Archive for the ‘zombie’ Category

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I felt the need to scratch that post-apocalypse zombie itch (again) and remembered I had Monster Island sitting on my bookshelves. Unread. Published in 2006, David Wellington was definitely one of those authors at the forefront of the zombie resurgence but I was happily surprised by what I discovered as I read this fantastic novel.

Kicking off by introducing one of the main protagonists, Dekalb, a UN worker caught up by the apocalypse in East Africa, Monster Island continues to make interesting and inventive turns and twists throughout. Under the ‘protection’ of a Somali warlord, Dekalb is offered the opportunity to keep his daughter safe; all he need do is find enough HIV/AIDS medication to keep the warlord alive. Unfortunately, it’s a far from easy task and, along with a squad of teenage girl soldiers, Dekalb is soon expanding his search all the way to New York.

Here, things truly turn. Dekalb meets our main antagonist Gary. A former medical student and self-made undead, Gary realised that zombification was inevitable but, if done on purpose and with some thought, might result in reanimation without total brain damage and, therefore, loss of personality. However, Gary is still a zombie and his hunger, and situation, can’t be overcome. New York is now the battleground as Dekalb and his girl warriors strive to survive and complete their mission against teeming odds.

What I found interesting is that David Wellington uses the zombie genre as a fantasy setting. It allows him to introduce ideas and characters way outside of the accepted apocalypse tropes. Whilst we still have armed survivors making a stand, military assets being deployed and zombie hordes, others join the fray including a long-dead Scottish Druid with magical powers. It’s a heady mix of fantastical undead proportions and makes for a tumultuous landscape against which Dekalb tries to do the right thing whilst trying to get back to his own daughter.

In the end, Monster Island retains its brutality. It is both fantasy and zombie apocalypse and though there are sparks of humour and touches of character introspection, the conclusion is quite terrible in its honesty. Like all good zombie fiction, Monster Island isn’t just about cracking skulls and drinking toilet water to stay alive; it’s about the cost of the choices made in the desperation to survive that reveals so much about humanity.

My copy
Published by Snowbooks Ltd

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My wife and I had to take a break in the middle of season 6 for reasons I’ll lay out a bit later, so it took us until a week before the start of chapter seven to catch up. Being slightly obsessed with the show, I felt a proper, continuous rerun was in order for me to fully deal with the fallout from that most shocking openining episode.

Season 6 frustrated me for a number of reasons. Rick and his group came into Alexandria as wild, hardened survivors. The meek residents of the compound knew nothing of the outside world and it’s horrors and Rick was determined to show them that he and his crew were the top dogs. However, a number of mistakes were made, essentially weakening Alexandria and allowing it to come under attack.

Whilst I recognise that many of these ‘mistakes’ are plot devices, in the logic of The Walking Dead world, these errors display a persistent softness in the group. In season 5, Daryl gets caught up in a trap set by the truly feral ‘Wolves’ thereby (accidentally) revealing the location of the compound. Later, he again gets caught by another desperate group on the run from the ‘Saviours’ (who we subsequently meet). Both times he has allowed himself to be tricked and both times it has resulted in dire consequences. As the group’s tracker and most rugged survivor, letting his guard down this often begs the question. Similarly, Ricks weird obsession with Jessie, which ultimately puts his own family in huge danger, displays a serious lack of consideration. As a final example, there is Glenn’s choice to cover for Nicholas and protect him; again this failure to eliminate an issue has seriously bad results (and this is where my wife and I stopped watching as we thought Glenn had been killed, and in such a pointless and frustrating manner).

I could go on. The point is, at the core of Rick and his group is a tendency to help, to try to retain their humanity, to perceive themselves as the good guys and, therefore, able to defeat evil. And I think this is the crux of the matter.

The group has overcome the Governer; they escaped and eliminated Terminus. They are good people who’ve had to do bad things but that’s the problem. They are still holding on to the things that make them vulnerable or that make them hesitate when they should act.

