The Walking Dead is a pretty dour apocalypse. Zompocalypses in general are big downers. Even though TWD is a long-form series you always get a sense that the characters are living on borrowed time, that they're fighting to survive the next moment. Every time they try to build a more permanent foothold (Herschel’s farm, the Prison) it inevitable gets destroyed by a wave of the undead, asshole humans, or their own shortsightedness. While I watch The Walking Dead for the chills and superbly directed suspense (it’s rare for other modern horror to make me tense up as well as well as that series does), I also watch it because it’s a morbidly pessimistic dissection of society. A lot of season three especially has been about whether or not human decency is a detriment in the post-zombie world. The Guv’ might be a complete batpoop psychopath but Woodbury has (at least for its regular citizens) the best quality-of-life rating we’ve seen in TWD’s post-apocalypse. Rick’s descent from square-jawed, Jack Shepard-esque hero to benevolent dictator has seemed to be at least vaguely effective in keeping his group alive. The Walking Dead’s main theme seems to be asserting that basic human compassion and decency would be detrimental to survival in ‘the wild.’ While I patently disagree (many disasters on that show could’ve been prevented with a little more good faith and open communication), watching the show’s narrative try to work out that question is super entertaining for both brain and heart.
Alternately, two of my favourite vidjagames are the two latest Fallouts (3 and New Vegas), and I play them for completely different reasons than why I watch The Walking Dead. In Fallout you wander the post-apocalyptic wasteland, righting wrongs (or just doing more wrongs and looting the bodies if that’s your thing) and shooting zombies and bandits. I play Fallout for the sense of freedom and adventure it instills – exploring a destroyed civilization, collecting loot, shooting things and occasionally (since I’m that kind of game roleplayer) helping NPCs out for good karma. In Fallout, the apocalypse is something that provides an escape – if civilization is destroyed, we are no longer bound by its rules and can therefore seek better and more exciting, bullet-filled climes. In this way, the apocalypse of the Fallout universe serves the same purpose that the frontier in a traditional western provides - it’s a blank canvas upon which we can set out on our adventurous lonesome and forge our own destiny free from the chains of society.
|The Lone Wanderer and Dogmeat wander the wastes in Fallout 3. Any apocalypse that gives me a free puppy I'm probably okay with.|
While the idea of a lone post-apocalyptic cowboy wandering the wastes doin’ his own thing because he damn well can is a kind of utopian libertarian fantasy wherein all our society-prevented freedom is returned to us via the apocalypse, other optimistic apocalyptic fiction can be about society rising from the ashes. The term “cozy catastrophe” was coined by British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss to describe stories like Day of the Triffids wherein modern society is destroyed, but its destruction allows for a kind of wiping the slate clean. Free from the constraints of the ‘old world’, the survivors of the apocalypse are free to rebuild society better than it was before. This is basically the opposite of what The Walking Dead seems to be trying to do since every attempt at post-zombie civilization crumbles to sobbing pieces, but the hope in the ‘cozy catastrophe’ is pretty darn appealing to my sensibilities – I mean, I’m the guy who got in an argument with a T.A. over my optimistic interpretation of the end of Dawn of the Dead (I know I’m wrong. Whatever. I’m free to read the text as I see fit, dammit)!
That being said, realistically, I’m definitely very much in favour of society. I vote NDP for pity’s sake – give me my socialized health-care and running water any day of the week over wandering an apocalyptic wasteland. But, that doesn’t mean that the wasteland can’t provide a good escapist romp.
Also, I just need to say it... poor T-Dog. I miss 'em.