Culture

AMC’s The Walking Dead

If you’ve never seen AMC’s post apocalyptic series “The Walking Dead”, and you think you might want to check it out but, you don’t want to know anything that’s going to happen on that show, STOP reading this post right here. I’m going to speak freely about this television program as one who is completely current in my episode viewing. If you’re the kind of person who sometimes reads a book and still goes to see the movie version, well, you might read this and want to check out the show if you haven’t already.

 

When season one originally aired in 2010, I wasn’t into this show. My husband was checking it out. At a glance, it looked too graphic for my tastes. I wasn’t particularly in the mood for watching a show about the end of civilization as we know it. I tried to watch episode one with him. The premise of the show is that there’s been an outbreak of some kind of zombie causing plague. Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes is out on a call with his partner Shane Walsh. Rick gets shot. He goes into a coma. He wakes up after the major collapse of society and civilization has occurred. But, the show begins from Rick’s point of view so we’re not really sure if he’s having a nightmare or what’s going on. All these many years in, they could still take a turn with this show where it could turn out to be Rick’s nightmare or coma dream or a variety of other scenarios, now that I think of it. So, the first episode, there’s a scene where Rick, wandering around in a hospital gown, sees the decaying upper torso of a woman, dead, a zombie, dragging itself across a lawn trying to get to him to take a bite. My reaction to that was, “This is too gross. This is gratuitous. I’m out.” It was a couple of years later before I finally got through that first episode. It is violent. It is graphic. It is gross. I have, however, changed my mind about it being gratuitous. Based on a comic book series, that I’ve never read, had never heard of, some of the graphic scenes are, as I understand, supposed to be in keeping true to the original horror comic, graphic novel, scenes. But, here’s the thing, if it were a zombie apocalypse, it would be that violent, graphic, gross. Horrifying. That first episode sets up everything that unfolds after so incredibly well. Having finally watched that episode to completion, I was hooked. I was in for the ride. By the end of the first episode, most of the main characters are introduced, we understand how dire the situation is, our shock and understanding moving right along with that of the characters, and that wanting to know what is going to happen is so very edge of your seat viewing.

At first I was thinking that maybe these people were all adapting a little too quickly, but in reality, anyone left after such a thing would be highly adaptable. Before the end of the first episode, Rick’s wife, Lori, thinking Rick is dead, has taken up with his partner, Shane. She’s got a young child, her and Rick’s son, Carl. We see her in her survival mode, taking up with a protector figure, not as a weak woman, but as what she views as the smartest thing she can do right then. Lori, is anything other than weak. She’s a tough-minded realist, ultimately not without heart. Keeping in mind she’s been married to a cop. We see Shane opportunistically going after his friend’s wife, something he clearly wanted to do before on some level. We see Rick forming a bond with Morgan Jones who saves him from the zombies after the hospital and gets him up to speed on the state of the world. Morgan has been through it, his ongoing grappling with the harsh realities of the end of modern society is, I think, in many ways quietly the soul of this show. There are little things throughout the first episode that recur in later episodes that give the show a completely cohesive feel.ย  One of my favorite scenes, however many episodes in, is Lori wandering away from camp to use a pregnancy test, because she was thinking, but she was also panicking, or she wouldn’t have let something like that happen. These characters are so flawed, so messed up, and so exceedingly normal in that. These characters are the people in your neighborhood and town, in the next town over and so on. Main characters die, are killed off, in this show, pretty regularly, adding to the tension of each episode. I’ve cheered out loud at this show. I’ve cried. ( I cried about Beth. That episode with her and Daryl, where she puts on the nice sweater from the pro-shop at the country club was heartbreaking. And… Glenn…) The characters, change, grow, and they transform. The plot device of the end of civilization gives the characters room to become who they are. Some of them grow into places of strength, if before they were meek or not necessarily the person anyone would have been looking at to be a hero, they’ve got room now free from the constraints of whatever society told them they were or forced them to become. We see Carol, a former abused wife, become a force of nature and realize, she always was. We see Daryl, a guy who was nothing and nobody before the collapse, a guy people would have avoided, become the guy you want to have your back when things get bad. We see the reverse of that as well, characters who sink to lower forms of behavior, to giving in to a darker nature they were suppressing, greed, lawlessness, manipulators. Negan rises to power over his people using fear and control, stealing from those who are productive, telling his people he is “providing” for them, appealing to their most base instincts, willing to give them what he sees as “everything”, except actual freedom, in exchange for their loyalty and a willingness to do things his way. In every episode, in every situation, the backdrop is what would anyone, what would you, do in any of those situations?

