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Zombie Whisperer

January 23, 2016


I see dead people on TV.

Sorry. It’s hard to talk about reanimation when your tongue is planted in your cheek.


The truth is, this is not my genre. I have no interest in vampires, ghosts, zombies, or any other undead incarnations Hollywood invented while I wasn’t paying attention.

Sure, I watched Buffy. You can’t be a fan of the Whedon-verse without it. But those demons are allegorical, and some of them have a soul – which makes their motivations human, and therefore susceptible to empathy. Not so with their slowly shuffling brethren; it seems the only good zombie is a dead zombie. Twice-killed, preferably.

Which – finally – brings us to the point of this article: why zombies? What is the appeal of dripping flesh and vacant eyes and snapping teeth ? Why are so many people interested in shows about the dead coming back to (some semblance of) life and trying to eat humans?

I did some research. Midway through Season Four of The Walking Dead, I finally got it. I understand zombies now. It isn’t about gore, it’s about having an enemy you can brutalize without guilt. It’s about letting out your animal while maintaining your political correctness.

The creation of literature stretches back more than four thousand years to the Epic of Gilgamesh, a collection of poems about a once-great king who befriended his enemy, then searched for immortality in the wake of his death (the irony: not lost on me).

Now I have no idea if the epic was intended as a history or a fiction, and care even less. It’s a story, and as such, a model. This is the root function of story: to provide a model by which to safely gauge your life against, through the transference of action onto a fictional character.

But what happens when the models are universally recognized? When fiction is no longer safe because it too-closely resembles reality? How do you tell a story without triggering your audience’s pre-programmed biases and reactions?

The answer is zombies. You take something utterly implausible and present it as a given. You build new rules in order to pull the viewers out of their preconceived notions; only then can you get back to fiction’s original purpose.

So what does TWD have to say? What makes it different than Jericho, Revolution, Helix, or any of the other apocalypse shows airing in the 21st century? Simply put, there is no one to blame and no agenda beyond survival. By using zombies instead of a faction of humanity, the show’s creators have taken away the most overused crutch within fiction and the real world. And by removing all motivation but survival, the show created something we have yet to experience outside of literature or cinema: equality.

There are no good guys in TWD. Every single character has done something unconscionable. The only difference between the show’s focus group and its antagonists is that we relate to their characters… and that’s because they’re the focus group.

How would you proceed if things went wrong and there was no one to blame? This is the question The Walking Dead asks. Unlike Independence Day, which blithely assumed humanity would band together in the face of a global crisis, TWD takes a critical look at self-preservation, the definition of family, and the age-old question of what matters.

I’m two-thirds of the way through Season Five. The group has finally found (what appears to be) legitimate shelter. Will their PTSD ruin the camp? Will they take it over and exile its original inhabitants? I don’t know where the story is headed, but I hope it stays true to itself and doesn’t get wrapped up with a pretty bow like Battlestar Galactica or Continuum.

Even though it’s depressing the fuck out of me.


From → Rants

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