The Walking Dead

 by Alexandra Sokoloff

That would be me, after two weeks of something that never quite turned into flu but wasn’t much fun anyway.

I don’t really watch television, no time and very little tolerance, but I do occasionally binge on it.

And I don’t know whether it’s my way of avoiding the traditional Christmas chocolate binge, or the fact that I’ve been sick for a lot longer than I figured on being, but I have been having a mother of a TV binge this week.

In the past I have become obsessed with shows like DEADWOOD (still the best of all), THE WIRE (excruciatingly close second), ROME, and MAD MEN. Obsessed means that I watch every episode as soon as I can get it, which can present a time management problem when I discover a show that has actually been on the air for several seasons already.

I may be able to blame this current one on Our Steve, because it actually started when I was feverish and I guess I needed to see people sicker than I was or something, so I watched Outbreak (a movie Steve helped develop) on Netflix. I’ll see Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey in anything, and this is them together, and I’ve been kind of wanting to see it again after seeing one of what must be one of the year’s most excruciatingly dull movies—CONTAGION.

I don’t know what it is about the plague that is so hard to get right in a feature film.  At least I didn’t until I discovered the AMC TV series THE WALKING DEAD.  And now I know what has been missing from these plague movies.


Now you have to understand this. I like apocalypse stuff but I am NOT a zombie girl. Couldn’t care less. Mystified by the popularity (plus, that wave has   l  o  n  g  passed, hasn’t it?)  I read THE PASSAGE (good book) and some of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (cute, but you get it after a few chapters and don’t have to keep reading.  ZOMBIELAND was funny and 28 DAYS LATER was scary but has one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen from a talent like Danny Boyle.

But WALKING DEAD – well, it’s created by Frank Darabont, based on the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.  Darabont is one of my favorite filmmakers. Only person who’s every pulled off a Stephen King novel on film (besides Cronenberg with DEAD ZONE. I love Kubrick’s THE SHINING but it’s not King’s THE SHINING. And yes, STAND BY ME is great but it’s not a King NOVEL.).

The first episode of WD is so scary I had to turn it off periodically and calm myself down. I am beyond stunned that it didn’t give me nightmares.

It’s cinematic and riveting, often heartbreaking, purely wonderful storytelling.

Well, only the first 13 episodes are available so far and I went through that in a day.  (When I say binge, I mean binge.).

Which meant that I could actually resume writing the next day, which is the good news.

The bad news was I was jonesing for more apocalypse.  So I did some searching and discovered the BBC series SURVIVORS (the recent remake, or revision), which is post-flu apocalyptic.

Watching both series back to back was a seriously interesting exercise.  I’m not entirely sure in what – British vs. American TV, British vs. American gun culture, British vs. American people. . .  zombies vs. flu. . .

Here’s the thing.  I’m not a particularly violent person or writer; I avoid gore in my reading and my own writing. But after 13 episodes of WALKING DEAD, I am seriously craving bloodshed on SURIVIVORS.  Sure, everyone but a dozen people died in the first episode (shown through tasteful shots of the soles of tennis shoes and limp manicured hands).

But once the human encounters started again, there were some people who needed to be dead. And the British characters in SURVIVORS just refuse to kill people.  Also, I know this series aired on the BBC, but I have to think that in actuality there are more than two guns in Britain.  I’m sure Zoe has at least that many.  Okay, I’ve actually seen four guns on the show so far, but only two in play at once. 

Now come on, Brits, in case of an apocalypse, even without zombies—wouldn’t guns be one of the FIRST things you’d be looking for?  Like, after water, but before food?  That seems to me basic survival.  I know that you don’t have gun shops at every random strip mall, but you do have a military, and in the world of the show, the military is just as dead as the rest of the world.  So there would be guns to be had, right?

I’m sorry, but tire irons aren’t going to cut it.

That’s me being logical, there. But there’s another aspect to it, not logical at all.  I have to confess, thatcompared to WD, where zombies are shot, arrowed, pickaxed… skulls crushed with shovels, bodies torn apart by ropes (and by other zombies) – gruesome casualties by the dozens almost every episode . . .

