A Guide to The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is one of our favorite shows, and it has been absolutely dominating its competition over the last few years. In its fifth and current season, no episode has had a viewership of less than 12 million, which is simply massive for a TV show that isn’t live sports. The season finale is set to air this Sunday, one-on-one with WrestleMania, and should prove to be one of the biggest TV events of the year… well, until Season 6 premieres.
We already talked about The Walking Dead TV show and its origins as a series of graphic novel in our blog about genre-defining zombie films and franchises, and much like we did with our guide to Resident Evil, we’re expanding on the idea. So, we present this guide to The Walking Dead, not only to serve as a brief plot summary to help you catch up (or get interested in starting the series), but to share some facts about the original source material and other adaptations. There probably are going to be some spoilers along the way, so proceed with caution. (In other words, don’t open; spoilers inside.)
In This Post:
The Walking Dead Comics
Cover of the first issue of The Walking Dead, published by Image Comics. Art by Tony Moore.
In 2003, Image Comics released the first issue of Robert Kirkman’s now-classic comic book series, The Walking Dead, which is currently up to 139 issues and its twelfth volume. The black-and-white, heavily stylized artwork and post-apocalyptic setting combined with detailed and relatable characters gained immediate notoriety and a dedicated fanbase, and the serial has received the coveted Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series at Comic-Con. Max Brooks, author World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide is an admitted fan of the show, too.
The story of The Walking Dead is a classic zombie apocalypse tale, set in Georgia. Rick Grimes, a sheriff’s deputy, his family, his friends, and others must band together to fight off the zombies (or walkers, or lurkers, or roamers, to use other terms common to the series) and ultimately survive in a destroyed world. Right now, there are 23 volumes of the comic book, with the current one, Whispers Into Screams, ending this month. Volume 24 will begin in September 2015.
So far, each of the major story arcs from these volumes has been adapted into its own season of AMC’s Walking Dead show, roughly speaking – the show has, naturally, had to stretch certain plot points of each six-issue volume to fit a whole season, and therefore is a fairly loose adaptation. In other words, we have at least 19 more seasons of The Walking Dead to watch.
The Walking Dead TV Show
Cropped from The Walking Dead title card, ©AMC
AMC announced its TV adaptation of the Walking Dead comics in 2010, to be produced by Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd, with comic book creator Robert Kirkman. Darabont also recruited several cast members of The Walking Dead: Laurie Holden, Jeffery DeMunn, and Melissa McBride have all had major parts in the show and were all in Darabont’s film The Mist, for example.
The Walking Dead cast has shifted and changed throughout its run (shockingly, some of the characters in a story about the zombie apocalypse have died) but Andrew Lincoln as the lead Rick Grimes has been one of the constants. Not one of the dozens (and counting) of main characters that have appeared on the show have been in every single episode, though – even Rick has missed a few.
One member of the production that is seen in every episode, however (albeit indirectly), and one of the most important behind-the-scenes people on the show, is makeup designer and special effects artist Gregory Nicotero. Nicotero worked under George A. Romero and “The Godfather of Gore” Tom Savini on Day of the Dead in 1985. As far as zombie makeup and visual effects go, Nicotero is one of the top-tier professionals in the world, and he’s already won two Emmys for his prosthetic work on The Walking Dead.
Premiering on Halloween 2010, the most appropriate possible debut date for any horror series, The Walking Dead opens with the shooting of sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes. Rick awakens in an abandoned hospital days later, and discovers the zombie apocalypse waiting outside. After soon reuniting with his family and friends, as well as other survivors along the way, Rick’s plan is for the group to flee the city and make their way to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Season 2 of The Walking Dead, while not as critically acclaimed as Season 1, resulted in what were the highest-rated and most-viewed episodes of a television drama in the history of AMC at the time. It also saw Glen Mazzara take over the role of executive producer on the show.
The premiere episode begins with the iconic scene of the abandoned vehicle traffic jam on the highway. After looting cars for supplies, the group has to escape from a horde of walkers. Much of the season takes place on a farm owned by Hershel Greene, which serves as a suitable location for a camp to temporarily escape the apocalypse.
