Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sleeping Through the End

The Walking Dead hasn't even officially aired yet and already some commentators are sniffing that the opening seems awfully similar to the opening of 28 Days Later.

This is, of course, true.

In 28 Days Later bike courier Jim, in hospital with a head injury from a car meets bike courier accident wakes up out of a coma to find the hospital and seemingly all of London are completely abandoned. Death and destruction are everywhere, and ultimately it turns out that ravening hordes of horribly transformed normal people are slavering for his blood.


In The Walking Dead (Both comic book and TV series) Rick, a police officer in hospital after being critically injured in a shoot out wakes up out of a coma to find the hospital and seemingly all of his home town are completely abandoned. Death and destruction are everywhere, and ultimately it turns out that ravening hordes of horribly transformed normal people are slavering for his blood.

So yeah, kind of similar.

But what the nitpickers don't realize is that 'sleeping through the apocalypse' is actually a recurring trope that has appeared many times.  In fact 28 Days Later was specifically referencing the classic John Wyndham novel turned multiple movie and TV adaptions The Day of the Triffids

The hero Bill Mason, is in hospital getting treatment for an eye injury that has temporarily blinded him.  So his eyes are covered with bandages when almost everyone else raptly watches a bizarre meteor shower that lights up the skies all over the world.  The next morning everyone who did is permanently blind while Mason can see as soon as he takes off his bandages.  His awakening in hospital surrounded by the terrified newly blind and stalked by horrific monsters is strongly reflected in the first quarter of 28 Days Later.

Ultimately the sleeping through the apocalypse trope is useful to writers because it allows them to plunge directly into the post apocalyptic action without having to explicate the apocalypse itself.  Plus the audience is introduced to the new reality at the same time as the hero is, encouraging identification with his baffled terror.

Other examples range from the Twilight Zone classic episode 'Time Enough at Last', the short lived Gene Roddenberry series Genesis II, the zombie move Night of the Comet and too many other examples to count.

Worry about the similarities between 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead if you want - or you could just enjoy a great thrilling zombie series on the small screen every week.

I know which option I'm picking.

UPDATE: Heh.  AMC aren't too worried about the comparison.  They ran 28 Days Later right after the repeat performance of the premiere episode on Friday Nov 5.

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