Well, it sounds terrible to say it, but after all the excruciating tension of WD I just was not sure SURVIVORS was going to be violent enough for me. Even with all those British accents, I wasn’t getting into it.  It was, no big surprise, sex that kept me with it for the first two episodes.  There are two pretty fine leading men in this show, Max Beesley and Paterson Joseph;  I’m happy to see the producers realized they should be shirtless more often.  The other characters grew on me and the lead actress I disliked in the first episode turned out to be a villain, so that was okay. The lead actress I like best got to kick some serious ass a few episodes in, which was a pleasant—or maybe I mean gratifying—surprise. And I like the conceit of the show, which is that, at least so far, the Odyssey-like encounters the main group has with other survivors are modeled around famous stories from literature, like Peter Pan and Oliver Twist. It could have been corny but it works.

I am having one continuing problem with it, on the morality front.

With zombies of course you don’t have to have debates about morality, you can just break skulls—although THE WALKING DEAD does pretty well finding moral dilemmas, with some zombie killing anyway.

But I’m starting to wonder if my own morality got a little warped by the show, as with SURIVORS I am getting TIRED of the good guys letting the bad guys go. Especially in the case of two would-be rapists, who should have been put permanently out of commission.  The good guys could have talked about it, argued it, but someone should AT LEAST have brought up the idea.  Instead of turning them loose to attack other women. Or children, if there don’t happen to be any women handy.

There’s another weasel I’m sure the writers are just keeping around to keep people’s blood boiling, but it makes me long for the take-no-prisoners skull-crushing of WD.

I bet you’re all starting to wonder what my point is.  I’m not sure, actually.  My questions are not so much about zombies, but if you’d like to talk about them, have at it.  Give us some classics. But what I was really wondering was – have other people started to experience holiday meltdowns?  How did or do they show up for you? 

There’s also a question for the Brits.  Do you have more than two guns in the entire country?  (Sorry, kidding.)  But I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of gunplay in my favorite British series.  Am I just missing the gory ones, or do you all look aghast at the level of violence in American cable TV, especially?

And I’m up for any recommendations of apocalyptic favorites. I only have five more episodes of SURVIVORS to go . . .

The very happiest holidays to all (with or without zombies), and hoping all wonderful things for everyone in the new year.



P.S.   If I have not responded to anyone who requested review copies of THE HARROWING, THE PRICE or BOOK OF SHADOWS, please re-mail me at alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com.  I was late getting to my webmail on this because of my bout with plague, and may have deleted a few e mails along with the deluge of spam.

(And Reine – your e mail is not working for me….)



25 thoughts on “The Walking Dead

  1. JD Rhoades

    "But what I was really wondering was – have other people started to experience holiday meltdowns?"

    I spent yesterday in the ER with massive crushing chest pains I was sure were a fatal heart attack. Does that count?

    Tests showed it wasn't a heart attack, but we're still not sure what they were).

  2. billie

    No meltdowns (yet) but have been in a weird mood to find a TV series I can binge on too. I was obsessed with Homeland, now have seen the season's final episode, so am bereft. Not sure I can manage the zombies though – but daughter might want to watch The Walking Dead as she is obsessed with the plague and every Halloween wants to be a plague doctor. (but will not spend the money on that expensive head gear mask thing)

    JD, hope things are better quick – sending good thoughts.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    DUSTY!!! I was thinking about you yesterday. I'm so glad you're okay but you HAVE TO take care of yourself. It meant something was wrong, stress or anxiety or something. I hope you have a followup appointment with a good doctor.

    I'm sending you and your family much love, and you need to check in with us next week so we know you're okay.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Billie, a plague doctor? Sounds like my kind of girl. Yeah, WALKING DEAD is pretty intense, but if if you haven't seen any of the other cable shows I listed from HBO and AMC, you can't go wrong with any of those. There's also FAWLTY TOWERS.

