There was a moment earlier last week – sat on my sofa, tuning into the recommencement of Season 10 of The Walking Dead – where I remembered, with some embarrassment – just how out of control my obsession with zombies threatened to get for a while.
Truth be told, my relationship with AMC’s long running episodic apocodrama is a complicated, even unhealthy one. Rarely has episodic TV fluctuated between brilliant and banal so frequently, and there have been times during the show’s run where I’ve walked away with every intention never to return. To paraphrase The Godfathers’ Michael Corleone, “just when I think I’m out… their maggoty fingers pull me back in”. Seeing The Walking Dead to the finishing line – the main show is due to wrap up in 2022 at the end of an 11th season – feels like something I just need to do.
When the series debuted in 2010, I was already struggling to kick a serious habit. I’d been reading Robert Kirkman’s comic of the same name since its launch issue in 2003, while as a horror movie lifer, I’d grown up in awe of George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead series, graduating in due course to the films of Lucio Fulci. 1979’s Zombi 2, a film intended to be a sequel of sorts to Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead and released a year prior in Italy as Zombi – is perhaps the greatest movie in the genre I’ve ever seen. There’s a scene in it in which a zombie fights a shark, underwater – if you were on the fence about whether to rent.
The Walking Dead debuted within a Golden Age of zombie-themed gaming, a trend kick started, in part, by the success of 2008’s Call Of Duty: World At War and it’s excellent ‘Zombie Mode’. WAW’s infestation of the undead didn’t just cement zombies within the gaming mainstream, it reinvigorated Activision’s FPS series. During his address at 2015’s DICE event, Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia revealed that the unlockable, started by a “creative restless” team, taught the studio that their IP didn’t need to be constrained by the historical combat scenarios that had defined the series to that date. A fan of Black Ops? You’ve got zombies to thank for that franchise’s existence.
Two years prior, I’d thrown myself headfirst into a then scarcely known game called Dead Rising. Developed by Capcom – themselves no stranger to zombies; 1996’s Resident Evil is principally responsible for the revival of zombies within popular culture – Dead Rising was a game for people who loved zombies, made by people who adored them. Perhaps too much. In 2008 a copyright claim made by the MKR Group – who owned the copyright to George A. Romero’s 1978 film Dawn Of The Dead, a sequel to the aforementioned Night Of… – was dismissed in court, despite the film, and the first Dead Rising, both taking place in a shopping mall. How did Capcom get away with it? They claimed that, unlike the movie, their game wasn’t trying to provide any social commentary, as Romero’s film was doing on the topic of consumerism.
The hits came thick and fast; there was 2008’s Left 4 Dead. A year later, for the Wii (and arguably the best title for said system that wasn’t published by Nintendo) the excellent rail shooter The House Of The Dead: Overkill. In the same year, Plants Vs. Zombies, the iOS version of which I was so hooked on – so absorbed in – I would regularly miss my stop home from work on the bus. Zombies were so in vogue during this time that in 2010 Rockstar took it upon themselves to release a stand-alone expansion pack, dropping zombies into that same year’s ultra-acclaimed Red Dead Redemption and calling itUndead Nightmare.
Then in 2012 there was the beginning of Telltale’s The Walking Dead episodic adventure series, which was notable for telling post-apocalyptic stories that were often better than much of what the TV show had to offer. The studio’s flair with storytelling never translated to profitability, and Telltale fell apart in 2018, losing their last investor mid-way through the release of The Walking Dead: The Final Season. A sad end to one of gaming’s great innovators.
Where this leaves The Walking Dead’s future within video games is anyone’s guess. I held high hopes for Overkill’s The Walking Dead. After all, Payday was fun, right? After a tonne of delays, cancelled console ports and the parting of ways between publishers Skybound Entertainment and developers Starbreeze Studios, the game was declared dead by all parties in 2019.
I’m not nearly as obsessed with zombies now as I was all those years ago, and whenever I do get the craving to explore the end of the world, The Last Of Us series – The Walking Dead in all but name – satisfies my cravings. If that doesn’t work? Well, I never did get around to finishing off Days Gone. And yet there is part of me that would love to see The Walking Dead reanimated on my console again. Part of me that would love to inhabit the grubby poncho of Daryl or slice and dice the dead like Michonne. I live in hope… and with something sharp to hand at all times, obviously.