Don’t get me wrong; as I said before, zombies are awesome. They make for great monsters, and interesting things can and have been done with them; dilemmas about the ethics of killing what were once people, the horror of witnessing loved ones turn and the very unsettling notion of a self-propagating plague spreading through all mankind are all really cool narrative ideas. However, they’ve all been done to fucking death- un-death, even, hur hur. I think zombie fiction has become so commonplace that it’s very difficult to do something new or exciting with it.
This is where The Walking Dead comes in. I had hoped that this show, which came to me quite highly recommended, might be the shot in the arm that the genre needed. Alas not. It’s very much by-the-numbers zombie fiction- there’s gore, tense scenes, fearful protagonists and shambling corpses. As ever, the outbreak took everyone by surprise and ran improbably rampant. Nothing you wouldn’t expect happens- a band of survivors gets together and battle daily to keep on living among the dead. I mean, it’s well executed- the zombies look great, the action is thrilling, but shit! It’s so fucking dreary and predictable, because zombie fiction always plays out the same goddamn way.
For example- there’s always a moment, and there was in TWD, where someone says something like “This is gonna sound crazy, but the dead are rising up and killing people!” No, you fucking asshole, it doesn’t sound that crazy, it sounds like a zombie movie! This is a scenario with which, despite its improbability, I am quite familiar, thanks to having seen it play out often in fiction! Instead, however, our intrepid hero is shocked and confused, and goes on to make the same stupid mistakes as every other protagonist you’ve ever seen. It’s dull, and gets to the point that it harms characterisation; the characters on screen are not behaving like real people, because real people have seen a zombie flick at some fucking point. Ignoring this flaw in the fiction suckers you into the cliché; acknowledging it is difficult to pull off without it coming off as goofy-ass parody. Hell, even Shaun of the Dead’s nerdy protagonists, who by all rights should have been shamble-savvy, had a hard time in understanding what was going on.
So what can we do? I would be tempted to just stop making zombie fiction, at least for a while. Give it a rest, you know? A brief respite for the dead horse. That’s a little bit of a cop-out, though; it would probably be better if we were, somehow, to reinvigorate the genre. How? I got nothing. Maybe you create your characters with the prior knowledge, but have it work against them as the outbreak plays out differently to what they expect? Answers on a postcard, people, but one thing is clear- the dead can’t keep walking the same direction forever.