THE WALKING DEAD: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rotted Flesh

You will have to forgive me if this week’s column loses a step. My family has recently suffered a tragedy.

After months of breathless anticipation and furtive Comic Con sneak-peeking, 132 days after I entered the premiere date of The Walking Dead into the "Days Until" app on my phone, we discovered while setting the DVR this week that the household does not and never did get AMC in high definition.

I can hear your gasps from all over the globe. I know! Imagine how I feel. I’m the one who… who will have to watch The Walking Dead in….

…you can face this, Jim. You got through that month when your two year old daughter demanded to watch John Travolta’s Bolt three times every day; you can get through this. Just take a deep breath and type the words that make it real to you. …

…who will have to watch the premiere of The Walking Dead in standard definition.

I’m trying to console myself by whispering, “Letterboxed standard def is the black-and-white comic of television.” But it is weak soup. I spent a lotta money I didn’t have for these TVs, only to end up watching this show like someone’s grandmother with a converter box.

I’m lamenting my nonsense problems like a fancy lad with an ascot and a monocle. It’s just that I have been so looking forward to this show, this adaptation of a book I already read. This show about zombies.

That’s the most amazing thing about The Walking Dead to me. I hate zombies. I really, really hate them so much.

I don’t mean that I hate them in that first person shooter way. I don’t hate them the way Rick and the gang do. I mean that zombie fiction is one of my least favorite subgenres in all of storytelling. Maybe I grew up with a lot of Catholic baggage about souls and resurrection. Maybe there are days when I’m reading the news and the prospect of Society crumbling and leaving us to survive on the remainder of the canned goods sounds like the plan for next Thursday. Maybe 90% of zombie stories appear to be based on the same Mad Lib template. All I know is that zombies are the horror staple that works all too well on me. They legitimately horrify me. They could not horrify me more if zombism were an actual thing that happened to people sometimes. Even something like Shaun of the Dead gets me to start imagining what it would be like to go through something like that and I start to feel traumatized by proxy. The thought of loved ones suffering complete loss of self and becoming shuffling, ravenous creatures… shudder. How can I drive this home? I can't even deal with the Borg. I still haven’t watched the Thriller video all the way through. I hate zombies.

Yet I cannot wait to see The Walking Dead. I can’t wait to read each issue when it hits the stands approximately monthly. I should be dropping this book like the cover is electrified, but it has been one of my don’t-miss rituals for probably two years now. What kind of cognitive dissonance or personality disorder could allow for something like this?

The answer is something Roger Ebert once said, back before Twitter when you could still keep track of everything Roger Ebert had said. He said, “A movie is not about what it is about. It is about how it is about it.” I really took that nugget of wisdom to heart for some reason, and it has served me extremely well by introducing me to hundreds of stories I would otherwise have had nothing to do with. We all know these people (we all are these people?) who dismissively say things like, “I hate Westerns.” “I hate sitcoms.” “I hate period pieces,” as if Gangs of New York and Pearl Harbor are essentially the same movie. Painting an entire genre with the same brush saves you from Roy Rogers but deprives you of Shane and True Grit and Unforgiven and, if you believe a paper I wrote at 3:00 a.m. in college, Star Wars. (Just watch it side-by-side with The Searchers. That’s all I’m saying.) It took me years to watch things like Lawrence of Arabia and American Graffiti because they were “about” things that sounded dull as toast to me, but I was only shortchanging myself.

That was why, despite every molecule in my body recoiling just from the cover of it, I broke down and got that first Walking Dead hardcover. (When I go, I go All In.) Sure enough, the malevolent decomposing monsters were incredibly tough to look at even in the skilled hands of Tony Moore (I can’t imagine the book without Charlie Adlard now, but when that art handover happened in volume 1 I got whiplash I almost didn’t recover from) but I found myself being seduced by the pace and the tone and the characters. As much as he sometimes frustrates me, Robert Kirkman has seen enough zombie stories to get what is stupid and awful about them and use the undead like a surgical instrument. He’s not doing this because he thinks it’s funny to blow the heads off of rotting cheerleaders; he’s using the genre to explore human nature. What would happen to people, really, if they had to survive the end of the world and the movie wasn’t going to end? It’s not what The Walking Dead is about; it’s how it is about it.

I’m not trying to tell you that everything is for everybody if you just open your mind. All of the open-mindedness in the world won’t make [easy joke about a book I don’t like, probably Deadpool or Deadpool-adjacent] any better. I am saying that, if I can add a zombie book to my pull list, anything is possible. This week, why not take a shot on something you think isn’t for you? You may just surprise yourself.


Jim Mroczkowski maintains that, given the rate of decomposition, wear and tear on the bodies, and the lack of new people to zombify, the zombie problem would take care of itself within a couple of months, tops, but never mind. More pedantry can be found at Twitter.


  1. Jim, huge props to the title, it is excellent. I too have been waiting with baited breath for the series priemere of this series. But something happened to me that was very similar to you, Jim, but maybe worse…I haven’t been able to find AMC on my cable provider. This makes me very sad. very, very sad.

  2. God knows how I’m gonna get it, I’m in England D:


  3. I used to be into Zombie stuff more when i was younger. I kinda grew out of it, but this might get me back in.  

    The BBC has a new Zombie mini series coming out as well that looks gorry and scarry as all get out. My wife was surprisingly into it, and she only likes Shaun of the Dead.

