I hate how trendy zombies have become. What used to be a tiny niche of a horror subgenre has become an overexposed industry. Zombies have become tedious in much the same way Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer made vampires tedious. Admittedly, zombie romance isn’t that prevalent (although it certainly exists) and I’ve yet to see a single flesh-eater sparkle in the sunlight, but the ghouls have gone from horrifying and nightmarish to mainstream and cuddly.
That’s the downside. The upside is that there’s so much zombie product being churned out for all forms of media, the law of averages dictates that at least some of it turns out to be excellent.
I’ve been a zombie advocate for many years, dating back to where there were scant few examples of this now-ubiquitous trope. In the days of my youth there were only four viable entries in the cinematic niche of flesh-eating reanimated corpses: Romero’s Living Dead trilogy (back when it was only a trilogy) and the branching sequel Return of the Living Dead (the best of the zombie comedies until Shaun of the Dead arrived many years later).
And no, do not talk to me about Zombi 2 (the Italian pseudo-sequel to Dawn of the Dead – which was released in Italy as “Zombi”). Sure it had a classic injury-to-eye moment, but that’s pretty much the only thing in the entire movie that wasn’t stupid and worthless. One good gore effect does not a good zombie film make.
These days, in the midst of this glut of new material, some projects stand out amongst the fad’s cash-in fodder. The Walking Dead, now in its fourth year on AMC, is at the head of the pack – an ambitious, epic tale of survivors (who frequently fail to survive at all), derived from the hit comic book series of the same name. Fans have been left hanging since the mid-season climax late last year, waiting for the second half to pick up from the wrenching events we last witnessed. That’s the thing with The Walking Dead – you’re compelled to keep watching, even though you know awful horrific things are going to keep happening, often to a character you like.
As a professional screenwriter, I always watch shows with a mind bent on figuring out who might live or die, who’s guilty of a crime, or which couples might pair up. I don’t do this by examining evidence and making sound deductions. I do it by observing character arcs and determining who has been played out, built up, purposely sidelined, or creatively cast. It’s a talent and a curse. I’m rarely surprised (Games of Thrones’ red wedding only elicited a shrug and a “meh, figures” from me rather than the intended horror and disbelief, for example) but I do still derive pleasure from watching a magic trick well performed, even when I know how it’s done on a technical level.
Since The Walking Dead has a reputation for being an anybody-can-die-at-any-time kind of show, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is and make a few predictions. Here are the five most unkillable characters, according to me. Rest assured, if you like them, they are in no imminent danger. Unless I’m full of shit.
Number One: Carl. You can’t kill Carl because he represents hope for the future. He walks the road to hell like a post-apocalypse Daigoro to his father’s Ogami Itto. We may be seeing the story unfold largely through Rick’s eyes, but his experiences ripple down to his son. Whatever lessons Rick learns along the way, are ultimately Carl’s to benefit from and to carry into the post-post-apocalypse period, some time currently unforeseeable, when the dead stop walking the Earth.
Number Two: Daryl. When he made his first appearance in season one, he looked like trouble. I had him pegged for the first live human who would have to be murdered for the safety of the group. But removed from the bad influence of his brother, he started to come around. Then he got awesome and quickly became a fan favourite. Although the TV series isn’t married to anything that’s happened in the comic book source material, Daryl’s ultimate fate is wide open because he’s one of the few major characters created exclusively for the show. As long as fans keep cheering on the crossbow-wielding hick, he’s safe. And why would they stop cheering him on? I mean, the dude TOOK OUT A TANK single-handed in the mid-season climax. He’s a goddamn superhero.
Number Three: Rick. Killing off the main character would be problematic, but not impossible. It’s highly unlikely they’ll ever get rid of the character, except perhaps in a series finale. The only thing that could do Rick in before that moment is a bad round of contract negotiations with Andrew Lincoln’s management. If an actor becomes too expensive, the writer’s room will be given the task of disposing of him quickly and brutally. Money is king in Hollywood, and nobody is indispensable if they threaten the bottom line.
Number Four: Michonne. I won’t discount the possibility of her going out in some heroic blaze of glory in a future season, but right now she’s far too awesome to dispatch. I’m not making a serious romantic prediction here, but I feel I should point out that if Daryl and Michonne hooked up, they could repopulate the world with a warrior caste of asskickery. I also think they’d make a cute couple because Michonne has melee encounters covered with her katana, while Daryl can lend support with ranged combat. Oops. Sorry, that’s my video game/RPG geekiness leaking through. This is supposed to be about zombie geekiness. I’ll try not to mix my poisons.
Number Five: Judith. This is going out on a limb because she might already be dead. The last we saw of her was a blood stain in a stroller. But I’m betting she was ushered to safety by her entourage of little-kid bodyguards. The show has been pretty uncompromisingly ballsy, but I don’t think they have it in them to kill off a baby. Not at this moment, at least. As for the comics… Well, we’ve already seen that the original comic books make the TV show look like a Disney cartoon. For example – if you haven’t read the graphic-novel collections – let’s just say that the dispute between Michonne and The Governor was over rather more than a single poked-out eyeball. Killing Sophia was an early indication of the series’ big brass balls, but I know there are some suit-and-tie executives behind the scenes, wringing their hands as they count all the money, worrying that bumping off a baby will alienate too many TV viewers and adversely affect ratings. I’m sure there’s a memo or two circulating the production office to that effect. Whether this is a note or a decree will be confirmed soon enough.
Are these predictions bold or safe, daring or banal? I don’t know. I’m probably just shooting the shit because I like good zombie material and I want to help alleviate some of the viewer anxiety people experience when they watch this sort of thing and fret over their beloved characters who never seem to be free of mortal peril and gnashing teeth.
I know how it feels. I guess I still haven’t recovered from that day I first watched Roger and Flyboy take a bite for the team.