Zombie killers are just like us, except they smash the brains of the undead in the hopes of surviving one more day in an apocalyptic universe.
What? That’s not your typical Friday night?
In his new book, “Guts,” Paul Vigna, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal who also writes a column about “The Walking Dead,” argues that the zombie-killing cast members really are your average Joes. Vigna concedes that the blood and guts have their appeal, but he insists the show’s secret sauce is ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The heart of his book is a celebration of these characters pushed to extremes and how viewers relate to them.
Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, “The Walking Dead” was a monster hit right out of the gate for AMC. Seven seasons later (the eighth season premieres on Oct. 22), it’s still one of cable television’s most popular shows. Its millions of devoted fans — “walker stalkers” in “TWD” parlance — will lap up “Guts.”
Vigna opens with a tour of zombie culture. He looks at Haiti, where “the modern concept of the zombie first emerges,” and he details how George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) changed the genre forever. Once he’s sure we know how those brain-suckers were birthed, he focuses on the backstory of “TWD,” its journey to AMC and why it became a phenomenon.
Most engaging is Vigna’s plunge into the psyches of the main characters and how they make the storyline so compelling. Writing for one of the most passionate fan bases in television can’t be easy, but Vigna’s vivid descriptions of life on set, made richer by interviews with cast and crew, should satisfy even ardent walker stalkers. Think those background zombies just slap on some ketchup and moan? Not so. The extras all attend zombie school where they work with a seasoned zombie choreographer.
Vigna is definitely writing as a fan — he’s very short on criticism — but he does bring up the level of violence, especially in the season seven opener when Glenn is pummeled to death by Negan. Thatbarbarity flooded the FCC with complaints and caused viewership to slump.
When you’ve got ratings gold, there are going to be spin-offs, and “Guts” looks at these, too, including Walker Stalker Con, “Fear the Walking Dead,” the after-show “Talking Dead” and even a noncredit course at the University of Californiaaptly named “Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead.’ ” Vigna notes that after exploring subjects like eating squirrels and sleeping with one eye open, 80 percent of students “felt the course improved their odds of surviving a zombie plague.”
The same can be said about “Guts.” But even if the undead don’t rise up soon, Vigna’s book still serves as a smart and entertaining ode to the show that brought back “a schlocky genre” and turned it into a mainstream megahit.
Karin Tanabe, a former Politico reporter, is the author of four novels, including her latest, “The Diplomat’s Daughter.”
By Paul Vigna
Dey Street. 336 pp. $26.99