Study Guide

The Walking Dead

By Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead Introduction

ZOMBIES ARE EVERYWHERE!

Oops. We didn't mean to alarm you. This is why punctuation and not TYPING IN ALL CAPS is important. Grandma, PLEASE STOP TEXTING US LIKE THIS. Thanks.

Let's try this again: Zombies are everywhere.

There. That's much less sensational. 

But when you really think about it, zombies aren't anything to be scared of. They're slow (except for those lightning fast ones in I am Legend). They're brainless. They're fragile. But that hasn't stopped zombies from taking over the media. It's the zombies' world these days; we just live in it. There are Nights and Dawns of the living dead, World War Z (also a book), 28 Days and Weeks Later. There's even zombie romance, with Warm Bodies (another book), and zombie TV shows like The Walking Dead. Not to mention movie spoofs like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and zombie apocalypse survival guides. Even the Centers for Disease Control has gotten into the act with zombie survival kits and posters. You know a genre has totally saturated the culture when the spoofs start to appear.

The Walking Dead isn't just any book; it's a long-running comic series with more than a hundred issues spanning over a decade. That's more zombies than you can possibly shake a chainsaw at. The Walking Dead was created by Robert Kirkman, and the first issue in this blockbuster series hit comic stands in 2003. The first six issues feature amazing artwork by Tony Moore. (Moore was replaced by Charlie Adlard with issue #7, and subsequently filed a lawsuit against Kirkman in 2012.)

The Walking Dead is intended to be consumed, pun absolutely intended, in six-issue chunks, banded together as chapters. This module is about the first six issues, or Chapter One, called "Days Gone Bye." In this chapter, police officer Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma in a whole new world. Not one populated by genies and flying carpets, but a world crammed with flesh-hungry zombies. He has to find his family and do what he can to protect them from the hordes of—say it with us—the walking dead.

This series has been so screamingly successful it spawned not just a hit TV show, but a hit video game of the same name. The intensely visual graphic novel genre is perfect for telling zombie stories—these panels are so vividly drawn that they convey the poignant human side of the story as well as the gory zombie side. So grab a copy of The Walking Dead yourself to see just what got these zombies walking in the first place.

What is The Walking Dead About and Why Should I Care?

Survivalists are everywhere. You might know someone who's stockpiling guns for when the government comes to take all our firearms away. Or someone who's hoarding cans of Spam and gallons of water to survive "off the grid." There are blogs (that survivalists wouldn't be able to access if they're off the grid) and magazines (which wouldn't be delivered without the run-by-the-government U.S. Postal Service). OK, sorry. We're done.

But really, we're all trying to survive something. There's been a ton of speculation by psychologists with too much time on their hands about why we're all so obsessed with zombies. One theory is that zombies represent humans' primitive fear of predators, zombies being the ultimate scary predators. Another is that zombies symbolize emotional emptiness and boredom, and that we all fear the idea of living a "lifeless life," walking around in a bored, dead, lonely daze. We've all had days like that, right?

Finally, there's the idea that all these zombie apocalypse stories that keep us glued to the screen or page are really about the breakdown of society as we know it, a premonition about what might happen in a world where war, terrorism, disease epidemics, natural disasters, and financial collapse are all real threats. We read every day where something truly horrible is actually happening in some part of the world—Ebola, terrorist attacks, earthquakes—and what often ensues is usually a chaotic every-man-for-himself situation.

Now maybe we're just zombie fanatics because we love to see all the blood and gore. But really, these stories give us a glimpse of all the possible ways you could respond to a disaster of epic proportions. Would you save yourself and your family at all costs, even if it meant hoarding all the food and drinkable water and ammo and patrolling the fences? Would you try to take control of the situation and act for the common good? Hide in the nearest cave and wait for it to stop? Turn to religion? Turn away from religion? Wander around in a hopeless, lifeless daze?

The Walking Dead gives you a chance to think about how you might handle the unthinkable. But if you're just in the mood for blood-and-gore entertainment, it's an awesome example of that, too. And Kirkman and the artists manage to do it without special effects, CGI, or a makeup crew. Just the power of the pen and a creative imagination. Graphic storytelling at its best.

The Walking Dead Resources

Websites

A Decade of Dead
The Walking Dead is in the triple digits when it comes to issues, so head over to the official website to catch-up.

Brain Trust
Fans of The Walking Dead are just as rabid as the zombies. The Walking Dead wiki has everything you need to know, and tons of things you probably don't.

Movie or TV Productions

Dead TV
AMC used to stand for American Movie Classics. Now it might as well stand for A Million Corpses as it airs five seasons (and counting) of The Walking Dead.

Articles and Interviews

Early Dead
This interview with the author took place at the end of 2005, only a couple of years after The Walking Dead debuted, and way before the TV show was shuffling over the horizon.

28 Days Earlier
This interview from way back in 2004 talks about the early days of Dead and whether or not Robert Kirkman was inspired by (read: ripped off) 28 Days Later or not.

Video

Moving Pictures
As if the still images weren't eerie enough, there's an animated version of the comic book to give you nightmares.

Toast to the Dead
Over a classy adult beverage, Robert Kirkman talks about creating the comic, adapting it to TV, and the struggles with all of the above.

Audio

Ricky the Zombie Slayer
TV Critic David Bianculli compares The Walking Dead TV show to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and describes Dead as "beautiful and foreboding all at once." We'd say the same about the comic.

Zombie U
No, not the Wii U game of a similar name. With the popularity of zombies surging (thanks in part to The Walking Dead), George Mason University offers a course in zombies. We hope the final exam doesn't involve eating brains.

Zombies with Brains (Not Between Their Teeth)
NPR loves talking about zombies around Halloween. In 2009, Science Friday had a (re)animated discussion about the science behind zombie brains.

Images

You Got Issues
Here's the earth-shattering (or at least window-shattering) cover of The Walking Dead's first issue.

The Walking Sponge
You know how you've been asking yourself, "What if Rick were played by SpongeBob Squarepants?" Your question has been answered.

Dioramassacre
What's scarier than a diorama? This scene illustrates the horrors of The Walking Dead, at Comic-Con in 2010.