Monday, December 9, 2013

The Wisdom of The Walking Dead

Now that the show is officially in it's mid-season hiatus and I am desperately holding out on catching up with the last two episodes from season 3 I haven't yet watched, I thought it was time to finally write about this show.

I am going to attempt to write this in such a manner that it won't spoil anything for people who haven't yet seen it and plan to. It really is one of the best shows on television right now, and you really should be watching it. I also don't want to go through just rehashing the obvious things that those who do watch it already know well.

A while back now, we decided to try and start watching it at the urging of a few people who seemed deeply enamored with it. I believe the show was running the second season at the time, and we caught just enough of it to make clear the facts that we had no idea what was going on with the plot and that zombies are nasty.

We turned it off, shaking our heads and wondering aloud what the big deal was.

Then something happened, and I'm not quite sure what, but we decided to start watching it from the beginning a few months ago.

By five seconds into the first episode, I was hooked.

In deep, I was quickly sucked into the vortex.

My husband decided he wanted to read the comics as well, though the story lines diverge fairly early on. I have read through enough of them now to see how different they are - one is not necessarily better than the other, they are different enough, but they still center on the same ethical struggles.

At it's core, this show isn't about zombies at all.

I'll let that digest for a moment.

It isn't.

Truly.

It's about the resilience of people, about the sacrifices we will make, about the eternal battle of good versus evil, about the ways that people will justify choices and so much more. The zombies are more a part of the setting, the background, than anything else. They are just a defining component of the place in which these stories unfold.


With my background in public health, I am fascinated by the disease component of the show. Whatever it is that causes those who die to turn, whether it is a virus or a bacteria or a parasite...it's fictional, but not outside the realm of possibility. Since watching the show, I have had a great number of conversations with my older kids (who also watch it) about pandemics. Though our planet hasn't been ravaged by anything that brings people back from the dead and turns them into hungry flesh eating predators, the population has been brought into decline rapidly by diseases in the past. I don't imagine that anything out there will ever end in the manifestation of zombies, but annihilation of the population? Not out of question. Not by a stretch.

Fairly quickly in the first season, it becomes obvious that the world we know now ceased to exist very quickly after the disease spread. All the modern conveniences we know and love, gone. Running water, electricity, television, internet, no more. Until and unless you've actually lived in that kind of scenario, you can't really understand how much it changes everything to be without the things we completely take for granted. It becomes painfully obvious in a hurry how much we depend on those things once they are gone.

The show, as my experiences in real life have also shown, details how quickly some people can adapt. Those who don't adapt don't survive. Those who don't adapt just don't endanger themselves, but everyone else. Natural born fighters are the ones you want on your side.


The show exposes the darker side of humanity from the first episode all the way through to the current season. The biases and stereotypes that alter how people treat one another, the lies that people will tell themselves just to make things feel better in the moment, the underhanded way that people deal with one another anytime someone has what someone else wants. Natural leaders emerge very quickly, and it becomes clear that not everyone who can lead has the moral integrity to do so. It becomes obvious how much people will lie to get their way.

The show strips away the stigmas that we bring as viewers and forces us to do better. It tells us that even the strongest people struggle once they are inside their own heads. It tells us that good people can come from bad upbringings. It tells us that trust is essential to survival. It tells us that sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on. It tells us that faith is important, but work is more important. It tells us that some people will go to the ends of the Earth to protect the ones they love and that others will worry only about themselves when held to the fire.


The show makes you care about these completely fictional characters in this insane world. When a deeply loved character is taken out, you feel like you lost a little piece of your heart too. The more well loved, the more spectacular their deaths seem to be. The more they meant, the more horrid the ending they must meet. I'm still upset about the last one. Still. As a fan of this show, you should know better than to get close to the characters. It's almost a certainty that they all will die eventually, and yet they are so real, so raw that you can't help it. As they bond to each other, we bond to them.

The core of the show is one man's struggle with who he is, with what has happened to him, with what has happened to the people he loves. His resolve has been tested, his faith in others questioned. He's struggled with his own sanity, he's fought for control and pushed it away. The last episode that aired, the mid-season finale, told you just about everything you ever needed to know about Rick. About who he was, who he is, what he is made of.


Sure, there are zombies, always, a constant nagging presence that must always be dealt with, but I can assure you that the show isn't about them at all.

Nope.

The humans are the real monsters.

The zombies are just the eye candy.


The Walking Dead returns to AMC in February, 2014.

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