Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I love the Walking Dead

Mild sub-plot spoilers ahead

When it comes to the sub-genres of horror and/or dystopian stories, Zombies are not typically -- shall we say -- sophisticated.

Generally speaking, zombie movies follow a particular pattern. An outbreak begins, then there's a jump forward to a point in time after the world as we know it has fallen into decay. Often, but not always, this is coupled by someone who is oblivious to what has happened waking up or somehow arriving, clueless, into the narrative. A band of survivors is formed, they make their way to a stronghold which is eventually overrun and everyone dies.

Generally speaking.

It's no surprise, then, that the best zombie movies are the ones that subvert the tropes in some way, either by making a parody of the rules (Shawn of the Dead) or by turning from the gore-fest to an examination of what happens to the state of men and mankind as social structure disintegrates (I am Legend).

Don't get me wrong, Walking Dead has phenomenal gore and spectacular horror. Often when I try to explain how deep the show can be people just roll their eyes and say "Zombies? Deep? Suuuuuuure."

But it is.

To wit, in last week's episode the band of survivors were debating what to do with a man who had more or less stumbled onto their farm. He was just a kid, and while he was harmless, the band he was traveling with consisted of 30 well-armed murderers and rapist (it's the apocalypse after all, read The Road if you think that's weird).

They were about to let him go, blindfolded and hobbled far from the farm where he likely wouldn't find his way back, but then the dumb kid ran his mouth and admitted to having gone to school with one of the girls, thus knowing full well where the farm was. They could still leave him and hope he got eaten by a walker, but if he met back up with his band then they would undoubtedly raid the farm for supplies and kill everyone.

So what to do? The chillingly-obvious answer was to kill him to protect their own and only one man, Dale, spoke out in opposition. For 20 minutes they debated the merits of killing this person, who himself had done nothing wrong, and as a viewer you knew there was only one option.

"You once said 'we don't kill the living'" Dale said.

"That was before the living tried to kill us," Rick replied.

At some point someone said, effectively "we're just talking in circles, just kill him already," to which Dale shouted that the decision to take the life of another human being is worth a discussion. He was alone in fighting for a world that no longer existed, a world where the rule of law is supreme and men are innocent until proven guilty. He was also alone because even the viewing audience, at home on sectional sofas eating soup out of a microwave-safe bowl, were thinking "off with his head" and the sooner the better.

That's why I love The Walking Dead. As a viewer I sided with the majority that the only choice was to put the kid out of their misery, and I felt just as guilty for thinking that as Dale pleaded for the goodness of humanity to continue, even while the world burns.

And that's not all. The show makes you question how far someone can be pushed before life is no longer worth living, the futility of hope and, of course, the duality of man. It's somewhat funny that every network is trying to find the next Lost when the next Lost is already here, every Sunday on AMC. Because in the end you didn't watch Lost for the mysteries, you watched it for it's Lord-of-the-Flies-esque critique of the human condition and because of its way to weave together narratives of a divers and structure character pool.

Walking dead has that in droves. Glen is the everyman, Herschel is the skeptic forced to open his eyes, Darryl is the survivalist and Rick and Shane fill the function of the man is good/man is evil debate. Well, at least they used to. *Wink.

Oh, right, and the Zombies are freaking awesome.

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