*SPOILER ALERT* This article discusses the endings of several zombie apocalypse books, movies, TV series, and games.
Stories and Sequels
It struck me today, on my daily walk when I was listening to the second in the Lockey vs. The Apocalypse series, We Will Rise (An Adrian’s Undead Diary Novel) by Carl Meadows, that in many post-apocalyptic series the first book in the series is often the best. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that the other books in the sequel are any less well constructed or well-written, just that there is something about the early days of an apocalypse that is particularly interesting and engaging.
How, where and when the apocalypse begins; why it happens in the first place; where people are and what they are doing when it starts; how they react; where they go and what they do; what happens to their family and friends; whether they are reunited with them or not; how the world and society breaks down and changes and the impact of all that; and just the sheer shock and horror of it all, is morbidly fascinating to many people, including me!
As such, the first books in an apocalyptic series, when all that initial stuff usually happens, often resonate with ordinary people more than subsequent books which take place further down the apocalyptic road. People find themselves wondering what they would do when the apocalypse comes to their town; what their world would look like after the fall; whether they would have what it took to survive or not. This can mean that readers are more captivated and engaged by the first books in an apocalyptic series than they are with subsequent books about life when the extraordinary has become the ordinary and a devastated and dangerous world has become the new normal.
This has proved to be true for my own books. My first zompoc book, Wait for Me, far exceeded my expectations in terms of sales, reviews and ratings, and feedback from friends, family and complete strangers. The sequel, Trident Edge, (which I only wrote because I had so many requests to do so) has, by comparison, been a bit of a flop. Yet, I think the second book is far better in terms of plot and writing quality than the first. I did have some reservations and regrets about the cover of Trident Edge, which for me doesn’t have the same impact as the cover of Wait for Me, but I think it’s about more than that.
I asked my best friend, and loyal fan, about what she thought of Trident Edge compared to Wait for Me, and she said that she loved them both but that she enjoyed Wait for Me more. When I dug a bit deeper to try and understand the reasons for this, she said that she enjoyed reading about the early days of the apocalypse and the zombie outbreak and how two ordinary women, Lisa and Anita, managed to survive day by day in a new and terrifying world, more than she did about their lives six months later when they had become hardened and experienced survivors and zombie killers. My case in point.
I loved the Adrian’s Undead Diaries series and I’m loving Lockey vs. The Apocalypse too. They’re great stories. But today I found myself musing, as I wandered down the leafy lanes of Solihull with Lockey, Nate and Particles fighting their way out of yet another zombie encounter and loading wood burners into trucks to prepare for the coming winter, exactly where it was all going and how it was all going to end how. In fact – I asked myself – how and when exactly does an apocalypse end?
A Satisfying Ending?
When I did my Creative Writing Course with the Writers Bureau back in 2018, I submitted a synopsis for Wait for Me for one of my assignments. One of the criticisms I received from my tutor was about the ending.
She said, “This doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the story. What happens next? How to do the non-zombies eventually get rid of the zombie threat?”
Good question! At the time, I thought that as Lisa’s main objective was to get home and find out whether her husband Neil was ‘waiting for her’ (or not, as the case may be – no spoilers here!), that the outcome of this objective would constitute a satisfactory end to the story. Apparently, I was wrong as so many people requested a sequel.
Defining an Apocalypse
So how do you end an apocalypse? Can you? Different definitions of an apocalypse exist that vary in their classification depending on how devastating the event has been.
The online Cambridge Dictionary talks about “total destruction and the end of the world” and uses the synonym “annihilation” but also, less pessimistically, about “great destruction and change”. Merriam Webster defines it as “the end or destruction of the world”. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary differentiates between an apocalypse which would cause “very serious damage and destruction”, and the apocalypse which causes the “destruction of the world”.
Most zompoc books and movies talk about the zombie apocalypse and rarely a zombie apocalypse, so – please bear with me here, I’m just having a little fun with the idea – my point is how do you end the end? Of course, you can have new beginnings and people adapting and changing, and maybe even incapacitating or escaping the zombie threat, or destroying the virus that caused it and so on and so on. But which of these would these qualify as the satisfying ending that my course tutor required?
This all got me to thinking – when I should actually have been listening to We Will Rise and had to rewind for about 15 minutes’ worth – about the endings of many of the books I have read, as well as movies and TV series I have watched and games I have played, and whether or not they had satisfying endings to their apocalypses.
Let’s start with the grandfather of the zombie apocalypse, George A Romero. His first movie, The Night of the Living Dead ends when the main character, Ben, an African American, is mistaken for a zombie and shot and killed. While many people have interpreted this as reflection of socio-political issues at the time, it doesn’t represent the end of the apocalypse. Indeed, Romero went on two make his other two classic movies, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The original cut of Dawn of the Dead ends badly for all the survivors who are seen to perish in some harrowing found-footage material. Subsequent cuts see Fran and Peter survive but we never find out what happens to them after their escape. Similarly, in Day of the Dead, three characters escape by helicopter to a desert island, but we never find out what happens to them in the long term either.
