TWD as Epic Poem: Seriously, I’m not kidding

Does The Walking Dead qualify as our generation’s Epic Tale, in the literary sense, in the newest popular medium: TV/Film?

From is a list of the requirements for an Epic Poem, which pretty much conforms to my recollection of my eleventh-grade English class:


  1. It is a long narrative about a serious or worthy traditional subject.

In our current culture, the Apocalypse has been a popular subject.  The end of the world is also a fairly serious matter. In my humble opinion.

  1. Its diction is elevated in style. It employs a formal, dignified, objective tone and many figures of speech.

This one is a bit difficult to translate because the rule generally applies to written works, which TWD is obviously not. However, it would be up to more erudite film experts than I to determine if the screenwriting, directing and production qualify as an “elevated style.”

While it’s not Fellini or Bunuel, Fellini and Bunuel are not exactly accessible.

I’d argue, however, TWD does employ a “formal, dignified, objective tone,” as the quality of work has general received a good deal of praise.

  1. The narrative focused on the exploits of an epic hero or demigod who represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group.

In our current culture, the Apocalypse has been a popular subject.  The end of the world is also a fairly serious matter. In my humble opinion. 

My own theory is that a few generations may look back on us and study our fascination with post-apocalyptic literature as a symptom of our cultural anxiety about the longevity of our world: our planet, or our moral existence, our dreams of a more just society.

  1. The hero’s success or failure determines the fate of an entire people or nation.

The Prison, Terminus, Alexandria, numerous times in the forest. Enough said.
Maybe not.

Deanna says: “What I wanted for this place, was that just pie in the sky?”
Rick says: “No.”

Deanna believes the success of Alexandria, the first civilization Rick’s group has encountered, rests in Rick’s hands.

  1. The action takes place in a vast setting; it covers a wide geographic area. The setting is frequently set some time in the remote past.

See above. Check.

  1. The action contains superhuman feats of strength or military prowess.

Well, after “Now,” (11/8/15), we’re all wondering how Rick got out of the R.V. He is a former sheriff (military), and he recently organized the luring of the walkers away from Alexandria.

More strictly adhering to this requirement is Rick’s leadership of the successful escape from Terminus.

  1. Gods or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action to affect the outcome. This supernatural intervention often implies two simultaneous plots.

Initially, I said this was a tough one. Then I remembered Rick’s hallucinations in the prison. Truthfully, I’d need to review that season to see how that played out.

That said, as a matter of contemporary storytelling, the horror and realism of TWD would be completely sabotaged by the use of angels or demons or other supernatural creatures. I’m not denigrating that (I write it for crying out loud), but it wouldn’t play in this story. The appeal of TWD is that it tries to adhere to the reality of human nature in telling the story. Ghosts, deities, etc., would take this story into a cheesy, gimmicky realm, undermine the darkness that’s so important.

On the other hand, all of this rests on the existence of Zombies, however scientifically explained, which are a “supernatural intervention.”

In any other regard, I think the writers rightfully employ hallucinations, dreams, nightmares, delusions to manage the story where audiences of prior centuries (or millenia) would have been equally horrified by other-worldly creatures that were taken for granted in those cultures.

  1. The poem begins with the invocation of a muse to inspire the poet–i.e., a prayer to an appropriate supernatural being. The speaker asks that this being provide him the suitable emotion, creativity, or diction to finish the poem. Often the poet states a theme or argument for the entire work–such as “arms and the man.”

I’m working on it. I’m sure somewhere in the last six seasons it’s there. Come back soon.

  1. The narrative starts in medias res, in the middle of the action. Subsequently, the earlier events leading up to the start of the poem will be recounted in the characters’ narratives or in flashbacks.

Rick wakes up in a hospital room (see 28 Days Later), with no knowledge that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, literally. The narration actually must go back in time in several episodes to explain how Rick landed in the hospital room, how Shane and Lori got to where they are, etc.

Q.E.D. for #9.

  1. The epic contains long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing on highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants and commoners.

This is the trope of our age: that great warriors can come from humble beginnings. It’s a legacy of our Judeo-Christian heritage where, in the Old and New Testaments, great leaders often come from humble or ordinary origins.

This said, Carol and Daryl are more than “great warriors,” with Carol having two prominent episodes where she arms and disguises herself as an enemy combatant.

Michonne’s first appearance is as a mysterious warri0r: face concealed, armed with a sword.

Daryl has his crossbow.

It’s interesting to note that this three warriors typically (not exclusively) restrict themselves to almost primitive weapons, in a call back to traditional epics.

  1. The epic employs extended similes (called epic similes) at appropriate spots of the story, and a traditional scene of extended description in which the hero arms himself.

Working on it. I just came up with this theory an hour ago. This is going to take some research. Fortunately, I got the time. Come on back.

  1. Often, the main protagonist undergoes a terrifying journey–sometimes a descent into the underworld–i.e., into hell or the realm of the dead.

Candidates: S1.2 “Guts:” Glenn and Rick “arm” themselves (see #11) with the guts of a dispatched walker to walk through a herd of walkers in Atlanta, which has fallen and become overrun.

Then again, Rick’s whole universe is “the realm of the dead.”


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