Apocalyptic Thinking with The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is gruesome and gross and bloody. It depicts killing by all kinds of characters, including children. If you can stand looking at that, it’s worth watching. Why?

Because behind all the gore, it’s a story about what humans do when faced with apocalyptic events.

When they aren’t busy killing zombies, the characters in The Walking Dead do all the things that people normally do – fall in love, have kids, argue, garden, work, build things, take care of each other and look at each other with suspicion.

characters in the prison
In season 4, humans are living in a prison to keep the walkers out as life goes on inside

The Walking Dead is about a zombie apocalypse, which is of course, fiction. What this fictional event does is force the characters to face questions about morality and ethics and self-preservation that go deep into human nature. If other humans threatened your safety, would you kill the them? If people came to you in your safe place wanting to share your food and security, would you allow them in? Would you teach children to be kind and caring, or would you show them how to use a knife to kill as the character Carol (Melissa McBride) is doing in season 4?

Melissa McBride in a jail cell
Melissa McBride in season 4’s prison setting

Much of the plot deals with how humans – even while surrounded by hoards of ravening zombies – are unable to trust each other and work together for their common good. There are power struggles, there is mistrust, there is no effort to join together to try to solve the problems facing everyone. Sounds like the U.S. Congress, does it not?

There are other possible forms of apocalypse that are not fiction. Nuclear war, climate change, global monetary crises – things could fall apart in many ways. The Walking Dead gives us a template for the kind of thinking that would face us if a catastrophic event overtook the world.

Global warming, for example, is already causing change. What happens when millions of people who live in coastal cities are made homeless by rising oceans? As such climate refugees move inland, will you welcome them, help them, or regard them as a threat to what you have? If you had to move inland because your city was underwater, how would you approach your new situation?

If our infrastructure fell apart around us, would it be every man (or woman) for himself, or would you work with others to bring a peaceful organization to whatever situation surrounded you? Would you put your faith in a leader such as the character Rick (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead, or would you try to take command yourself? Rick lead for 3 seasons, realized he made mistakes, and turned his leadership over to a democratic process. Do you think something like that would work in a real world situation?

The Walking Dead takes viewers on a moral and ethical journey that’s worth exploring. Our moral and ethical choices don’t involve zombies, but real people, real human failures and behaviors. What would we do in the face of global catastrophe? The Walking Dead makes you think about these things. That’s why it’s worth watching.

What’s your opinion of The Walking Dead?

All images ©AMC Television.

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