November 03, 2011

Dramatic Poles of the Walking Dead

At first glance, the survival horror cable series “The Walking Dead” would seem clearly procedural, devoted as it is to the efforts of a small band of people to tough out a zombie apocalypse. Certainly, many of its most memorable scenes pit characters against practical problems: finding a missing party member, snagging needed medical supplies, and the ever-popular hiding from undead. To run it in DramaSystem, you’d need to up the lethality level, replacing, for example, the rule that characters only die with their players’ consent.

Despite its emphasis on the procedural, it is also a dramatic show. As the second season gets underway, we can identify the dramatic poles of its key ensemble. You might peg them differently, but here’s what I’m seeing:

Rick: heroism or doubt?

Shane: altruism or selfishness?

Dale: wise old man or old man?

Andrea: survival or suicide?

Rick’s wife Lori has been written as mostly a foil for Rick and, to some extent, Shane. We tend to see her acting as the opposing force telling other characters not to do what they’re considering. Hopefully we’ll see her drawn as more of an individual, with her own clear and consistent poles, as the series progresses.

The redneck bad-ass Daryl at this point appears to be, in DramaSystem terms, a GM-controlled supporting character. His purpose is to provide relief by being an enjoyable rock of confidence, in contrast to Rick’s doubt and Shane’s concealed dark side.

Shane’s poles are turning out to be very familiar in both gaming and fiction. He shares them with Rick Blaine of Casablanca (as seen in Hamlet's Hit Points) and two characters from the in-house Hillfolk series. I expect to see them appear a lot as DramaSystem rolls out to the public.