This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with Ties That Bind

In the zombie apocalypse, the only thing we have are the stories we tell each other

This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with Ties That Bind
Credit: Navaar Seik-Jackson

Ties That Bind is a slice of life actual play set in the apocalyptic world of Navaar Seik-Jackson’s The Corrupted. First published with Plus One Exp for their monthly Zine Club, The Corrupted is a narrative-focused, d20 system “designed to tell an intimate story of survivors trying to figure it all out” during a zombie apocalypse. While survival is an element of this actual play, like all post-apocalyptic fiction, Ties That Bind centers humanity, community, and hope at the end of one world—and the beginning of another. 

Produced and led by Seik-Jackson, the 10-episode series uses a three person ensemble to explore the quiet interpersonal dynamics that evolve between lone survivors who find respite from the horrors of the apocalypse in one another. Beena (played by Hamnah Shahid) is a former college professor and researcher who has spent the first six months of this zombie apocalypse within the confines of a safe haven provided by the Baron Corporation in exchange for her research and scientific expertise. Charlie (played by Josephine Kim) is a church-going veteran of the South Korean military who has spent his time building an autonomous community in rural Vermont. When the two are isolated from their respective shelters, they converge on the farm of Cyrus (played by Seik-Jackson), a young man who’s been fending off the titular Corrupted largely on his own. 

The mechanics of The Corrupted are used to their full narrative potential in the actual play, with nearly every major development both for the players and the world around them occurring as the result of a die roll or mechanical complication. The skills and attributes in the game have story-relevant information, highlighting the character’s various strengths and weaknesses in their contributions to this post-fall world. Mechanics like stress and conflict, along with a “compromised” and “falter” condition create clear emotional developments as the characters are forced to confront the difficult and often violent realities of this new world.

The sound design of the series is immersive, recreating the emotional intensity and action of other works in apocalyptic fiction like The Walking Dead or The Last of Us. Each episode sits at just over an hour, with pacing that matches the ebb and flow of surviving in a zombie-filled countryside. In the initial episodes, Ties That Bind incorporates multiple timelines of the character’s lives before and just after the apocalypse, showing the audience how and why they’ve found themselves at a farm in upstate Vermont. While visual or print apocalypse media can incorporate this chronological device easily, in audio form there are fewer indications to utilize without stating it outright. Seik-Jackson deftly navigates the listener in and out of time with little difficulty, using dreamlike fades between flashbacks. 

Rascal sat down with the cast and crew of Ties That Bind to discuss approaching apocalyptic fiction from a more grounded perspective, how the mechanics of The Corrupted lend themselves to this type of storytelling, and the value of community building at the end of the world.

This interview has been edited for clarity, length, and flow.