What’s wrong with The Walking Dead?
There is a lot that’s right with The Walking Dead, but my writer-monkey brain makes me fool with stuff. A casual viewer would probably enjoy the show more because they wouldn’t over-analyze it. However, as I write this guest post (thanks, Armand!) I’m revising This Plague of Days, my soon-to-be-released serial about the coming plague apocalypse. Character motivation is much on my mind and in The Walking Dead’s world, I’d be very unmotivated.
The themes that emerge on The Walking Dead are often really good ponderables: Would you rather be smart or good? Is the road to hell paved with the corpses of good people? And does greasy hair and sweat repel zombies? Darryl and Rick do seem pretty safe.
Thing is, the stories I enjoy most hold out some hope. In horror, sometimes the objective is to save the world. Often the hope is simply to escape with your skin intact, unbroken and where you left it.
On Sunday nights AKA “Switch-the-channel-and-die Nights”, I wonder two things:
(1) With so many zombies and so few humans, why aren’t there more resources left? It’s still relatively early days in this iteration of the zombie apocalypse, so there shouldn’t be quite this much scarcity and fighting.
(2) At what point does the will to live start to look kind of stupid? Nothing lasts forever and everybody has an Extinction Level Event coming, possibly in the near future if my calculations are correct. (What I’m saying is, when This Plague of Days comes out, buy early. It’s always later than you think. Also, live a little and get the yellow bananas. The green bananas…well…unless I forgot to carry the two somewhere, we’re screwed.)
The Walking Dead needs a little more reason to live besides Beth singing awful folksongs around the fire. Glen and Maggie have each other, so the quickies in the loading dock do give them a reason to live another day. What’s keeping Herschel going? Does he think the Superbowl is coming back, Zombies versus Navy, perhaps?
Remember Lost when it was good? There were objectives to achieve: Solve the mystery of why we’re here; figure out why the island doesn’t like us much; finally make like Gilligan and get off this DisneyAmusement Park of the Damned and for God’s sake, stay off the smoke monster ride!
What’s the objective on The Walking Dead? Keep the arguments going and live long enough to enjoy an ugly death due to appendicitis, prostate cancer or old dog food gone bad? And if they do settle down and plant seeds, they better not be Monsanto seeds because those are only good for one growing season. They’ll go from zombie killers to hunters for the last non-Frankensteinian pumpkin seeds.
There’s not a lot of hope for our intrepid little band of survivors, though, is there? When horror is too grim, you have to ask, what’s the point of fighting so hard? This season’s message seems to be that Deputy Shawn’s policy of “kill anyone who stands in our way,” was right after all. Poor Shawn was just ahead of everyone else’s learning curve. Now Carl is closer to The Governor’s worldview: Kill to live and don’t be so nostalgic about what your momma said was good manners.
Carl (AKA Wyatt Twerp) understands this new world and isn’t holding on to the rules of engagement from the our world. Instead, he’s wondering why his dad still doesn’t get that in a survival situation, mercy is reserved for your tribe.
I just watched Quarantine 2. In that movie, the one guy who understands the danger of the spreading virus best is a military fellow who blows his head off the first chance he gets. He goes quietly into that dark night because the alternative is get torn apart by infected ghouls. No wonder he chose the dark mystery behind door number two and ate a bullet.
In these no-win scenarios, I guess I’m that guy. I’m the guy on the wagon train who points out that sod houses are awfully drafty. If John Candy will just lead us back east, we could be cozy in New York or Boston, growing our handlebar moustaches and sipping espressos in a library. Beats the brains out of going cannibal while lost in the frozen mountains (or dying of boredom in the prairies).
In This Plague of Days, the story follows the collapse of civilization through the eyes of a selective mute with Asperger Syndrome. I start the book as close to pre-Apocalypse as I dare. Society is still somewhat functional. Then things steadily fall apart and you can’t use your credit cards anymore (though, happy day! You don’t have to pay them off, either.) The machine of civilization spirals into the dirt pretty hard.
However, there’s a hopeful objective. The family will have to travel cross-country in the style of The Stand, for a destination that promises sustainability and relative safety. In other words, there’s something to do besides fight walkers, one-eyed tyrants and soldier sheep. They have hope they’ll get off the island of terror that is suburbia in the plague apocalypse.
I rarely have the sense on The Walking Dead that these are the new pioneers forging a new country out of bloody ashes. (Woodbury held out that hope briefly, but humans ruined it and the promise felt pretty empty.)
The utter grim uselessness of the fight is secreted in the title itself. The Walking Dead does not refer to the walkers. It refers to the living who are waiting to be torn apart once walkers get as smart as my dog and figure out doorknobs.
Armand said it best on my podcast: “If there are no M&Ms, I don’t want to live anymore.” In my research, I’ve read a lot about survivalism. I’ve delved into disaster preparedness for years. I’m ready for hurricanes, tornados and zombies (as long as it’s kept to a Shawn of the Dead level of containment.) However, if there isn’t going to be any wi-fi, I don’t want to live, either. I lived without wi-fi for too long already and I’m not going back.
All the survivalists I know, (and I know a couple personally) are interesting people who are way too focused on gun glee. They lose sight of the fact that, in the long term, there’s a lot of cabbage eating in their future.
Sure, lots of anarchists and fantasists think they’ll be on top in a Road Warrior world. I think they’ll be the guys chained to the front bumper of a souped-up car in that scenario. They have to sleep sometime. You either cooperate and work together (and hope to God one of you is a dentist). Alternative? You’re a buff guy in a hockey mask due for a skewering at the end of a high-speed chase through a hellscape where Mel Gibson hasn’t lost his mind yet.
I’m looking forward to the next season of The Walking Dead (with yet another showrunner, by the way. They go through creators like tic tacs at AMC.)
I’ll try to keep my writer-monkey mind from messing with the paradigm. I’ll hope the survivors find some reason to hope. When people have even a little hope, they fight harder and we understand why. We hope more for them.
~ Robert Chazz Chute is a suspense writer, crime novelist, podcaster on All That Chazz and host of the Cool People Podcast at CoolPeoplePodcast.com. This Plague of Days will be released as a serial this spring. Find out more at AllThatChazz.com and ThisPlagueofDays.com.