If it's crap ... We'll tell you
It’s a strange time we live in where not only a video game adaptation of a licensed product proves excellent but turns out to be the best part of the franchise. Yes, that’s blasphemous to some, but let me explain: the Walking Dead comic, though expertly written frequently drowns the reader in nihilistic views of humanity. The problem with this is that any glimmer of hope one has while reading is immediately dashed knowing that the characters are going to be completely destroyed by impending emotional crushes without any resemblance of hope. That’s where The Walking Dead video game succeeds. Yes, the story does frequently show humanity at its worst and isn’t afraid to build up character before completely tearing them down, emotionally or physically, but it also understands that in order to be truly invested in this story, the audience must have levity to offset the traumatic post-apocalyptic world.
Seeing as how I could easily suggest how the comic book could improve, it’s not hard to imagine that I have a lot more to say when comparing the much more flawed Television show to the video game.
Characters, develop them
What the TV show usually does wrong (especially in the first and second season) is that they introduce characters and then throw them in peril, in hopes that the audience will immediately care for them. In the Television Show, most of the survivors Rick encounters outside of Atlanta like Jim and the Morales family are used just to pad out the group and are usually there for zombie fodder when they begin to stumble onto the scene. It's hard to fear for these people's lives when we know nothing about their lives. Of course, we can sympathize on a general sense as human beings seeing other attempt to survive against the odds, but when you have a character-driven story like The Walking Dead, developing characters so we can experience their highs and lows with established levels of sympathy along with them creates a far more stimulating experience than just having the writers say "these people are in trouble, and the audience will be afraid for them because of reasons."
The video game ensures that every character at least demonstrates personality and character, making any hint of violence towards the group terrifying as the prospect of losing these characters difficult to fathom. Even characters who appear in the game for a surprisingly small amount of time, like Chuck, leave a lasting impact with their personality or view of life in the zombie-filled world. Even characters you don’t like in the game at least have a point-of-view or characteristics one can respect, including the character of Larry whose overly aggressive nature can be seen as a protective father that wants to only ensure his daughter’s safety at any cost, including being at odds with almost everyone in the group. What's especially surprising in a zombie story is that the majority of characters, including antagonistic ones, are expertly written to the point where one will strain trying to decide which character to sympathize with more.
In the TV show, Carl is an ass. I don’t blame the actor, Chandler Riggs, for his portrayal. It’s the fault of the writing. The show breaches one of the oldest sins in writing – trying to make the audience sympathize with the child-character only because he’s a child-character. There’s nothing exceptionally sympathetic, or even noteworthy, about his character other than that he’s the son of the main protagonist who is often put into dangerous situations to satisfy plot points. His character in the third season is severely toned down from his strangely misbehaving personality of season 2, although that in it is a problem. Carl becomes a good and true shot, like everyone in the group, although he still doesn’t have much of a character to him other than being cold and occasionally helpful.
In comparison, Duck and Clementine are characters that are incredibly difficult to forget. Duck is the physical incarnation of boundless enthusiasm, despite his surroundings. One can’t help but smile at his attempt to become Lee Everett’s ‘trusty ward’ as sleuthing around the campsite is needed. Clementine, the other character, is a timid girl who only wants to do the right thing. She brings a pure sensibility of right and wrong in a world of questionable morality. These kids aren't just dangling bait for the encroaching zombie horde, they're as fully realized as the adults of the group. In many circumstances, they're capable, intelligent, empathetic, and, most importantly, not just whining leeches waiting for a bad turn of events to put them smack dab in the middle of trouble just so our heroes can rescue them.
Black and White issues
The Television show, while occasionally coming close to questionable morality, never fails to make the antagonists side with the harsher idea of violence, freedom, and security. In the video game, you’re forced, as the player, between a rock and a hard place. The situations you encounter aren’t clear cut in terms of right and wrong, and the situations that do seem to be fairly simple to solve usually come around to affect the story in surprising ways. The hardest choices that you’ll usually talk over with your friends aren’t between ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ they’re between ‘bad’ and ‘oh god, this is just as bad.’ I found myself in one circumstance where I gave a member of the group the benefit of the doubt, and for it, violence erupted. When all was said and done, it turned out that my faith was misplaced and not only did the outcome make me question every decision I had made up to that point, I began wondering to myself if my decisions about trust would change as the story progressed. When attentive audiences are actually struggling over the morality of the situation, it’s far more impacting on a personal and intellectual level than a rogue element of the survival group supporting radically different views.
The Walking Dead franchise inherently lends itself to a great introspective look at humanity in the worst circumstances, and great storytelling can come from it. However, when relatively simplistic characters are dealing with bad circumstances in a manner that isn't confronting to the audience, you cheapen the effects of the drama and terror you hope to achieve. So, those are my thoughts on the matter, but I wouldn't mind 'picking your brain' (HAHAHA! COMICAL GENIUS!) for your opinions.