Mac387 franchising fantasy: The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones


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  • Wizards and Warriors 1983 – CBS
    Only eight one hour episodes were made of this offbeat fantasy-comedy
    See also:
    TV’s earliest major foray into high fantasy
    Low ratings
    The costume designer Theadora Van Runkle won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Costumes for a Series.
    The series' hairstylist Sharleen Rassi lost a Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling
  • See also:
    TV’s earliest major foray into high fantasy
  • UK production. ITV. Gritty and realist aesthetic
    Ray Winstone features as Friar Tuck!
  • Circulation averages around 60,000-70,000 at the moment. It was 2012’s biggest sales success due to issue 100 selling 360,000+ copies. This is a far cry from the initial 7,000 print run for the first issue.
    The Walking Dead received the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series at San Diego Comic-Con International.
  • We’ll be familiar with what Pascal Lefèvre (2007: 2) refers to as ‘the issue of primacy’ wherein audiences experiences of an adaptation or franchise will be shaped by their initial entry into the world on offer.
    Applied to The Walking Dead, the size of the audience drawn to the TV series dwarfs the comic book ‘original’ by a considerable amount. Joseph Lord ( estimates that the comic book fans make up 0.006% of the fan base

    Despite the rather modest comic book fan base, it’s not uncommon to hear adaptations like this being critiqued for what Robert Stam refers to as a lament for what was lost in translation (2005: 3), whilst dissenters ignore what has also been gained
  • In his critique of this process, and in keeping with other post-structuralist accounts of adaptation studies, Stam and several others have questioned the tendency for a regression to authorial intent, the privileging of an hierarchy of texts, as well as the pursuit of the ‘original’ hypotext.
  • Brooker (2012) presents a convincing deconstruction of the notion that there is an original source text when applying poststructuralist approaches to the Batman franchise, there is still space for a consideration of the author role as part of the broader meaning-making process.

    In a related vein, Jonathan Gray’s (2010) analysis of the plethora of paratexts that circulate around popular franchises suggests that the notion of an authentic singular source of textual authenticity can be limited when it comes to understanding how popular meanings are negotiated.
  • It is this tension between the sense of loss and what has been gained that will be addressed presently when looking at some of the paratexts dealing with the adaptation of The Walking Dead. The producers of the TV series were sensitive to these tensions in their attempt to negotiate with fans of the comic book, upon whom they were initially reliant when it came to garnering support for the adaptation.

    It is the contention of this paper that the success of Robert Kirkman’s long-running serial comic book has fed into such discussions, whether they take place across internet forums, at comic book conferences, or in official and unofficial promotional material alike. The paratextual material and discourses that circulated around the production of the TV series were keen to draw affinities between the two iterations of the franchise in so far as they sought to draw on the comics as a guarantor of aesthetic and narrative quality. However, the producers were also keen to emphasise the pleasures and the gains offered by the adaptation to a different platform.
  • In the marketing drive that took place before the television airing of The Walking Dead, the role played by Robert Kirkman was interesting. The show was previewed at San Diego Comic-Con in Summer 2010, a huge annual event that draws large numbers of comic book fans, and attendees were given access to AMC’s production team and cast. Kirkman’s proximity to the new venture was used as an anchor of authenticity, whilst also pointing to the author function of Frank Darabont, and the potential offered by being able to create a new iteration of The Walking Dead, one that was not beholden to the comic.
  • Clearly, the potential audience were primed for the type of textual changes we might expect from an adaptation, yet the attempt to shape expectations and audience response sometime slips
    Here Kirkman struggles to articulate the similarities and differences…
  • Great deal of risks involved in adapting a comic book about the zombie apocalypse. Never been done in a serialised format before. The zombie tends to exist as a the poor cousin of horror narratives, primarily due to the inherent characterlessness of the monster (unlike the vampire, the werewolf, or other supernatural creatures). Also, until relatively recently, there’s not been a great literary tradition from which to draw inspiration from. All the other major networks rejected the Kirkman/Darabont pitch for the series.