  5. Richard Maguire

    "The first episode of WD is so scary I had to turn it off periodically…"

    Alexandra, you wrote scenes in THE UNSEEN that are so vivid and scary I couldn't sleep after reading them. But I haven't seen WD, or SURVIVORS. As far as I know, they haven't reached this part of the world yet. (Germany)

    And I'm not a Brit, so I can't answer on their behalf, but I can tell you there are a LOT of guns here. The gun-control laws are pretty strict. Unfortunately they didnt prevent a massacre in a high school about two years ago, when a teenager got hold of his father's legally-held guns.

    Holiday meltdown? Pretty much. Being snowed in for the last few days, my binge has been on THE ROCKFORD FILES and a wonderful BBC series, WAKING THE DEAD.

    I hope you're feeling much better, and have a great holiday.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Richard, you just made my Christmas! I'm so thrilled you responded to THE UNSEEN that way. But you know, I can write it because I am sensitive to what my own fear feels like- I think if I could watch something like WALKING DEAD without getting scared I wouldn't be able to create the feeling on the page.

    Somehow I didn't realize that you were in Germany – that's cool!

    Actually I wonder if they had made SURVIVORS just two years later than they did if the level of violence (and guns) would have been higher – after seeing what happened on the streets this year. Having been through the riots and post-earthquake looting of LA, I know I would want guns.

    I am better, thanks, and you have a wonderful holiday, too.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm glad you gave me the word on "Contagion." I don't think I've ever seen a Soderbergh film I haven't liked, but that might be the first. I'd rather not waste the time, y'know?
    I wish I had time for a holiday binge. Fortunately, thank God, I got an 11th-hour rewrite assignment on Grinder (the screenplay I wrote this year) that has to be done in three weeks. Saved my ass, financially. At least for a month or so. So, I'm binging on writing.
    But, if I could TV binge, I'd watch all the great TV shows I've heard about, but never seen – like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Walking Dead, The Tudors, and Justified. I'm simply not in the loop, and it's driving me crazy.
    Dusty – take care of yourself, brother. We don't want to lose you.

  8. David Corbett

    Dusty: Jeez, bro, figure out what caused that and get it fixed. Don't make me come up there! (Seriously, take very good care. Have some brandy, hold the eggnog.)

    Alex: The Brit zombie item not to be missed is SHAWN OF THE DEAD. Beyond that, I think your points are only too well taken. I liked 28 DAYS LATER a lot and then, the end, and I'm … huh? Take that focus group out and shoot them all.

    And I don't want to get into meltdowns, too personal, oh boo hoo for me, ya know? But I found an antidote: THE ARTIST. Run, don't walk. Every writer needs to see this. We're in a paradigm shift not unlike silents-to-talkies, so if you can't get into it on that level, you're not awake. But it's also just plain gorgeous, with great acting — Jean Dujardin is mesmerizing — and a wonderful love story with a cute dog. I mean, seriously — what's not to like. And since it's silent, the music is key, and the score is wonderful, with hints of the love theme from VERTIGO and Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

    In contrast, you can skip Hugo (or Huge-o, as I call it) and not miss a thing. Utter snooze. With annoying 3D that detracts form the story like florid prose. An indulgent mess. Ben Kingsley musters a few nice moments, some lush visuals, but overall: meh.


  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    That's great about GRINDER, Steve. Always a good sign!

    Yeah, I love Soderbergh too – this was just a misfire. And right, I keep forgetting about JUSTIFIED. I'm going to forget you said it, though – need to get some work done.

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex – I'm also lurgied at the moment, suffering from bronchitis.

    Yes, there are more than two guns in the UK – I can vouch for that. If you know where to look, you can find them easily enough. Sadly, most upstanding members of the community over here are more likely to write a jolly stiff letter to their Member of Parliament rather than reach for the Mossberg pump-action. Easier to find shotguns than handguns.

    I only saw one episode of the new Survivors and wasn't desperately impressed, but I remember the old version quite fondly.

    We've just finished watching season 6 of Bones on DVD – was there a writers' strike I missed while they were putting that one together? Ropey storylines, dodgy character development and horrendous product placement for Toyota. Not sure I'll be getting the next series. However, just seen season 1 of Justified and loved it, so will definitely be going after season 2. And enjoyed season 1 of Human Target, mainly because of Guerrero.

