Zombies and suspense

Curator's Note

In the prologue to the comic series The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman warns the readers that what they are holding in their hands is a “great epic saga” which aims to tell the stories of how characters react when faced with extreme situations. With this initial premise in mind, Kirkman sets out a story based on the accumulation of plot twists, using surprise as a fundamental narrative strategy. On the other hand, the television adaptation of the comic book casts aside surprise as a strategy and chooses mainly to make use of suspense-based mechanisms. Here, we will look at three examples of events that happen both in the comic series and in the television version. 

In the comic, when Rick is reunited with his wife, Lori, and his son, Carl, the revelation that they are still alive comes to the reader at the same time as it does to the character, without foreshadowing of any kind. By contrast, in the TV series, Lori and Carl are present in the very first episode, and, from then on, the story deliberately delays the reuniting of the family, causing the hopes and expectations of the audience to grow. A similar thing happens in the second season, when Carl is shot and his life is in danger. The series nurtures the suspense element on the question of whether the boy will live or die by spreading out his recovery over two episodes. In the comic book, by contrast, Carl recovers only a few pages after having been injured; there is no delaying mechanism for the reader. There is a similar situation with Lori’s pregnancy. In the comic, suddenly and without any prior clue, Lori says, “I’m pregnant”. In the television series, on the other hand, it is made clear that Lori is hiding information of some kind, before it is finally revealed that she is pregnant.

The television series does not reproduce the events in the comic word for word –the relationship between the two stories is only one of paratext. This means that the use of suspense skillfully serves to introduce doubt regarding which events will mirror those in the comic strip and which will differ from them. The delaying mechanisms produce uncertainty as to whether, in the universe of the series, Carl will live or Rick will be reunited with his family, even if the viewer already has prior knowledge of the story from the comic.


I agree that the television series The Walking Dead uses suspense-based mechanisms in its narrative structure rather than the surprise-based mechanisms in the comic series.  While viewers may be familiar with the storyline due to prior reading of the comics, they are still entertained with the program through suspense techniques that leaves them questioning if the television show will play out the same as the comic books.  This is also a common technique in movies today because many of these movies are remakes of traditional comic books.  For example, the newly released Avengers movie uses suspense as a thematic element that keeps viewers interested even if they are already familiar with the narrative.  In the beginning of the movie when the Avengers team is first assembled, it seems as if these characters will not be able to work together.  Even though the audience already knows that this team will indeed come together and save the world, it is not until the last possible moment that they actually put aside their differences and come together.  Just at the point of possible enemy victory, the Avengers work together to fight and eventually defeat their opponents.  The use of suspense in television programs and movies is an effective technique to keep viewers interested and entertained even if they have prior knowledge of the storylines.

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