    We can see the rhetoric of risk and risk management in some of the show’s accompanying literature. Note the status attributed to the serialised comic, as well as the broad tradition of filmic depictions.
  • There are multiple instances where in the cast and crew evoke the comic source as a sort of storyboard, as if this legitimises the adaptation
  • Storyboards aren't always used in television due to tighter schedules meaning there’s less time to develop them.
    The ‘Making Of…’ also is keen to highlight the importance of the comic book aesthetic and the presence of the comic creator:
  • Comic #7 in flashback
  • Mac387 franchising fantasy: The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones

    1. 1. Literary origins  Science fiction and scholars:  Raymond Williams (1956/1988)  Contemporary ‘structure of feeling’  Darko Suvin (1972; 1979)  Cognitive estrangement  Marc Angenot (1979)  Semiotics  Tom Moylan (1986)  Utopian studies  Fredric Jameson (2005)  Postmodern history
    2. 2. The legacy of network television
    3. 3. Serialized complexity
    4. 4. Worlds without technology
    5. 5. Cross-over appeal?
    6. 6. Network television  Dominated by big 3 (NBC, ABC, CBS)  Pre-1980s success based on audience share (~30%)  Science fiction struggled on TV (contrast with cinema)  Emergence of cable, satellite, VCR, etc  Audience fragmentation and establishment of niche demographics
    7. 7. Television: the perfect home?  “[Science fiction] has come of age: not only can it tell stories of cognitive estrangement, it can deliver them with persuasively ‘realistic’ visuals”  Jan Johnson–Smith, 2005: 71
    8. 8. The rise of cable TV  “Cable substantially altered the viewers’ experience with its introduction of a vast array of channels. In 1988, 50 percent of US households subscribed to cable, which was the subscription base analysts believed necessary … to achieve profitability. This subscription level marked an increase form just 19.9 percent in 1980, grew to 65.4 percent in 1990, and reached 68 percent in 2000”  Lotz, 2007: 52-3
    9. 9. 2 categories  Successful niche shows  Air on cable networks that can support ‘high-buzz’ shows with smaller audiences  Often small but loyal fan bases  Critical acclaim and awards success  Problematic shows  Air on the broadcast networks  Often lasted multiple seasons despite low ratings  Continually in danger of cancellation
    10. 10. The Importance of Being Earnest  Zombies, dragons, wizards…  Seldom held in high regard despite the seriousness of fan investment  “[Fans] insist on making meaning from materials others have characterized as trivial and worthless”  Henry Jenkins, 1992: p.3.
    11. 11. So, why now?  “The 'Lord of the Rings' films are 10 years old at this point and they were incredibly lucrative. That’s what it takes, an investment that shows that the private sector will go and watch these”  Ian Bogost, 2012
    12. 12. High fantasy  Lloyd Alexander (1971) essay on ‘High Fantasy and the Heroic Romance’  Developed by Kenneth Zahorski and Robert Boyer  Set in secondary world  Low fantasy set in primary world with magical elements
    13. 13. What is not high fantasy:  humorous fantasy,  animal fantasy,  ‘myth fantasy’,  fairly tales,  gothic fantasy,  science fantasy,  and sword and sorcery.  …according to Zahorski and Boyer  What’s left????
    14. 14. Before Game of Thrones…
    15. 15. Wizards and Warriors (1983)
    16. 16. Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986)
    17. 17. Covington Cross (1992)
    18. 18. Conan: The Adventurer (1997)
    19. 19. Roar (1997)
    20. 20. Legend of the Seeker (2008-10)
    21. 21. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-99)
    22. 22. Xenia: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
    23. 23. Highlander (1992-98)
    24. 24. Babylon Fields (2007)
    25. 25. Convergence  General cultural shift towards much broader audience participation and activity across the board of audience-media relationships.  “fans have become the ideal viewer-consumer”  Sue Short, 2011: p.6
    26. 26. The franchise
    27. 27. George R. R. Martin  A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-present)
    28. 28. Big budget  The pilot reportedly cost HBO between $5-10 million  The total budget for the first season has been estimated at $50–60 million.  Season 2 received a 15% budget increase in order to stage the epic ‘clash of kings’ battle that the second Martin book was named after.  HBO is owned by Time-Warner and can operate at a loss if needs be.
