Robert Kirkman’s ongoing, Eisener Award winning, epic comic book series, The Walking Dead, has thrilled and chilled readers since 2003. Recently, a TV adaptation secured a second series, and now Telltale Games has announced that the franchise is to be turned into a video game. We can only hope the transition to console doesn’t kill The Walking Dead.
I am a huge fan of the book and I enjoyed watching the TV series, although I did think it deviated a little too much from the comic. The main draw of the franchise has always been the great writing. In all good zombie fiction, the undead serve simply as vehicle for story telling. As terrifying as the flesh-eating fiends are, they are never the true enemy. They cause the downfall of human society, a situation so far outside of every day life that ordinary people are pushed to extraordinary limits, and thus we can explore the darker aspects of humanity. As with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, World War Z and other great films and books of the genre, the most dangerous foe in zombie fiction is always us; the people whose weakness and actions in the face of adversity are their own undoing.
Telltale Games has an opportunity to create a great title from a great franchise, but my fear is that they may attempt to make the game challenging by introducing a variety of enemy types. In big release zombie games, zombies are commonly supplemented with “boss” enemies, such as Resident Evil’s dogs, crows and Tyrants. Left 4 Dead did an excellent job of representing a zombie horde (although the creatures are “infected” humans in the vein of 28 Days Later), but again relied on more ferocious creatures such as Boomers, Smokers and Tanks to add another layer of difficulty to the gameplay. Capcom’s Dead Rising managed to capture some of the Dawn of the Dead nostalgia by setting the game in a shopping mall and, for the large part, presenting the player with a zombie we would recognise from the George A Romero classics. Admittedly, the game was darkly comic and injected a great deal of fun into zombie killing, but even Capcom’s homage chose to modify the zombies, having them become faster and more dangerous at night than during the day.
The true horror of zombie fiction isn’t the graphic violence, the tearing of flesh from bone or the copious amounts of blood and gore, it’s the loss of individuality that results from being engulfed by them and the fear of becoming lost in the mindlessness of the horde. Kirkman’s creatures conform to the Romero paradigm of zombies - slow and lumbering, easy to avoid in small numbers but increasingly terrifying as their numbers swell. Ultimately, survival depends on groups working together in the face of a common enemy. It is my great hope for the game that it will remain true to this vision of zombies, and to Kirkman’s main narrative.
The greatest enemies presented throughout the comic book series are the array of psychopathic and self-interested characters that Rick Grimes, the series main protagonist, encounters, and this material provides a more than sufficient basis from which Telltale can draw. I look forward to the game, but very much hope that Telltale avoids creating other classes of the undead in an attempt to bolster gameplay, and represent such a great franchise in the manner it merits. My worry may be groundless, with Kirkman likely to work closely with the developers, but I truly hope they don’t kill The Walking Dead.