It’s the reason why Carol broke so badly that she felt the need to leave the safety of the group. It’s the reason Morgan sees all life as precious but incessantly puts people in danger due to his personal ethos. The reason Glenn and Daryl hesitate and then pay the consequences. They aren’t as bad or as tough or as hardened as they think they are. It leads to stupid decisions, especially the idea that they can take on the Saviours.

What is so frustrating is the fact that they should be smarter because of everything they’ve done. They should recognise that there are no good guys left; everyone has done necessary evils to stay alive, especially Rick’s group. But they haven’t learned to let go of the things that make them weak. A great example of this is when Carol and Maggie were captured. I thought Carol was faking her fear as a ruse to lure the Saviours into a trap (my wife thought otherwise and she was right). Carol didn’t want to kill anymore because of her own guilt and remorse but she also couldn’t bear to see Maggie hurt – she broke in the worst way because it all became too much. Her tormentor, on the other hand, had given in to the logic of the apocalypse and this counterpoint highlighted a fundamental flaw in our protagonists.

It’s exactly this flaw that continues to see Rick and his group dominated by other survivors. Whilst the idea of the family unit is what makes the group so strong and capable of overcoming hardships, it is also what makes them so vulnerable. Caring for people means that it can be used against you. Similarly, holding on to old ideas mean that you’ve yet to accept the reality of the situation – one which is absolutely brutal.

And, this is none more so portrayed in the gruesomely terrifying opening episode of season 7. I’ve yet to watch the rest of the series but if that was a starter of things to come, it’s going to be rough for our protagonists.

Season 6 is an odd one, basically it sets up the introduction of the Saviours and its impact by allowing us to think that Alexandria is, perhaps, the end of the journey. That, though the apocalypse rages on, the group had survived and found a place to fortify and settle. Yet, much like the prison, threats abound. Once again, it let’s hope in, only to have it smashed to pieces with a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat.

Now, all I need to do is find the time to watch season 7…

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Re-watching The Walking Dead has been an interesting exercise for me. Not just from a pure entertainment point of view but also for all the nuances and details that I missed the first time around. Perhaps, with some of the shock and horror taken out of the series, I’ve been allowed to peek over the metaphorical cushion a little more, to watch a bit more observantly. And so, with great mental fortitude, I revisited season five..

This is, in my opinion, one of the most brutal seasons of the series so far. Not only are we confronted from the outset by some truly hideous scenarios, we also see a number of great characters lose their lives. Season five is one of change; almost a paradigm shift from ‘what was’ to ‘what is’. By that I mean, it’s a move away from the last vestiges of civilised society to one that is explicitly premised on survival, and one that all but removes any ideas of hope.

The opening episode sets the tone for much of the fifth season. Terminus, that beacon the group strived so hard to reach, hides a secret more horrifying than anything encountered in the series. Confronting a group so warped that they’ve resorted to cannibalism displays in stark relief how possible it is to give in to the insanity of this new, post-apocalyptic world.

On the other hand, Beth is trapped in an equally bizarre camp where humans are commodities, kept to be used or abused as those in power see fit. Both Terminus and the hospital exhibit an exterior of safety and sanctuary but, underneath, each is a twisted reflection of people’s degeneration (a lesson that will stay with the group, affecting their reactions to Atlantis).

These story arcs both culminate in a number of losses for the group as Beth, Bob and Tyresse are all killed. But these deaths aren’t just used for shock value. All these characters embodied hope, positivity and the possibility of a future and each death serves to reinforce that idea of hopelessness that this season is so concerned with.

These factors all bleed over into the Atlantis portion of the season. The group have become wild, almost feral due to their experiences. But, and this is the heart of it, only the strong are left now and whether they are cannibals, psychos or a group like Rick’s, they are all steeped in violence. There is no room for weakness or softness or compromise or hope. They trust no-one as evidenced by their reaction to Gabriel. They leave no threat able to act against them.

