Sunday nights from October to April are sacred in my household, because it’s the one night where I watch TV as it happens, just like when I was a kid and “The Wonderful World of Disney” was on.
There were no PVRs in the 80s.
Now, though, instead of tuning in to see Herbie the Love Bug, I’m diving into the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead (TWD) to watch Rick et al fight for their lives, and for each other.
When I tell people that I am mildly obsessed with TWD, they’re often surprised. I guess that as a forty-year-old mother, dentist, and former accountant, I don’t appear to fit the zombie-nerd profile. But heck, given that TWD is one of the most popular shows on TV right now, there are plenty of unexpected zombie aficionados out there.
I’ve been enthralled by zombies ever since my friend Jackie and I rented Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (the 1978 version) from the Shell gas station down the street back in elementary school. (It was the 80s, so we had a lot more freedom then than my kids do now.) If you aren’t familiar with what is (arguably) considered the best zombie movie ever, Dawn of the Dead features a group of survivors who take refuge in a shopping mall and must fight off the undead while adapting to the collapse of civilization.*
I like action, horror, and Andrew Lincoln as seen in Love Actually as much as the next girl, but that’s not why I watch TWD. Ultimately my fascination with the zombie genre stems from several key themes found in The Walking Dead and other post-apocalyptic worlds.
Theme 1: Humanity persists
I believe that humans are fundamentally good. Yes, there will always be bad guys and good people who do bad things, but most people try to connect to each other, no matter how awful things are. TWD brings to life scenarios in which some seriously malevolent jerks threaten the survivors we know, love, and identify with, in a world where the trappings of modernity have been stripped away and humans are struggling at their most basic level for survival.
When I’m watching TWD, I’m imagining myself as part of Rick’s group, and I’m wondering what I would do if I were being held hostage by the Governor in Woodbury, or if I came across a stranger in the woods. Would I be like Glenn and help Rick make it out of the tank, or would I be like the Terminites and lure in the unwary so that I can butcher them and feast on some tasty human steaks? I like to think that I could maintain my humanity when threatened with starvation and violence, but that’s easy to say from the comfort of my couch.
Theme 2: What would you resort to in order to survive?
After the world ends and civilization regresses to pre-industrial levels, life gets a lot harder physically. Combine the end of agriculture and modern utilities with hordes of the undead who never stop trying to eat you and you get an environment that most modern city dwellers would be completely unprepared for.
Take me, for example. I don’t garden, know how to can anything, or raise livestock. How long it would take me to adapt to a world where I had to hunt and gather my own food and manage day-to-day life without the conveniences that I consider necessities (washing machine! running water! flushing toilets!)? Would I have the guts and persistence to keep on going in the face of the ever-present and inexhaustible undead?
And I would not only have to provide for myself and my family, but also learn how to kill walkers and defend myself and my kids from malicious humans. First-world problems would be put into stark relief in a hurry.
Theme 3: The mama bear mindset
Carol is one of my favourite characters from TWD, but she wasn’t always. In Season 2, Carol’s daughter Sophia goes missing, and Carol wrings her hands and cries a lot. In any scenario in which one of my children disappears, hand-wringing and quiets sobs would not make an immediate appearance. My default would tend to be clear rage and obsessive pursuit. I may not always like my children, but I love them with every single cell of my being. Threaten them (and I don’t mean by calling them names or tripping them in a hockey game – I consider those situations opportunities for character building) and prepare yourself for my barely-contained fury. In the zombie apocalypse, “barely-contained” would no longer apply.
To me, TWD isn’t simply a zombie show. It’s about maintaining humanity in the face of brutality and overwhelming hardship, and about the importance of family and relationships not only as the reason for survival but as a way to achieve it. In this age of sleep deprivation, iPhones, and keeping up with the Joneses, The Walking Dead is one way that I remind myself to focus on what’s important and to appreciate all that I hold dear.
Need An Apocalypse Fix?
I’ve got a few recommendations for you:
World War Z is one of my favourite books of any genre. It is NOT AT ALL like the movie, so don’t judge this book by its film version!
The Stand is not a zombie novel, but does explore good and evil after the world’s population is decimated by a nasty virus. Bumpty, bumpty, bump!
The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road is also not a zombie novel, but its post-apocalyptic imagery will haunt you long after you finish it. The movie features Viggo Mortensen.
Need something a little lighter? Try Shaun of the Dead, with Simon Pegg. Killing zombies has never been so much fun or set to such great music.
Zombieland has its own set of zombie rules, and a cameo by the ever-quirky Bill Murray.
Another light-hearted movie about the undead, Warm Bodies departs from the Romero rules (see below) and tells its story from a zombie’s perspective. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my list.
Do you spend your Sunday evenings with The Walking Dead? What do you love about it? Do you remember watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” with your family?
*Dawn of the Dead not only captured my imagination, but also was key in establishing the zombie rules for the entire genre. According to Romero’s movies:
- Zombies are slow (I’m giving you the side-eye, movie version of World War Z).
- To kill a zombie, you must destroy its brain.
- The undead are ravenous for human flesh.
- Zombies are relentless, unfeeling, and can function with damage to any body part besides their brains. They. Never. Stop.