The Walking Dead game could teach its televised sibling many things—like how to write characters you feel emotionally invested in, for starters.
AMC’s The Walking Dead—which made its midseason return on Feb. 10—seemed promising at first. It had everything! Zombies? Go on. Gore? Yes, please. An exploration of pure human evil? Fantastic! The strength of the pilot and the hope that the show would deliver on those promises kept me going for two whole seasons.
Then I realized none of the primary conflicts had any connection to the zombie-apocalypse setting. I quit the show. But all was not lost. I decided to play The Walking Dead video game, and after completing its five parts, I realized
I had come across the rarest phenomenon: a video game that told a better story than its live-action counterpart.
The Walking Dead game could teach its televised sibling many things—like how to write characters you feel emotionally invested in, for starters. The game’s protagonist, Lee, isn’t just an empty vessel, he’s a guy with a conflicted past.
Lee murdered his wife’s lover, and the consequences of that rash decision take on more weight with every mistake you make in the game. The lingering effects of Lee’s crime underscore the karmic question at the centre of the game, a question given literal expression in the form of the hordes of decaying “walkers”: Can you truly run from the past?
The TV show, however, leaves you frustrated. The characters make absurd, illogical choices, the narrative arcs would be more at home in an episode of Passions, and the writers explore their central thesis (“people are the real monsters!”) with the subtlety of a high-schooler writing about Heart of Darkness for the first time.
This isn’t to say video games are the perfect format for every story, but when every aspect of a video game, from the art design to the gameplay, supports its narrative, the resulting experience has a deeper thematic resonance than you get from any other medium. It’s a rare art that doesn’t talk at you, but rather, speaks through you.