Atlantis poses a different but no less dangerous threat. The people are weak, scared and inexperienced fighting against both zombies and survivors. In The Walking Dead cowardice and fear get people killed, as we see with Noah. It’s another example of lost hopes and also the first time we see Glenn crack.

Season five has forged Rick and his group into battle-hardened survivors. It has wrought irrevocable changes on them all and the question of whether they can find themselves again or start afresh remains at the forefront. The fact remains, however, that to survive you must be prepared to do whatever it takes.

Season five is no-holds-barred and the finale is the nail in the coffin for any notion of returning to life as it was. My wife and I are currently halfway through the sixth season and it seems like there’s little let up. I’ll admit, I’m obsessed with the show but it is amazing viewing.

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My wife and I are slowly making our way through season 6 of The Walking Dead but we each had a number of questions we needed answered. Due to a bunch of factors (mainly being sleep deprived parents at the time) we’d both forgotten certain elements from the series. I decided to take one for the team and embarked upon an epic re-watch of the series during my lunch breaks. That said, please bear with me as I untangle my thoughts about season 1-4…

Going back and watching the show from the start has made a few things very apparent. Firstly, being a father changes everything. Rick’s relationship with Lori (and Carl) is something that became drastically different the second time of viewing. Initially, I found her character despicable; how quickly she moved on to Shane and her reactions to the resulting conflict between the two (former) friends. At first I thought Rick was weak for allowing the situation to stand because, of course, he knew before he was told. Yet, it takes a strong man to support his family, especially a wife possibly pregnant with another man’s child. There’s a steel will at the core of Rick’s character and this initial story arc showed just how deep his strengths go.

However, all of this was prefaced by Shane’s deceptions. This is another aspect of the first season that has repercussions over the course of the series. It portrays how, under the stresses of the apocalypse, people begin to unravel quickly. Or, using the cover of societies collapse, people’s real, unchecked desires come out. However, Shane was clearly a capable survivor but his crumbling emotional fortitude became his undoing. It’s a theme that stays current with all the characters: how the things they do in the name of survival change and warp them, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

And this brings me back to Carl. Rick’s sense of fatherly duty and love for his son sees him make harder and harder decisions quicker as time moves forward. Where he tried to maintain a moral code earlier on, it soon dawns on him (thanks to Shane) that he has to take decisive actions to keep his children safe. The protective instinct is something most parents feel deeply and his willingness to do whatever it takes to keep his family alive is a driving force that few can withstand.

Yet Carl, Glenn, Daryl, Carol, Michonne and others are all prominent protagonists each facing their own dark paths and emotional motivations. This is none so more apparent than towards the end of season 4. Glenn and Maggie have gone to great lengths to find each other and neither are the same as they were: Glenn is no longer a ‘yes man’ but is a husband, determined to make smart choices whilst Maggie has realised that she requires the whole family group to achieve safety. Carol has changed into a fiercely strong survivor yet her willingness to protect the core group verges on manic and she is forced to re-evaluate her choices though she remains willing to do what is necessary. On the other hand Daryl has lowered his emotional boundaries and become hugely important to the group, much like the emotionally damaged Michonne; a character who was, at first, reticent and obscure yet who has become integral to the group.

Yet, it is a discussion between Michonne and Carl that highlights an essential aspect of TWD. After witnessing a berserk Rick decimate a gang of human attackers, Michone is trying to explain to Carl how being a parent can drive a person to do anything it takes to protect their child. Describing how she became a monster after the loss of her son, Carl admits that he, like his father, is just another monster, committing acts of terrifying violence just to stay alive.

This is the crux of The Walking Dead in my opinion. It’s not the zombies that are the real danger in the story but other humans. From Shane to Merle and then to the Governor, it’s always these characters, twisted and unleashed by the end of civilization that pose the biggest threat. Whilst the undead create a shared psychosis within which all the survivors are caught, a perfect catalyst of loss and horror, it is the people, detached from social norms who are the true monsters at large.

