I really, really love zombie movies, and anything that involves zombies. (Yes, even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If you can’t like that idea at least a little bit, then I can’t like you.) But pretty quickly after my zombie obsession started, I realized that what interests me about these stories isn’t the zombie-killing aspect at all. What really fascinates me about zombie apocalypse movies is how they portray the breakdown of society, and how people deal with this. Blowing zombie heads off with shotguns and slicing them up with machetes is fun to watch (because zombies, like Nazis and orcs, can be slaughtered in the thousands and you don’t feel even a little bit sorry for them) but what always interests me more in these stories is what happens when the normal rules of society no longer apply. If the world collapsed tomorrow and all that mattered was survival – not morality, not family, not religion – what would you do? When the zombie apocalypse happens, all bets are off and society crumbles. Once this happens, once we pretty much do whatever we want because everything has been destroyed, how do we react? Who do we become when we lose everything?
If these questions interest you more than simple zombie killing, The Walking Dead will make you very happy. Yes, there are zombie killings aplenty (drawn in super graphic detail, to the point where you probably shouldn’t be eating anything while you read this), but the zombies are not the problem here. These aren’t 28 Days Later zombies (which, if we’re going to get technical, weren’t really zombies at all) that are smart and run scary fast. These are slow, dumb, lumbering things that hunt mainly by smell, and whose strategy for finding food is basically to wander around and hope to stumble within grabbing distance of something edible. The zombies in The Walking Dead are not a huge threat. The threat is the people left behind, trying to make a life in this disaster wasteland aftermath.
Let me warn you right away: it ain’t pretty. Even our good guy main character, the former police officer Rick, cracks under the pressure and becomes significantly less heroic than he wishes he could be. People kill other people. They torture and rape other people, and do similarly awful things in order to survive. This isn’t a zombie movie, where the tight-knit group of heroes find a safe haven or maybe even a cure and then the credits roll. There are no credits here, and even when our main characters find a relatively secure place where they can live, things aren’t over. They still have to push the zombies back every day, and find a source of food, and keep other people from attacking their hiding place. And they still have to deal with each other. To paraphrase Sartre, Hell isn’t a zombie apocalypse, Hell is other people.
Verdict: three out of five stars