The Walking Dead isn’t really about zombies, it’s a story about people with a zombie apocalypse as the setting. Perhaps for this reason, neither the screen or comic versions have gone into any real detail about what caused the zombie apocalypse. Many other movies and TV series in the zombie sub-genre more often than not offer some sort of explanation about what caused their particular calamity. World War Z, for example, focuses its entire plot around Brad Pitt’s character attempting to find out what caused and how to stop the zombie outbreak; in REC, the protagonists eventually find a tape recording which roughly explains the origins of the movie’s virus; and 28 Days Later – although not strictly a ‘zombie’ movie – features a scene at the beginning of the film that explains how the virus began to spread.
Largely, The Walking Dead hasn’t concerned itself with topics such as what caused the outbreak or whether it can be stopped. A visit to the CDC in season one did provide a bit of insight into the mechanics of how the virus works in the present but mostly the characters have just been content to find a safe place to live and batten down the hatches.
But The Walking Dead has been attracting an increasing amount of criticism of late, particularly the TV adaptation, and one of the main issues seems to be a perceived repetitive formula that has emerged. Many feel the TWD is currently stuck in a pattern of a new villain appearing, Rick and co. eventually defeating them and then the group experiencing a small period of peace before the cycle kicks off all over again. With this in mind, is it perhaps time to finally evolve the show by delving into the specifics of what caused the zombie outbreak and whether or not it can be stopped?
The Case For
Perhaps the biggest argument for lifting the lid on the zombie apocalypse is that it would immediately give the story a fresh feel and an exciting new direction to head in. After the forthcoming All Out War and the inevitable Whisperer War arcs are done and dusted, fans are surely going to have had their fill of enemies attempting to destroy Rick Grimes and failing. Exploring the intricacies of the outbreak itself would be a distinct change of gear that could tempt lost viewers back to the show.
Such a plot would be very easy to tie into the main narrative, too. The gang were previously headed to Washington D.C. under the false belief that Eugene could help save the world, but when it was revealed that the mullet-clad geek was lying, the survivors decided to build a home in Alexandria instead. If an explanation or cure really does exist in the world of The Walking Dead, then Washington is its most likely location and Alexandria is located temptingly close to the U.S. capital city and the potential answers that may wait there.
With Washington on their doorstep and Rick’s community thriving, it would make sense that he may one day decide to send out a small team to the city to find out if any government agencies have been able to survive and find out something about the outbreak’s origins. Such a road trip would be a welcome break from the Alexandria setting and would give viewers a chance to see the core main characters out on the road again with a distinct mission in mind.
The Case Against…
The Walking Dead mastermind, Robert Kirkman, has stated in interviews that he has written an explanation as to how the zombie apocalypse began but has no intention of including it in the comic series for fear of heading into the realms on science-fiction. Although the door is still open for the story to be explored in the AMC adaptation and Kirkman has also half-jokingly talked about releasing a short book about the subject, there’s a lot to be said for not heading down that path at all.
Part of the initial appeal of The Walking Dead was the mystery surrounding the outbreak and this immediately set the series apart from other zombie fare. Fans may have their criticisms about the recently aired season seven and concerns about the formulaic direction the show is arguably heading in, but would reverting to the old genre convention of “let’s go find us a scientist who can explain all this malarkey” really be the answer to that?
It’s also hard not to feel that if an explanation was going to be offered, the CDC material in season one finale “TS-19” would’ve been the perfect time to do so. Over the last six seasons, The Walking Dead has moved so far away from that kind of science-based tone that to return there would perhaps be too much of a contrast, as well as a betrayal to Kirkman’s prime missive of being a story with zombies rather than about zombies. Both the show and comic series are intrinsically linked to the idea of how to live in and cope with the new zombie-infested world and the idea of Rick and his group attempting to actually save the Earth entirely feels like a very different story.
Seemingly, there are convincing arguments on both sides of the debate and even if The Walking Dead does head down such a route, it’ll take them a while to wrap up all the plot threads currently in motion. Robert Kirkman has certainly been resistant to the idea but recent criticism of his product could prompt a change of heart and there’s no doubt that delving into the origins of the zombie apocalypse would give the show a solid shot in the arm. Whether that’s what The Walking Dead needs is another question entirely.
The Walking Dead season eight is expected to premiere in October on AMC.