Rick’s group need each other not just to stay alive but to also retain their humanity and it is characters like Dale, and then Herschel, who try to keep them from falling off the edge, who attempt to hold them back from the brink. However, at the end of season 4, trapped with Terminus, Rick offers a glimpse of where his crew are headed with the epic line, “They don’t know who they’re fucking with.” It speaks volumes about his resolve and determination to survive but also how far he is drifting without the likes of Herschel to temper him (something the fifth and sixth series display, though that’s another post).

This is what makes The Walking Dead such compelling viewing. The characters develop and evolve realistically within the framework whilst the storytelling and the plotting is wonderfully paced. It’s a brutal place and an effective crucible to tell stories about humankind and, in the end, that’s what makes post-apocalypse/zombie horrors such a gripping premise.

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As a huge fan of The Walking Dead I was more than excited at the prospect of a spin-off series. After finishing series 5 of TWD, it was great to have the new spin-off recorded and ready to go. Robert Kirkman has created an amazing zombie apocalypse scenario with his comic books and the TV series just seems to get better and better. So, it was with some trepidation and excitement that I watched Fear The Walking Dead, hoping that it would cover new ground and find it’s own place in the world he and his creative partners have produced. In my opinion, they nailed it.

Set over six episodes, the show centres around a dysfunctional family: high school guidance counselor Madison Clark, her English teacher boyfriend Travis Manawa, her daughter Alicia, her drug-addicted son Nick, and Chris, Travis’ son from a previous marriage. Adding to this odd collective is an elderly barber, Daniel Salazar, Griselda, his wife and Ofelia, their daughter.

Two things surprised me from the outset. Firstly, how they dealt with having to ‘reboot’ the Walking Dead premise. Viewers are, in the main, coming to this new version of events knowing what it’s all about, what’s happened and how crazy and quickly the apocalypse occurred because of The Walking Dead. What this series did was to play on these expectations. Rather than dragging out the inevitable appearance of the first zombie, we were shown one early on and this, along with the viewers preconceptions, allowed the show creators to really ramp up the tension. Using the same set ups and subverting them for this spin-off was brilliantly handled.

Secondly, how they managed to make such an unlikeable bunch of characters interesting and worth investing in. None of the family members, or indeed the Salazars, are people with many redeeming features. They’re out for themselves from the outset but it’s these characteristics that make them likeable in a sense; they don’t do stupid things but they do put their family’s safety first. They are selfish and self-interested and this is what will help them survive in a drastically changing world. In a sense they are the ‘everyone’ of society putting themselves first; completely unlike Rick Grimes (or at least the series one Rick Grimes before everything happened to him and his family and friends).

It’s good that the main lead female is tough and prepared to do what she needs to do. Equally, having Daniel Salazar on board makes for an interesting addition (because of his past and unflinching attitude to violence). However, I thought the inclusion of drug addict Nick was the most intriguing choice. As a junkie, he already has the skills to scavenge, steal and take opportunities others (normal citizens) wouldn’t initially. It’s his ability to know the fringe of society and hide in plain sight that will help him survive the initial collapse.

One thing I have seen kicked about is a general disgruntled opinion when it comes to missing out on that actual apocalyptic event; the lost nine days. The family are safely ensconced in a military safe zone and so removed from the zombie break out. I’m not sure showing the losing battle against the zombies was the ever the point of TWD series. It’s been done in books and films before. The interest lies in how the survivors adapt, change and evolve in a world destroyed. The series has never really been about zombies, in my opinion. Instead, it’s a character driven drama that uses the horror and threat of zombies to fuel stories about human survival and relations under such immense duress.

Fear The Walking Dead is taking this same premise from a new angle. The family aren’t like Rick Grimes; they aren’t driven to be moral or save the day. They are looking to escape and the series finale showed they cared little for the consequences beyond their own immediate survival. I’m looking forward to seeing how they get out of the city and how they solve the next set of problems they’ll come across. I might not like Nick or his extended family but I am interested in their story.