  4. Really great article, Jim

    “Letterboxed standard def is the black-and-white comic of television.”  Made me laugh so hard I got weird looks from co-workers. 

  5.  Doddsickle,

    "FOX International Channels and AMC announce a global launch for the highly anticipated series The Walking Dead. The two networks will release the show during the same week this fall. AMC is set to premiere on Sunday, October 31st followed by FOX International Channels worldwide launch the first week of November."

     "The Walking Dead will debut in 120 countries, air in 33 languages and be viewed in 250 million households when it premieres. This is an unprecedented event, marking the first time ever a TV series premieres in similar fashion to a theatrical film release."

    It can also be watched on iTunes, Amazon, Cinema Now, Xbox, and Playstation.

  6. Jim, sux your cable co does not pick up HD AMC – some really great shows on that network.  I’m also very excited for TWD series, was able to schedule a season pass for it on my Tivo this last week.  TWD was the first comic TPB I ever bought outside of a movie tie-in so I have a lot of respect for the series and like you am addicted to the hard covers (replaced my first trade).

  7. Marvelous article Jim! Maybe you should be glad AMC is sparing you HD zombies. I mean, you hate zombies but want to get better clarity of the rotting flesh falling off their faces?

  8. This article is exactly what I’m trying t say to my friends when I describe Walking Dead. Bravo, sir.

  9. Things to do tonight:

    1. Verify I get AMC from my cable provider. (May require a phone call if not!)

    2. See if it’s hi-def. (May require a phone call if not!)

    3. Set DVR.

    I really like zombie fiction. Not all of it, mind you. A lot of it is derivative and unoriginal. But there is some excellent stuff out there, and The Walking Dead is at the head of the shambling mob. I’m trying to keep my expectations in check to avoid disappointment, but I am really looking forward to this.

    And for the record, zombies just creep me the hell out. Horrifying. I have had numerous zombie nightmares, probably from too many books/movie/comics about zombies. Wonder if they have some kind of aversion therapy for that? Unless it involves real zombies…

  10. I do not have AMC on HD, but watching it on standard definition is good enough for me.

    I am really excited for this series. A lot of the early reviews say this is fantastic television at work. I don’t have time to give children candy on Sunday! So I’ll turn out all the lights and make sure everyone thinks I’m not home to watch this.

    Also, I like zombie fiction when it’s written well. Walking Dead is obviously the high point. But other comics like 28 Days Later (let’s just say it’s zombies for the sake of argument) and Marvel Zombies (3,4, Returns, and 5 specifically) have been pretty good. Other prose novels like ‘World War Z’, ‘Cell’, and ‘Zombie Survival Guide’ are good examples of zombie prose. Plus a great film with zombies in term (w/o George Romero in the credits) would be Dead Alive. So much fun and excitement when that lawnmower comes into play… 

  11. I checked, and i finally found it!!! no high def though….

  12. I’ll be watching in HD via iTunes subscription.

  13. @Doddsickle FX will be premiering Walking Dead on the 5th November!! i believe that to be a bit of a win, not too long to wait!!

  14. we should probably all be watching the show on a black and white TV as well, to stay true to the original vision.

  15. I don’t have an HD TV anyway, so as long as they letterbox it like they did with Rubicon, I’m set.

  16. 1. I get AMC!

    2. It’s standard (f*ck). Might have to call…

    3. DVR – set!

    I am stoked. In addition to Max Brooks, here’s some other good zombie fiction I’ve read:

    -"Plague of the Dead" and "Thunder and Ashes," by Z A Recht (he died before completing the trilogy! RIP Z)

    -"Day by Day Armageddon" and "Beyond Exile" by J L Bourne. These are really good, written as a diary of a survivor who is a Navy pilot. And it takes place in my neck of the woods, which was cool.

    I hesitate to recommend the David Wellington zombie trilogy. It’s really well-written, excellent characterization, but it is not your normal zombie story. Which might be good for some, since it is not the same thing as everything else, but you have to suspend your disbelief. There are zombie characters, ones that can think and have some memories. And that’s the tip of the iceberg…

  17. I think I read "Day by Day Armageddon"! Wasn’t it self-published, originally as a blog…?

  18. Great article, Jimski. I’m not sure yet how I’ll keep up with Walking Dead – either PS3 or something. Probably not watching Walking Dead live (haha, punny) as my late nights at work schedule really can’t handle TV consistency.

     Since you picked up the hardcover, and since you’re set on watching the series… I myself have only read the first 2-3 issues of Walking Dead and I love it. However, do you guys recommend reading more before the show debuts? Or…reading it alongside? Or…?

  19. It’s my understanding that the television series is intentionally different enough from the books so that you can enjoy both independently as new experiences. Or, to put it more practically, you can keep up with one and still not know what’s going to happen in the other.

    I do not want to be held to this if I’m wrong, of course. I don’t work there.

  20. I’m going to watch with vol 1 of the trade in hand, and I’ll flip through the pages during the commercials to see the similarities/differences.

  21. I wasn’t really wild about what I read of the book (I know, I know) but I’m willing to give the show a shot.