How to Write a Zombie Show
The Walking Dead's season 6 finale will air on Sunday, and the show's millions of fans have been approaching it with a kind of dreaded anticipation, knowing that one of the main characters is likely to fall victim to psychotic new villain Negan's barb-wire-wrapped baseball bat, Lucille. But for many of us, the real terror on the show is the obvious one: the zombies. (And yeah, we know they call them "walkers.")
Zombies are everywhere these days. Why? Well, people seem to really dig them (probably something about the zeitgeist). Producers and writers creating these shows seem to love them too, probably because they offer up easy drama and uncomplicated action lurking around every corner on the entire fricking planet.
Screw all of the hard work and long hours that come with thoughtful plot and character development, and instead put your efforts into creative ways to squirt, blast and ooze as much human blood and gore as possible. (Leave those poor dogs alone -- you hear us, I Am Legend?). Dramatic tension boosts are basically guaranteed whenever the writing gets a little sluggish.
Let’s take a look at just a small sampling of some past and recent zombie fare, shall we? Along with the aforementioned Walking Dead -- Why does anyone still follow Rick? His ideas are really bad -- of course. But let’s not forget other small-screen gems like its sister show Fear the Walking Dead, iZombie, We're Alive and Z Nation.
We also have decades of zombie movies (some great, some not so great) to sift though, like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (awesome) and their remakes (fairly awesome), plus Shaun of the Dead (hilarious), The Evil Dead series (and remake), a ton of Resident Evil films, Zombieland, Planet Terror, Warm Bodies (a dead romantic comedy), World War Z ... and the list continues.
And while acknowledging the fact that some highly creative work goes on in the zombie field, exemplified by Ash vs. Evil Dead, Sam and Ivan Raimi’s oddball (plenty of humor and carnage) and quickly satisfying (episodes clocking in at around half an hour) Starz series, the genre does lend itself to some pretty lazy writing as well. In other words, some series can really let the creative ball drop as far as narrative goes — but thanks to the zombie apocalypse, are still able to save the day and pick up the pace in a mere instant.
Imagine a hypothetical — although entirely possible — conversation in a writers’ room that goes something like this:
Writer 1: “And so they talk about their emotions for 10 minutes, and how they feel so alone and isolated, and how life is all a matter of survival now. No time for love, the rule of law, or looking on the bright side. Someone, of course, does a little complaining. Someone else cries.”
Writer 2: “But then our protagonist proposes to the woman whose husband he's just killed. She’s awash with mixed emotions—”
Writer 1: “Hold on a sec. I’m worried the story is starting to drag here. We’re going to lose our audience.”
Writer 2: “But then … wait for it. He goes to the closet, where he’s been keeping his grandmother’s engagement ring, who, as you no doubt remember, he had to shoot in the second season … and guess what pops out of the closet and tries to eat them both!”
Writer 1: "A zombie! Chaos ensues! God, I love this job.”
Writer 2: “But wait, why is a zombie hiding in the closet?”
Writer 1: “Doesn’t matter. It’s perfect. On to the next scene.”
And just like that, now you too know how to write and sustain multiple seasons of a hit zombie show. Bet you didn't think this article would be informative and instructive, did you? May our fascination with walking corpses never end.