    Dusty, take better care of yourself, you hear? Stop scaring us like that 🙂

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Z, sorry about the bronchitis. Sucks being sick this time of year.

    If it was the first episode of Survivors you saw and weren't impressed with, I'm right with you. I only kept watching because I was bedridden. It did get a lot more interesting.

    I was thinking I'd check out the original. No more for me this week, though!

  12. Pari Noskin

    I ADORE Shawn of the Dead — one of my favorite movies of all time .. . and I'm not a zombie girl at all.

    Alex, have you watched Eddie Izzard's schtick on American vs British movies? I'm sure the segment is on Youtube, though I'd recommend any of his specials streaming on Netflix. Anyway, I think it speaks right to your point about sensibilities.

  13. Sarah W

    I had my holiday meltdown this afternoon while waiting to turn right on a major traffic artery until the fourteen cars in the cross-traffic, who had decided that the yellow light didn't really mean *them*, cleared the way . . . and then the older gentleman behind me lost his mind and started hitting the horn and making GO gestures, intent on forcing me with the power of his arrogant impatience to break the laws of physics.

    Instead, I lost *my* mind and taught my 8-year old a few new expressions of wonder that someone could see invisible openings in traffic from a car length back with his head stuck up his . . . never mind.

    But she forgave me, promised never to use any of the more graphic word combinations until she's old enough to vote. And I feel better.

    So Apocalypse averted, if that counts.

  14. Pari Noskin

    Yes, Alex. I'm having a bear of a time with the new setting. I don't know what happened to make the change.

  15. Susan Shea

    Shifting the discussion a bit, do you ever find watching 6,8,12 episodes of something in a row ends up exposing annoying weaknesses in concept, script, acting? Sometimes – because I binge too – the surprise and pleasure of first few gets old when I can't help but see the same plot device used every episode or a character's limited acting range when I thought he was so cool at first. For me "The Wire" (which I watched in large, gulping segments via Netflix) never faltered, kept me on my toes every hour, and was as potent in the last episode as the first. But others like MI-5, The Good Wife, and most definitely Law & Order became stale and predictable. Good post – stay well, everyone!

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sarah, great meltdown story! I swear, I am such a different person behind the wheel as I am anywhere else, it frightens me.

    But you know what? Your daughter needs to know the truth, it will save her on the road someday. 😉

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Reine, thanks, I know what I'm watching tonight. Get scared – senseless – and brush up on my French at the same time? I'm there!

    Tried to resend the books – check your e mail. Thank you!

  18. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Susan, knowing so many TV writers and showrunners I have to say that when you are finding those gross inconsistencies in story in a series it is almost always because the original creator of the series has departed, or been replaced by idiot executives (did I say that?). Sometimes an entire writing staff will be fired and replaced with friends of whoever. TV is a highly political business and it's a rare show that can hold on to its integrity. And continuity.

    Take a look at the credits, and if you see a big change in the lineup of the top executive producers, you can expect a really different direction in story.

    Wikipedia is so great about tracking changes in showrunners on TV shows (the last exec producer named is usually the showrunner. Search your favorite show on Wikipedia sometime and get the dirt. And EVERYONE – next time you're on Wikipedia, DONATE a bit. Come on, you know you use it.

  19. KDJames

    Alex, thanks for the reminder that I need to watch DEADWOOD. And THE WIRE. Sigh. There just aren't enough hours in my day. Maybe if I get sick… NONONO! I did NOT just say that.

    I don't think I've ever had a holiday meltdown. There must be something wrong with me. Well, other than the obvious.

    I can't recommend any apocalyptic things to watch, but have you read Brett Battles' SICK? Sick, as in a deadly and highly contagious (manufactured) flu virus. SO GOOD. The second book in the series (EXIT 9) is just out and I can't wait to read it. Might start tonight, as I have the next three days off and it won't matter if I'm up half the night reading.

    JD, WTF? Knock it off, you're scaring me. Please make them figure out what caused that. And then fix it.

    Wishing all of you a happy and healthy holiday, with plenty of time for good friends and good books.

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