The Corner

Culture

Fear the Walking Dead: The Military Wouldn’t Crumble

In response to Plan Post-Primaries Peace: R&R&Nr On Bermuda Cruise

David, I see things a little differently. Here’s the problem The Walking Dead’s writers had to deal with: The military could easily put down a zombie outbreak (absent some other contributors to societal breakdown, more on that below). Zombies are slow, dumb and don’t shoot back. Would you rather fight the Chinese army, which can change tactics and fire weapons, or slow moving morons who will never take cover and literally shuffle into the line of fire? (One solution to this problem was the creation of fast-zombies of the sort found in 28 Days Later). 

As a lover of zombie fiction, I kind of wish it weren’t so. But I’ve come to the conclusion that an army of zombies are no match for even a mid-sized city’s police department.

So, forced to deal with this fact of logic, the show’s creators faced a dilemma. And rather than resolve it, they punted. The Walking Dead begins after the world goes to Hell. All we’re ever really told is that it happened very fast and that we should take their word for it.

Fear the Walking Dead has the same problem, but this time the writers felt they had to give a sense of what actually happened. So they couldn’t punt. If they did, Fear the Walking Dead would simply be Walking Dead: 90210 (which would have been fine with me, btw).

By trying to give a sense of how the world fell apart, the writers have driven themselves into a bit of a ditch. I agree that the denial of what’s really happening is the best part of the show (though at times denial and boredom seem to go hand-in-hand). But there are other aspects of human nature that are getting short shrift.

For instance, in the beginning everyone’s watching the news. But the only subject on the news is excessive force by police (the public doesn’t realize at first that zombies really do need to be peppered with bullets, even when they are in cuffs). I can see that being the story of the day, for like a day. But pretty soon, wouldn’t you expect the news cycle to change to the fact that the dead are rising from the grave (and the stretcher and the hospital gurney etc)? Moreover, wouldn’t you expect lots of people to turn on the news? There is remarkably little effort made by anyone to get informed about what’s going on.

I get being in denial about the apocalypse, but corpses walking amongst us is still a pretty interesting news story. I know it’s implied, but if you’re going to try to score points by showing real human reactions to the unthinkable, you can’t leave out other even more obvious reactions to the unthinkable. If CNN got good ratings for a case of irritable bowel syndrome on a cruise ship, imagine what they’d get when the dead started eating people on cruise ships?

I can think of other reactions that would have been fascinating (and in fairness we may get some of this stuff down the road). For instance, if written well, I could watch an entire two-hour movie on just the conversation around a dinner table among Catholic Bishops on how the Church should respond to the zombie apocalypse.

I think that it is precisely because the writers haven’t really thought through how a zombie outbreak would quickly unravel society, that we’re left with this strange glimpse of people on the periphery, living in a safe zone. Our glimpses into the eschatological tits-uppery are entirely episodic and really kind of infuriating and unsatisfying. We see riots — over police brutality, apparently — but we don’t see how those riots translate into zombie Götterdämmerung.

I think this problem could have been easily solved. If, prior to the zombie awakening, society was hit with a really massive epidemic that rapidly killed millions, that would not only contribute to social breakdown, but the subsequent zombie horde would be sufficient to overwhelm a slow-reacting public-safety system set up to handle one kind of crisis and, as a result, would be extremely vulnerable to the unimaginable zombie crisis. Indeed, many of the national guard troops, police and other first responders, tasked with helping respond to the flu would be poorly armed and organized to deal with the fact that dying flu patients are born again. With that social infrastructure decimated, panic would set in. (FWIW, I spent about a year thinking about writing a zombie-themed novel).

 Indeed, I thought they were telegraphing this very solution when they hinted at the flu vaccine playing a role in the zombie outbreak. But that storyline all but vanished.

I get that there would be enormous confusion in the event of a zombie outbreak. But I don’t think the best way to convey that is to confuse the audience.  

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