Tableaux at the end of the world
Living pictures in The Walking Dead
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The popular AMC television series The Walking Dead (2010 – present), while often considered part of the recent ‘Golden Age of Television’, has also suffered from the schlock-horror associations of the zombie, and the perception that, like its source material (a black-and-white comic book dealing with the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse), it is at heart little more than an exercise in violence, horror and gore that relies too much on shock tactics

But whereas the strengths of so many of the exemplars of this ‘golden age’ lie in their character development, intelligent plotting and psychologically adept scripts, The Walking Dead (while also possessing these qualities) should be considered significant in the contemporary televisual landscape because of its uniquely poetic visual sense, achieved through the powerful tableaux vivants (a theatrical form dating back at least as far as the eighteenth century, where people and props are arranged to form a ‘living picture’) it creates, and through its thoughtful and nuanced use of sound and image.

This chapter presents a conceptual framework to illuminate how the programme achieves these striking moments and unique tone, and surveys the audio-visual antecedents and influences (considering visual and sonic qualities shared with Hitchcock, Tarkovsky and Bergman) at work in the series’s understanding of sound, image and materiality.

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Moments in television

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