For these people now, there are no computers, no telephones, no mobile phones, no radio, only occasionally electricity, food is scarce and becoming more so. Transportation is sketchy, fuel supplies are running low. Roads are blocked with abandoned vehicles. At the outset, the group of survivors, lead by Rick as he reunites with his wife and son, the people they are with, is still looking for some part of society that made it through. We know they aren’t going to find that, because it would mean the end of the show. Weapons, bullets, become invaluable, as valuable as food and water. We see people having to learn and adapt on the fly. In a later episode, we see Enid, essentially being taught to become a field doctor by a doctor who was in his internship when things went down, have to get out a medical book in order to guide herself through an amputation procedure so that she can save the life of another main character. I was somewhat surprised that the importance of such books hadn’t come into play earlier in the show, but up to that point they have been pretty much scrambling all the time. In that, I’m wondering if they will continue to address that factor, the importance of having books that instruct as to how to do some basic things, and the importance of those books being accurate. I’m hoping they get into more things like, the importance of old school knowledge and skills. One of the main characters, Eugene, knows how to make bullets. In another situation, they’ve got one Blacksmith and they’ve already got him an apprentice. Those kinds of skills would be priceless.

They have, now, nine seasons in, gotten to a place with things where they are beginning to rebuild small communities. This show moves incredibly fast. A large, ensemble, cast, gives it a lot of room to play with story and keep things rolling. What we still don’t know is how things are in other parts of the country, the world, we’re learning as these character do, and that makes this a show with the potential to be endless. How many zombies are left? The zombies, though already dead, are still decaying. That would mean insect populations increasing, that would mean the potential spread of other diseases. I’m wanting to know when are they going to get into the importance of soap and someone learning how to make that. Interestingly, as the show has gone on, there are times in the show when the presence of the zombies, or “the walkers”, is treated almost as though it were a nuisance as opposed to a threat. They’re killing zombies constantly but these characters are adapting to their new circumstances. “Oh yeah, there’s a zombie over there.” and one of them will say, “On it.” and go kill it. As the show has gone on, the source of the tension has shifted, in some regard, from worry over the zombies, to concerns over dealing with potential evils from other survivors. They’re learning how to “manage” the zombies, how to draw them away, misdirect them, and so on, if there are too many. As this group of survivors begins to try to reclaim something of civilization, the biggest threat to the success of that isn’t the zombies, it is other people.

What I’ve learned from this show is that in such a situation there are some weapons that stand out. Michonne’s sword, is a weapon to have, I mean, get me one of those, please, and Daryl’s crossbow. The crossbow seems impractical unless one considers that it’s good from a distance, it’s quiet, and it’s something that one could eventually learn to make new arrows for. I’ve learned that if you’re like Carol, you’ll make it work for you and any weapon will do. To that end, to some, their weapon of choice becomes something of a security blanket, one that is respected by the others as such. Rick’s Colt Python is returned to him to by Daryl. Everyone knows the Katana sword belongs to Michonne. All the killing to survive that they’re doing isn’t easy. Everyone respects it if one of them has a weapon of choice as a security blanket. These zombies are of the classic variety, it’s their brains keeping them moving and so that leads to a lot of gross scenes as they are stopped once and for all. But even that isn’t quite so bad as survivors camouflaging themselves in zombie innards, if they have to, in order to go unnoticed, zombie stealth mode. The end of civilization as we know it by zombie, it would probably be at least as gross at times as this show makes it seem.

This show is about survival. The metaphors are heaped as high as the zombie body count. It is a sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle, commentary on society, on humanity. But it’s still the characters that drew me in. I’ll be tuning in tonight to see what Carol does next. To listen to some, hopefully, poetic monologue from Ezekiel. To see if Jerry says something funny. To watch Rick let his ego get in the way of whatever it is, again. To watch Maggie grapple with being a good person and understanding that buck has to stop somewhere. To watch Michonne try to be reasonable with everyone because she’s got so much heart. To see if Anne and the Preacher are an item now, or if she was just using him. To see if anyone slips in to kill Negan. To see if they let Alden become a main character and whether he gets a love interest, or if he’s the next to go. To see if Daryl goes out hunting the missing Saviors. To see what the missing Saviors are plotting. To find out what’s up with that helicopter. (There was a helicopter flying around in the first episode. Are they all the subject of some awful experiment?) To find out what Jesus would do. To see if Eugene and Rosita become a thing. To see if Enid finds love and becomes a great doctor. To see what they do about Aaron’s arm. To find out if Georgie is ever showing up again. To watch Judith (hopefully) grow up. To find out who the historian in the group is going to be, when they get to a point of thinking about that. And it sure would be great if Morgan could be okay and right with himself again. But, Morgan’s story is exactly what I love about this show. These characters, these people, are affected by what has happened to the world and to them, they’re changed by it. AMC’s The Walking Dead is story telling at its finest.

Teri