Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Is the Walking Dead the most successful dystopian for grownups?

Glenn atop a cave-in looking down on a dark tunnel filled with undead.
I saw Divergent this weekend, and I liked it even if I thought the training sequence went on too long. I suppose one shouldn't complain if you are completely and totally in love with the characters. At that point, the desire to spend more time with them overwhelms the biological need to move onto something else. But I never reached this stage with Veronica Roth's magnum opus. Rather, I'd check my watch every now and then, but in the end it was still entertaining.

Dystopians are the new hotness these days (and to you literary buffs I acknowledge that there have always been dystopians like 1984, however, they never stole center stage like they do today). From Suzanne Collins to Allie Condie, you've got quite a plethora to choose from. But here's the thing: all of these are written for young adults. They star teenagers fighting for goodness against a backdrop of something that loosely resembles our world.

Are there even dystopians for adults? Sure. Atwood's Oryx and Crake is one that I've read. But it has none of the colossal influence that The Walking Dead has. This comic book series by Robert Kirkman is so powerful, it even eclipses Monday Night Football.

Why is The Walking Dead so popular? Dystopian stories written for teenagers speak about a world that they can affect. The real world can be seriously messed up and most of us have no idea of how to go about fixing it. Some of us blame big corporations while others blame big government. It really is two sides of the same coin and both present problems so hideously huge that a single person basically has no chance at all to make a difference.

However, in a story, one person can make a difference. For teenagers, it manifests as the heroine who faces down her fears and finds love and then wins through skill and hard work. For adults, it's a little bit more realistic. Our fears eventually get realized in an apocalyptic collapse of civilization, and now it's up to the individual people to try and survive. Every living person is now important in the scope of the big picture, because you need numbers to stay safe from the zombies. That's what The Walking Dead is all about, and it's probably why I'm addicted to it so much.

The Walking Dead finishes up its fourth season this weekend, and there's a dread growing in the pit of my stomach. For one, we've had foreshadowing all season long with Daryl lying in a coffin and Glenn allowing Maggie to burn the only picture he had of her. Sure, she says "you won't need a picture of me" and that's supposed to be reassuring. But it probably means Glenn is going to end up dead. Second, I know from the comics that the group is going to be encountering the Hunters soon (a group of cannibals). And ya know, Beth is still missing... Ugh. How creepy was Terminus to have only a single woman doing BBQ and there was no evidence of any animals around? Where did the meat come from?
This one panel explains why I think Terminus is just bad. "Those who
arrive, be eaten slowly."
This show is a master at making me care about the characters. The latest one that has grown on me is Eugene. He won me over my misleading Rosita back to the tunnel just to make sure Glenn and Tara made it out alive.

So what do you think? Is The Walking Dead the most successful dystopian for grownups? And are you looking forward to the season finale? If you're watching the show, do you think the people at Terminus are cannibals?


  1. Andrew Leon would tell you that none of those things you mentioned are dystopias except 1984.

    Next week is when Comcast does its Watchathon thing so I can finally watch Season 3 of Game of Thrones--just in time for everyone else to start watching Season 4.

  2. Hi, Michael.

    Just stopped by to say HI! Not really into the Walking Dead, but my Chicago bud, Melissa Bradley is, she keeps trying to get me to watch it. LOL.

    Hope all is well!

  3. I promise I'm going to binge watch this show to catch up. It's going to happen.

  4. I enjoy The Walking Dead and even though it's popular, on a personal level Cormac McCarthy's dystopian novel, The Road had a much more enduring and deep effect on me.

  5. I've missed this whole season of Walking Dead because I don't want to watch it in an uncomfortable folding chair in front of my computer. So I'll wait. But I CAN'T WAIT!! I think you're right though... it's got all of that "the other shoe really dropped" appeal. You know, the worst thing that we all fear will happen or can happen in life- the apocalyptic event that we all have in the back of our minds- stare at our kids late at night worrying "what if something were to happen to them like...". It's our nightmares come to life and we watch it battled out.

    I'm not sure it's really good for our psyches though...

    On an off the topic note: been MIA from the blogosphere because it's hard to comment from my cell phone and we're sharing my laptop in the household but I'm hoping it won't be a long term problem so I will pop around as much as possible.

  6. Now that we've finished watching all of the episodes of "Breaking Bad" I'm ready to watch "Walking Dead, if I can get my hands on seasons 1-3.I just finished reading your post on Walter White and really enjoyed it.

  7. Not sure I'd call Walking Dead a dystopian exactly, but Zombie Apocalyptic for sure. And it is amazing how popular it is. Nothing really compares it to. I also like your distinction between the focus of teens vs adults when it comes to their portrayal in the genre.

  8. Pat is correct about what Andrew Leon would say.

    I haven't watched walking dead, but dystopias require a government, and my impression of Walking Dead is that there's not one.

  9. Every season I catch up with The Walking Dead after it's over. I believe it is the most successful. I really have trouble with the YA dystopian books. I taught teenagers for 34 years and loved them, but they're just not ready to save the world or lead a revolution. And to imagine parents would put up with the Hunger Games and their children being publically killed??? Not likely.