    29. 29. Ratings  1st series averaged 2.5 million viewers (US)  2nd series = 3.8 million (total consolidated viewers = 10.3m)  3rd series = 4.97 million (total consolidated viewers = 11.6m)  4th series = 6.8 million (total consolidated viewers = 18.6m)  5.9 million illegal downloads per episode  The most illegally downloaded show of 2012 and 2013  Initially very few legal alternatives
    30. 30. The franchise
    31. 31. Robert Kirkman
    32. 32. Big Budget  Budget of $3.4 million per episode for first season  Budget of $2.7 million for second season  Season 3 had an undisclosed budget boost  As a comparison  The Big Bang Theory has a budget of $2m per episode  Game of Thrones $6 million
    33. 33. Ratings  Series 1 averaged 5.24 million viewers.  Season 2 averaged 6.9 million viewers  Season 3 averaged 10.4 million viewers  Season 4 averaged 13.3 million viewers  Season 5 opened with 17.3 million viewers  A record for a basic cable show
    34. 34. Patriarchal power?
    35. 35. Monstrous feminine?  “Proper control over wombs, and the anxiety that they will be captured, polluted, or compromised is a kind of Ur-myth for the apocalyptic genre in general and the zombie sub-genre in particular; speaking broadly, the function of women in most apocalyptic narratives is to code the ending as “happy” or “sad” based on their continued ability to bear the male protagonist’s children when the story is over”  Gerry Canavan, 2010: 444
    36. 36. Cersei S1E7
    37. 37. Daenerys S1E1
    38. 38. Afterward she could not say how far or how long they had ridden, but it was full dark when they stopped at a grassy place beside a small stream. Drogo swung off his horse and lifted her down from hers. She felt as fragile as glass in his hands, her limbs as weak as water. She stood there helpless and trembling in her wedding silks while he secured the horses, and when he turned to look at her, she began to cry. Khal Drogo stared at her tears, his face strangely empty of expression. "No," he said. He lifted his hand and rubbed away the tears roughly with a callused thumb. "You speak the Common Tongue," Dany said in wonder. "No," he said again. Perhaps he had only that word, she thought, but it was one word more than she had known he had, and somehow it made her feel a little better. Drogo touched her hair lightly, sliding the silver-blond strands between his fingers and murmuring softly in Dothraki. Dany did not understand the words, yet there was warmth in the tone, a tenderness she had never expected from this man. He put his finger under her chin and lifted her head, so she was looking up into his eyes. Drogo towered over her as he towered over everyone. Taking her lightly under the arms, he lifted her and seated her on a rounded rock beside the stream. Then he sat on the ground facing her, legs crossed beneath him, their faces finally at a height. "No," he said. "Is that the only word you know?" she asked him.
    39. 39. Drogo did not reply. His long heavy braid was coiled in the dirt beside him. He pulled it over his right shoulder and began to remove the bells from his hair, one by one. After a moment Dany leaned forward to help. When they were done, Drogo gestured. She understood. Slowly, carefully, she began to undo his braid. It took a long time. All the while he sat there silently, watching her. When she was done, he shook his head, and his hair spread out behind him like a river of darkness, oiled and gleaming. She had never seen hair so long, so black, so thick. Then it was his turn. He began to undress her. His fingers were deft and strangely tender. He removed her silks one by one, carefully, while Dany sat unmoving, silent, looking at his eyes. When he bared her small breasts, she could not help herself. She averted her eyes and covered herself with her hands. "No," Drogo said. He pulled her hands away from her breasts, gently but firmly, then lifted her face again to make her look at him. "No," he repeated. "No," she echoed back at him. He stood her up then and pulled her close to remove the last of her silks. The night air was chilly on her bare skin. She shivered, and gooseflesh covered her arms and legs. She was afraid of what would come next, but for a while nothing happened. Khal Drogo sat with his legs crossed, looking at her, drinking in her body with his eyes.
