Let’s see if I have the guts to throw this out there.
I enjoy psychological thrillers, but I’ve never been a fan of blatant gore, and I’m especially not a person to jump on the bandwagon of whatever’s popular. So when The Walking Dead became the new craze, with zombies to boot, I avoided it like the plague. I hadn’t had cable TV since Dec. 2007 anyway, opting instead to feed my kids, but even when the show appeared on Netflix, I didn’t bother to watch.
That is, until the day my son, who was just into the first few episodes of season one, asked me to watch it with him. I did—you know, for the sake of quality time. We restarted the series, and I never turned back. Every year now, I wait with bated breath for the next season to come out on Netflix. And the sixth season just has—early, even!
What’s the draw?
After watching the first few episodes of The Walking Dead season one, I couldn’t figure out why I was drawn, literally addicted, to the show. Eventually, the answer came to me: it was the people. It was about the characters (who were excellent) and humanity at large. Only much later did I find articles stating exactly that: “The Walking Dead isn’t about zombies; it’s about people.” This isn’t the article I originally read, but it contains the same message: The Walking Dead is Not About Zombies.
As a writer, the first thing I noticed was that this “crossover” phenomenon of special effects, action, and gore coupled with characterization, depth, and dilemmas, although not unique, was clever. One clearly has to have both to captivate multiple audiences. Shock hooks them, and substance keeps them.
But I watched The Walking Dead for another reason. It helped me survive the last several years.
Adversity needs company
The loneliest place a person can be is living daily horrors that the privileged and entitled won’t even acknowledge. The Walking Dead was my respite.
In The Walking Dead world, the slate of society is wiped clean. It’s a reset, a concept some people today imagine, as aspects of modern civilization spin out of control and we are eaten away at by easily dismissible covert and artificial stressors. The daily struggles of the characters in TWD are tangibly unrosy, glaring enough to have to be acknowledged, affecting all people, even those who had managed to hide for a while. The pain, loss, and lack of physical rest in TWD are direct and have reason. Most importantly, dollar bills don’t make you better than others and don’t save your life. Who you are and what you know matter more.
What I thought about most while watching the show, though, is that in our world, all of my kids are alive, and the odds of them staying that way are in their favour. That tops all. Still, the brutality of the TWD world has helped me to feel less alone.
As I begin season six on Netflix, I know I am a year behind the rest of the world, but I’m sure many fans are rewatching the season now that it has recently been made available. So my comment about the first episode of season six may be relevant. I can’t say I enjoyed the extent of bouncing between flashbacks and the present, especially since the initial episode is supposed to reorient, not disorient, the viewer after the last season finale. However, the content of the scenes is excellent. The dialogue of season six episodes has been amazing, as have the dynamics between the characters. Palpable, poignant, believable, philosophical. Well written.
As of last night, I’m into episode seven of season six. In 2016, my life has turned around considerably, so I don’t need The Walking Dead to the extent I once did. But I’m still drawn to it for its dissection of humanity, not so much the special effects of decaying zombies.