Despite it having been released a good number of years ago, I only recently got into the popular television series, The Walking Dead. Not only have I got into it, I’ve become nothing short of addicted to it. At the risk of sounding sadistic, there’s just something exciting about watching these fictional people struggle to stay alive, whilst zombies shamble across the earth and eat humans like we eat KFC.
I’m not entirely sure what it was that hooked me with this show. I’ve never been the biggest fan of anything zombie related – they’ve rarely succeeded in scaring me, so I tend to boycott them. Films like World War Z and 28 Days Later usually end up leaving me dissatisfied as the protagonists inevitably make it out alive and live happily ever after. But The Walking Dead is raw and brutal in that it acknowledges that characters will die, even the best ones, and that there may not be a happy ending. Our main protagonists, or at least my favourites – Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Carl and Michonne – may all still be alive and well for now, but they’re far from being guaranteed safety and we, the audience, know that.
I didn’t completely click with Rick’s character until about halfway through the first season, and even Daryl wasn’t instantly one of my favourites. And yet, despite being relatively indifferent to the majority of the cast at first, I still found myself desperate to know exactly what was happening with their lives. I became invested in whatever drama was going on, whether it was Lori’s fling with Shane, the terrible news they received from the CDC, or the disappearance of, and subsequent search for, Sophia. Watching how these characters dealt with all of these things in their own personal way helped me open up to the cast, and appreciate the realism that was being portrayed; a group of survivors during the zombie apocalypse don’t just sit around and chat while they wait for it all to blow over, and they don’t somehow discover a cure and save the day themselves. They argue, cry, fight, starve, struggle, sacrifice, die, maybe even kill each other. Because if there’s one thing more foreboding than the zombies clawing at the walls of your camp, it’s the grudge that your fellow survivor holds against you.
That’s probably my favourite thing about The Walking Dead – that whole thing about those we should truly fear being the living. The walkers are certainly the staple of the show, and always pose some kind of threat to the group but at times, they become nothing more than background noise. Lori’s pregnancy and the tension between Rick and Shane, Edwin Jenner trapping the group in the CDC and blowing the place to smithereens, the war between them and Woodbury; some of the biggest story arcs that have unfolded across the show have all revolved around the living, and the significant dangers that they may pose. The Governor rolling up outside the prison with a tank and several powerful guns, with enough insane people to use them scared me more than any herd of walkers could, and that’s the point.
This is illustrated most notably towards the end of Season 4, when their stint in the prison is drawing to a close. In addition to the walkers wanting some at this point, they also had the mentally unstable Governor and his trigger-happy army to contend with, as well as a separate, flu-like virus that had taken down the majority of the group from the inside. Now I don’t know about you, but amidst all of this, suddenly the walkers were the last thing on my mind. All I cared about was whether they got the antibiotics they needed in time, and whether the Governor would succeed in driving them out. When something becomes more threatening than the flesh-eating undead that are roaming around in their hundreds, you know that it has to be worth worrying about.
The fact that The Walking Dead is a series and not a movie allows these events to play out with a sense of realism, and lets the audience join the group in their struggle for survival. We aren’t faced with flat characters and a rushed storyline that tries to pack too much in, like we would be with some zombie movies. We’re really in there with the characters, experiencing the fear, the dread, and even the odd glimpse of hope that they experience and, since I can see no end in sight for the show, this journey could stretch on for any length of time. It could go on forever if it wanted to, and it could take any number of different turns. All of my favourites, perhaps even the entire group, could die and the series could restart with an entirely new group. The current characters could live out their natural lives and die of old age. Maybe the zombie outbreak will slowly fade out and a new world could be rebuilt. Who knows? As The Walking Dead proves time and time again, nothing is off-limits.