    40. 40. After a while he began to touch her. Lightly at first, then harder. She could sense the fierce strength in his hands, but he never hurt her. He held her hand in his own and brushed her fingers, one by one. He ran a hand gently down her leg. He stroked her face, tracing the curve of her ears, running a finger gently around her mouth. He put both hands in her hair and combed it with his fingers. He turned her around, massaged her shoulders, slid a knuckle down the path of her spine. It seemed as if hours passed before his hands finally went to her breasts. He stroked the soft skin underneath until it tingled. He circled her nipples with his thumbs, pinched them between thumb and forefinger, then began to pull at her, very lightly at first, then more insistently, until her nipples stiffened and began to ache. He stopped then, and drew her down onto his lap. Dany was flushed and breathless, her heart fluttering in her chest. He cupped her face in his huge hands and looked into his eyes. "No?" he said, and she knew it was a question. She took his hand and moved it down to the wetness between her thighs. "Yes," she whispered as she put his finger inside her.
    41. 41. Game of Thrones Dynamite Entertainment Issue 3
    42. 42. Ros S1E7
    43. 43. ‘sexposition’
    44. 44. @rob_jewitt
    45. 45. Context  ‘The issue of primacy’  Lefèvre, 2007: 2  ‘Elegiac discourse of loss’  Stam, 2005: 3
    46. 46. Adaptation is the norm  There are precious few stories around that have not been ‘lovingly ripped off’ from others. In the workings of the human imagination, adaptation is the norm, not the exception  Hutcheon, 2006: 177
    47. 47. 1. Discourse of fidelity in official paratexts 2. Comparison between comic and TV series
    48. 48. Comic-Con 2010 Video from Season 1 Blu-Ray ‘Making of’ feature
    49. 49. Same but different? Video from Season 1 Blu-Ray ‘Making of’ feature
    50. 50. Managing risk 1  ‘First, we knew we had something that had not been done before. There is a lot of pressure in that, but there is also great opportunity. We knew we had a great team, and we had total confidence in the quality of the comics as source material. If we didn't have the comics as a road map, it would have been a much harder decision’  Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vice president of original programming, production and digital content
    51. 51. Managing risk 2  ‘We also had a healthy interest in the genre, well-executed, in series form … Notwithstanding the long history of zombies as a popular film genre, a zombie series was something we had never seen on television before. That uniqueness always interests us.’  Charlie Collier, AMC’s president
    52. 52. Storyboards 1  ‘The graphic novels are kind of like a rather exotic storyboard … Some of the more iconic images we did reproduce pretty accurately’  David Tattersall, director of photography, Ep1
    53. 53. Storyboards 2 Video from Season 1 Blu-Ray ‘Making of’ feature
    54. 54. Visual narrative  We’re very fortunate to have a visual narrative to draw upon in designing The Walking Dead … You are able to see the entire arc of the show, and of course, we found ourselves inspired to use some key images. First and foremost is Rick’s approach to the skyline of Atlanta. That was such an iconic panel from the comic book that it had a great influence over my work  Greg Melton, production designer
    55. 55. Cleary visible organs/origins? 28 Days Later Night of the Living Dead
    56. 56. Cleary visible organs/origins? Dawn of the Dead Shaun of the Dead
    57. 57. Cleary visible organs/origins? I Am Legend
    58. 58. Episode 1 – Days Gone Bye
    59. 59.  Episode 2 - Guts
    60. 60.  Episode 3 – Tell It To The Frogs
    61. 61.  Episode 4 - Vatos
    62. 62.  Episode 5 - Wildfire
    63. 63. Episode 6 – TS-19
    64. 64. AMC’s promotional material
    65. 65. Comic-Con 2010 poster (cast)
    66. 66. Season 3 promo material
    67. 67. Season 3 promo material
    68. 68. Characters across platforms
    69. 69. Characters across platforms
    70. 70. Characters across platforms