Another couple of my favourite movies are 28 Days Later and the sequel, 28 Weeks Later. In 28 Days Later, Jim, Selena and Hannah are spotted by a fighter jet but we never know whether anyone comes back to rescue them. The zombie threat clearly continues as in 28 Weeks Later things are as bad as ever. This movie ends with the revelation that the virus has spread to mainland Europe but again, who knows what happens next? I’m still waiting for the making of 28 Months Later to find out.
Finally, World War Z the movie. Now this does have a slightly more satisfying ending that might meet with my tutor’s approval. At the end of this blockbuster, not only has Brad Pitt’s character discovered a vaccine to shield people from rampaging zombies but he and his family are all reunited in a safe zone well out of harm’s way. Aww! Nevertheless, the war against the hordes of undead that have taken over the world continues, but we are led to believe that things are looking good for the living survivors.
Moving on to some of the more popular zompoc TV series, The Walking Dead is apparently close to reaching its conclusion with the second half of Season 11 due on our screens any day now. I’m waiting with bated breath to see what that looks like but it’s already evident from all the spin-offs from that show (Fear the Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead and World Beyond are all out already with yet more to follow), that this apocalypse is far from over.
As for Z Nation and the prequel Black Summer. (I have to admit I never finished Z Nation – it started to get on my nerves.) I believe the end involved Murphy eating Sun Mei’s brain to get the cure to the virus but honestly, I don’t really care. I did enjoy Black Summer on the other hand, but we never really reached a satisfying conclusion to this series as everything went to hell in a handbasket at the end of the Season 2 and so far, it doesn’t look as if there will be a Season 3.
I’ve played a lot of zompoc games, but my favourites are Resident Evil, Dying Light, Days Gone and – my all-time favourite by a country mile – The Last of Us. (Can’t wait for that TV show to come out next year!) Most games end in a kind of satisfying way usually involving defeating the baddie, or “boss” to use gaming terminology. I might be wrong, but I don’t think many “end” as such as the manufacturers always like to leave things open for another day (and another dollar of course).
In The Last of Us Joel chooses to save Ellie over saving the world and the stage is set for The Last of Us 2. The end of The Last of Us 2 is all about the people and their relationships and less about the apocalypse itself. Can Ellie forgive Joel and move on? Can she even forgive Abby? Will she and Dina be reunited? I’m assuming we will get some answers to all of these questions and more in The Last of Us 3. I hope so anyway!
And so, to books. My absolute favourite media! While it is acceptable and almost expected that TV Series and Games, by their very nature, will be unlikely to have a final completely satisfying ending, books, like movies, always should.
World War Z, one of the first zompoc books I ever read, has an ending that I think my tutor would approve of. Ten years after the fall, humanity is winning the war, but the costs have been high. The world has taken a big step back in terms of living standards, life expectancy and quality of life and the planet itself has been forever changed, but there is hope for the future.
The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is another favourite of mine. At the end of this book, we are left with the thought that the second generation “hungries” are the future and that it is only a matter of time until all humans are infected, and they are able to take over and rebuild. I kind of like that ending. Especially as Justineau appears to be going to help them prepare for this day.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is essentially a love story. Now this story does a have a proper ending! Basically, love is the cure for the zombie virus and it is highly likely that everyone will live happily ever after! It might be a “proper” ending but honestly, for me, it’s all just a bit naff!
I enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Mary has left the safety of her village to find the ocean and so she does at the end of the book. However, it is not quite what she was expecting and there is no attempt to bring about any sort of conclusion or resolution to the zombie problem. In fact, there are two books which follow The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places. Neither of them live up to the promise of The Forest of Hands and Teeth in my view, and The Dead Tossed Waves ends in a place that compels the reader to go and buy The Dark and Hollow Places to find out what happens next, as it leaves us after Gabry and Catcher escape from the Recruiters and set off on their journey to the Dark City. I suppose the trilogy has a semi-decent ending in terms of it being more about the characters and their relationships than trying to overcome the zombie threat and it all works out for everyone in the end (well more or less).
And so, to Adrian’s Undead Diaries by Chris Philbrook. What a great series! In terms of zompoc series it has to be up there as one of the best. And it does have an ending where the zombies are destroyed! Yay! My tutor would be delighted. After an epic battle between good and evil the “good” living human beings survive. There is still a lot of work to be done to eke out a survival in a devastated world, and there are still conflicts with other groups of survivors to be resolved, but Adrian and his friends are free to get on with that without the threat of being chomped by a zombie as they do so. Great ending!
I could go on but I’m going to stop here. I’m getting a bit bored with the potentially endless list of examples that could be discussed and so I’m sure you are too.
If you have managed to read to the end of this essay, well done and thank you for indulging my ramblings! I’m currently writing my 3rd zompoc novel, Amenti Rising, and this time I think I have come up with a solid and satisfying ending. Well, I hope I have! Only time will tell …
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best way to end an apocalyptic tale in your opinion and about the some of the best endings to zombie apocalypse stories that you have come across.
Drop me a line or, better still, sign up for my newsletter and keep the conversation going?
THE END …
OR IS IT …?