This was the first sixteen-episode season of The Walking Dead, matching the “double season” formula of other popular AMC shows, like Breaking Bad.
The major setting of Season 3 is an abandoned prison, in which Rick and the survivors seek refuge after leaving the farm in the previous season. The Governor, leader of the neighboring Woodbury community, is also introduced in this season, which serves as a primary source of conflict for Rick (along with, you know, all of the zombies).
Scott M. Gimple replaced Mazzara as the showrunner on The Walking Dead at the beginning of this season. Several major characters from the comics are also finally introduced, including Lilly, Abraham, Rosita, Bob, and the Chamblers (or, the Chalmers, in the comics). Still set in the prison, this season sees Rick relinquish the nigh-dictatorial leadership style over the survivors he had taken on.
Season 5 of The Walking Dead premiered to an audience of 17.29 million viewers, which made it the most viewed single broadcast of a cable drama in history. That’s also more than three times the average per-episode viewers that the first season of the show had. The band of cannibals from the comics known as the Hunters debuted in the season, as the survivors attempt to seek a cure for the walker virus in Washington, D.C. The season finale, “Conquer,” airs this weekend, and will be the 67th episode in the series overall.
It was confirmed that Season 6 of The Walking Dead was ordered by AMC in October of 2014, a few days before the first episode of the fifth season aired. It’s scheduled to premiere in October of this year.
The Walking Dead Spin-Off Series
The Walking Dead TV series is also getting a new companion show, which is scheduled to start airing on AMC this summer. More calendar months filled with zombie drama? We’re okay with that. At the time of this post, the show is currently untitled, with a code name of “Cobalt,” though “Fear the Walking Dead” has also arisen as a potential title. Two seasons have already been ordered, though, so it’s definitely going to take off.
Confirmed members of the cast of the Walking Dead spin-off include Cliff Curtis, who will star in the role of high school teacher Sean Cabrera alongside Kim Dickens, who will play guidance counselor Nancy Tomkins. Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam-Carey will play Nancy’s children, Nick and Ashley.
The Walking Dead Video Games
Taken from a screenshot of The Walking Dead: Episode One; Telltale Games.
Telltale Games, a studio that’s released episodic video game adaptations of movie and TV franchises like CSI and Jurassic Park in the past, began to publish their take on The Walking Dead in 2012. To date, two “seasons” have been released, with a third in development for 2015, each comprised of individually downloadable playable episodes.
As “interactive drama,” point-and-click adventure games, the games themselves are able to retain a lot of the visual style from the comic books. The gameplay is driven mostly by the story and the player’s observation of the environments presented on-screen.
Season 1 of the video game takes place in the same timeline and universe as the zombie apocalypse in the show, and primarily follows the survivor Lee Everett at the onset of the outbreak in Georgia. A special episode titled 400 Days was released the following year, to connect the story to the next main game, which was released at the end of 2013 and into 2014. The player controls Clementine, a survivor from Season 1, as the main character in Season 2.
The Walking Dead Books
Cover of Rise of the Governor, published by St. Martin’s Press.
The first part of a series of novels based off of the Walking Dead TV show was released in 2011, subtitled Rise of the Governor, and written by Kirkman himself alongside co-writer Jay Bonansinga. As sort of a side-story to the TV series, the book explores the history and backstory of the Governor’s character. Later seasons of the show re-incorporated plot points revealed in the book, too. Two more volumes by Kirkman and Bonansinga, The Road to Woodbury and The Fall of the Governor complete the first trilogy of Walking Dead books, addressing further backstory of the Governor and Lilly.
A second series of Walking Dead novels, written solely by Bonansinga under the Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead title, began in 2014 with The Descent. Lilly is the main character in this book, and it directly follows the events of the previous trilogy. The next book, Invasion, is scheduled to be released in October of 2015, likely coinciding with the sixth season of the TV show. Lilly will again return as the protagonist, and teasers for the book have hinted and new human factions at odds with each other as well as the zombies. The series is planned to end with the fourth book.
If you liked this post and want to see more like it, let us know! Tell us what we should talk about next on Twitter @BuyCostumes, or on our Facebook page. You can also submit any fandom-driven rage at the incompleteness of or spoilers found in this post to us via email.