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