  10. @Andrew: Can a lack of government be a type of government, i.e., anarchy?

  11. That short answer: I'd like to think so!

    I'm exactly inline with your thoughts here. :)

  12. On TV it probably is. I think the genre is an attractive one to write and read/watch. I'm rooting for dino zombies next.

  13. Most YA dystopian stories are really romances dressed up with a little sci-fi (the sci-fi is usually just the excuse to allow the teens to take centre stage, which they wouldn't get to do in a normal world).

    1984, Brave New World, Clockwork Orange, these are much more interesting (and less romantic) visions of the future.

    Moody Writing

  14. I haven’t watched Walking Dead, not my cup of tea (I know I must be the only person on the planet that isn't into this show), but I will watch the final episode just for kicks.

  15. As you know, I don't watch it. But I can guess that the answer to your question is YES. :)

    I like dystopian. I read Divergent and will probably watch it when it gets to Netflix.

  16. I'm probably one of the few who have never seen an episode of walking dead

  17. I have only seen two episodes since February so I'm way behind. That comic strip makes them sound like cannibals. The Walking Dead is an amazing horror series. I never really thought of it as dystopian but when I do it is pretty good there too. I'm watching Divergent in theatres tomorrow and I'm excited. The season finale of The Walking Dead (didn't even realize) is added to my list. Right now though I'm into ABC's Resurrection.

  18. I feel like this season took a long time to get moving, but the last few episodes have been jam packed with awesomeness. I'm so looking forward to the season finale, but I don't want it to be over! I can't wait to see what's really going on in Terminus. Glad you liked Divergent, I was wondering about how the movie would be because I greatly enjoyed the trilogy, but was underwhelmed with the movie trailer.

  19. "eclipses Monday Night Football."
    That is profound Mike. But I'd have to agree with it, even if I liked football.

    I'm disappointed at the number of YA fantasy and dystopia out there. I'm having to move into the contemporary world for paranormal; even thrillers and horror are more geared to YA.

    But, Walking Dead is truly a masterpiece. A study in character and world development. I'm pretty sure Beth was kidnapped by the same type people Daryl is following along with now (no way he's actually joined them), and the thought of cannibalism crossed my mind with this Terminus lady too. As for Glen and Maggie, it has to be Maggie that dies so he regrets letting her burn the picture.


  20. Really, truly, I will start watching the Walking Dead someday. It's just that I have to start way back at the beginning now and have a marathon day at least to catch up a bit.

    This was a perceptive analysis of dystopian stories, which are everywhere now, aren't they? As for the grown-up angle, there seems to be a deep appeal (at least this is what I'm feeling) in wondering what's it'd be like to be thrown into a dangerous, prolonged survival situation, one in which our private worlds are turned inside out. Would I survive? Am I now important and matter? Will I remain ethical, or what moral compromises might I be forced to make?

    Really good post, Michael my dear.

  21. I stopped watching, glad I did, my nightmares are horrific enough without that added nonsense! Sorry. I'm glad everyone else seems to be enjoying it!
    Not into the current YA trend. When I was growing up I read grown up books - but now adults are bowled over by the trend (buying the books by the millions)(okay, I'm jealous cause no one is buying my grown up book)LOL!
    I just don't get it, or maybe I do and don't want it!
    I mean I enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was entertaining, and set in the appropriate age setting, but now only those 16 to 18 can save the world, and it's getting old, but it's probably just me - I'm the one getting old. LOL

  22. Well, the speculative fiction of an era goes along with the fears and anxieties of the people living in that era. I do think that dystopians have something to do with our feelings of powerlessness. (And YA dystopias can be linked to teens and their struggles in high school.)

    The Walking Dead a grownup dystopia? Yeah, I can see it.

  23. TERMINUS scares me, either if it turns out it's the lair of cannibals or some religious sect...
    This season was bad thanks to the showruiner as I call the new showrunner. Drawn out, unfocused, Rickless :(, without the famous dynamic between scenes, I'm sad... Hope Carol gets eaten in the finale... such a twisted psycho she is...

  24. @Dezmond: You thought the season was bad? I've been enjoying every episode.

  25. I never thought of it this way, but you're right. The Walking Dead is an incredible show that does characterization like few others. I've read the graphic novels, and the things that are different in the show have been really good.

  26. I was worried when they changed showrunners again but have been pleasantly surprised this season. Last season with the prison had so much promise but turned into a mess. This season started down the same road but the split parties gave focus to characters and actors that were sorely underutilized with all the Rick focus.

    The episode with Beth and Daryl? Damn good. The one with Tyrese, Carol and the kids? Wow!

    The thing this show has going for it is it feeds off of audience need for new stories as we get bored easy. Glenn, Maggie, Carl, Rick - I'm good if they kill them all. They better not kill off Daryl as he's the true center of the show. And Michonne? No way! I'd add Carol to that list and I never thought I'd say that after season 2 which shows that the writers can redeem anyone.

    I can't think of any other show that has been able to kill off so many key characters and we keep coming back. We expect it as we know the 'group' will find new people with new stories down the road. Does that make the viewers the real zombies?