Several years ago, during one of The Walking Dead’s early seasons, I had a lively, late-night conversation with my friends from Iraq about the fate of the military in a true zombie apocalypse. On the show, the survivors come across abandoned tanks and overrun firing positions, and aside from the occasional soldier-zombie, the military is nowhere to be found. Most of my friends — armor officers, all — scoffed. There was simply no way that the undead could defeat men in an Abrams or Bradley. For the next two hours, they spun out scenario after scenario where they would end the apocalypse and then rule their region like a collection of feudal lords. Very good times.
Last night, however (spoiler alert!), the producers of Fear the Walking Dead begged to differ, mapping out exactly how attrition and hopelessness would degrade the military. Start with high casualties as multiple soldiers got sick in the first wave, compound the losses by requiring troops to go building-to-building to look for zombies and survivors alike, and then break down morale as soldiers realize their own families are exposed and possibly infected. It’s not that the zombies defeat the tanks, it’s that the soldiers leave the tanks to clear houses. Given the mass numbers of zombies and the small numbers of troops (and remember, zombies can’t be terrified into submission like civilians), the pressure to withdraw to smaller and smaller defensive perimeters would be overwhelming.
But if you withdraw, what do you do with the civilians left behind? Fear the Walking Dead suggests something grim indeed. Before last night’s episode, only one character truly understood the end was near, and he turned out to be a psychopath. (Incidentally, someone forgot to tell the showrunners that torture is never supposed to work.) Now, finally, the rest of the adults are starting to realize the rules have changed. To me, the strongest part of the show has been the cast’s stubborn refusal to see the obvious. That’s exactly how most of us would react to apocalyptic events. We’d be in denial right until the moment when denial was no longer an option. While it might be entertaining to see otherwise-normal people immediately grab whatever weapon they can find and start hacking their way to safety, that’s not the way people work.
Realistic zombie fiction is the best kind of zombie fiction, and on that score Fear the Walking Dead (mostly) delivers.