Being an absolutely massive fan of The Walking Dead TV series, I was really pleased to see on Amazon that they had the official companion book to go with the TV programme. I don't ever normally buy any merchandise to go with films or TV series, but this programme and its special effects have intrigued me from the pilot episode and I have been eager to learn how it has been achieved as well as a little more about the behind the scenes and inspiration for the programmes. For a little over £8 I had the book whinging its way to me from Amazon, and as soon as it arrived I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it ; )
The Walking Dead is a successful and award winning TV series as well as a comic book and has many different themes depending on which way you look at it. It would most obviously be described as a post apocalyptic zombie TV series which rather than having a beginning and very much an end like in films, the TV series follows a family on a 'what happens next' when the world gets taken over by zombies. I would also say that it is also very much an exploration of the breakdown of modern day culture which involves technology and loss of communication with those closest to us. It throws a group of people together and forces them to go back to basics, to watch each other's back and to communicate with each other. While many films have tried (some successfully, some not so) to portray the post apocalyptic events of a zombie nation, The Walking Dead is the first TV series to do so, and this takes guts (sorry I can't help myself with these puns!). To say this TV series is a success would, in my opinion, be a slight understatement. It has so far won Emmys and been nominated for several Golden Globes, and it even has a score of 8.5/10 on IMDB (pretty high for the critics on there!).
The Walking Dead official companion book is ideal for any fan, breaking different sections up into 8 chapters such as 'world-building in comics', 'from page to screen' and 'populating the world of the living dead', there is something for everyone. While I'm not particularly interested in the comic book side of the hit programme, I appreciate the value of it, especially with some of the artwork that is skilfully placed throughout the book. An introduction by creator Robert Kirkman explains how the comic was brought to life and subsequently how this was turned into an on screen adaptation. The passion is clear from all who write in this book and it makes me like the programme a whole load more than I already did.
The Walking Dead follows Rick and his family, although not together. Rick wakes from a coma (this is explained in the pilot) to find that the world as he knew it is over and discovers that although he is totally alone in the human respect, he is not alone when he finds zombies coming at him left, right and centre! Rick is the local Sheriff and exudes a certain aura about him that he must protect and serve at all times. He wears his uniform daily and offers help to other survivors where he can.
The book breaks down each of the episodes from Series 1 (we are now on series 2 on FX), but interestingly it explains how it even got to TV, with one interesting paragraph explaining how the creators managed to get NBC interested, who responded with 'This is really great. Does there have to be zombies in it?'. It's interesting how, even the big players sometimes don't know what they've got till it's gone. I wonder if the person who made this quote still has a job at NBC after its worldwide success?!
Within each chapter we get a glimpse of how the special effects are achieved and I was happy when I saw the making of the 'bicycle girl' had been shared. This scene involved Rick stumbling across a rather sad looking zombie who only had her torso remaining but continued to drag herself along trying to find her next fix of human flesh. Rather than feeling contempt for the zombie, you really feel for her and urge Rick to put her down as it were. Rather than just the odd shot of this particular zombie, you see her continually in the episode for a good length of time, enough to think 'how on earth have they done that?!', and want to see how prosthetics as well as visual effects can make something seem so real. The step by step photo sequence of the sculpted life cast made by the make up team, as well as a photo sequence of the work that the visual effects team have done is fantastic, and for those really interested, there is also an explanation of the work needed. A photo of the actress who plays the zombie just finished this little chapter off nicely and adds appreciation for the viewer (or maybe just me!) to the work that the production team put in to just one zombie, when there are literally hundreds and thousands of them throughout the series (some digital, some actors and actresses).
Although the concept of the Walking Dead is most definitely zombies, the zombies are actually meant to come second to the exploration of the human drama, but obviously we need to be terrified by the zombies still. The 'Breathing Life into the Dead' chapter gives us a further breakdown of how actors and actresses have been made into these terrifying and convincing walking dead. I'm not afraid to admit to you that after a long and tiring day at work, after watching a particularly jumpy episode of The Walking Dead, whilst I was brushing my teeth my husband thought it would be amusing to come round the corner pretending to be a zombie. Unfortunately for him, he didn't realise that I would burst into tears and he spent the next two hours apologising profusely! I'm not sure if it was a mixture of tiredness and jumpiness from watching the episode but it proves that the characters are convincing as it had made me very jumpy - this book brought me back to reality that they are not real!!!
One of the chapters spends time examining the characters within the series which Rick meets on his search for safety and shelter. It explains why characters have been given the personality traits that they have and gives a little more understanding for a viewer of the TV series as to the complexities of the group.
In chapter five 'adapting the visual style of The Walking Dead' Frank Darabont (Director of The Walking Dead and many other successful adaptations such as Stephen King's Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption) explains how they approached the making of the series like they would a film, and I think this has most certainly paid off. The series (although content wise it couldn't be any different) reminds me very much of the series 24, in that the quality and scale is definitely on par with a film. They employed a crew who had predominantly spent their careers working in the movie industry and this chapter interviews and explains the direction of some of the crew including David Tattersall, Director of Photography, who had previously worked on Star Wars and The Green Mile. Breaking down the inspirations and ideas behind not only the Creator and Director, but other important members of the crew is really interesting to read and explains why things are the way they are.
The final chapter (and also my favourite) explains the marketing of the series and how they have attracted an audience as large as they have. It is interesting to read how a network begins such a task, and although they had fans from the comic book, the network needed to promote the series to viewers who were unaware of the comic. The chapter has a full A4 page of the main marketing page of Rick riding horseback into Atlanta on the high way, while the opposite side of the road is grid locked full of traffic. The picture is in colour but with muted and gloomy colours, which for me still makes me want to watch the series from the beginning even though I know what happens from start to finish.
The book is full of pictures of scenes taken from the series, as well as pictures taken from the comic. The mix of typed words and hand written pages, gloomy colours and each page having a black border, make the book get you in the mood to be a little bit spooked as soon as you pick it up, rather than it being written on plain white pages with boring typed paragraphs. The book is full of very graphic material, and a perfect example is one of the last pages which has an extremely grisly scene. The book is certainly something that needs to be kept out of the reach of children, and I keep my copy in the top of my wardrobe just in case my children were to find it on the book case, they would be traumatised for the rest of their childhood! I have to recommend this book, but if you do take up my recommendation, please keep it away from little ones - it nearly traumatised me after my husband's rubbish impression of a zombie!!!
5. Stars. Without. A. Doubt.