The Corner

Taking Zombies to the Next Level

One of my favorite shows these days is Walking Dead, AMC’s breakout post-apocalyptic hit in which a few human survivors try to endure in a world overrun by zombies. A big part of the show’s appeal is its realism. And for sci-fi in particular it really does have a cinéma vérité vibe to it. But it’s precisely because the show goes for a realistic approach that it can drive me batty. When the appeal of your show is plausibility it’s really important to keep everything plausible.  

By the end of the last season one got the distinct impression that the writers were in over their heads (which may be why there was so much talk about shake-ups in the writer’s bullpen). The season finale even concluded with a giant countdown clock leading to a big explosion — a clichéd act of desperation ever since Herman Melville resorted to it at the end of Moby Dick (I kid, I kid).

Anyway, herewith is a non-exhaustive list of gripes which, if addressed, would make the show even more solid.

1.     There needs to be more talk about the best place to hide from zombies! Look, I live in a world that is not currently populated by flesh eating zombies and I seem to spend more time than the Walking Dead cast contemplating the best survival strategies to avoid zombies — as both my wife and even readers of the Corner can attest. If you actually lived in such a world, this would become something of an abiding obsession, don’t you think? People would argue about the comparative merits of boats versus arctic refuges versus sealed-off penthouse apartments all the time!

2.     A little more concern about blood spray. The characters know that zombism is spread by infection. But no one seems overly concerned by the fact that they’re constantly getting zombie blood, brains, and viscera on their faces and bodies. There was one throwaway line last season cautioning people to keep the zombie guts off their faces, and then the same character proceeded to wear zombie innards like a suit (in order to throw undead predators off the scent). Earlier this season one of the characters had a really nasty open wound on his arm, but then proceeded to conceal himself under a dead zombie. One character uses a crossbow to kill zombies, re-using the bolts each time. He also uses it to hunt dear and squirrels. Not once have I heard anyone ask, “Hey do you wash your bolts/arrows before you shoot our dinner?”

Yes, yes, I’m a bit of a germophobe (don’t get me started – again — on bathroom doors that require you to touch the handles to get out). But, by my close reading of evolutionary theory, in a post-apocalyptic zombie-verse the germophobes would have a better chance of passing on their genes (By the way, the characters were much more disciplined about this problem in the 28 Days Later movies. More on that in a moment.).

3.     Where’s the booze!? I get that it would be a bad idea to get drunk all the time with zombies on the loose, but some of these survivors have seen their families eaten alive and turned into creatures that would even be unwelcome at Zuccotti Park. There should be at least one character whose just getting deee-rrrrunk all of the time. Well, all of the time until he becomes a cautionary tale.

4.     Guns. The show is good about emphasizing the importance of guns. But in several scenes now, we’ve seen dozens, even hundreds of dead national guardsman lying around. Where are their M-16s? Why is there no effort to pick them up or scrounge for them?

5.     What’s with all of the camping? So far these people seem absolutely determined to sleep outside, even after a disastrous zombie assault on last season’s campsite. For starters, zombies are hard to hear on grass. They’re hard to see in the dark, too. Is it really so nuts for people to want to sleep in their cars, on top of the RV, or in some basic defendable shelter? I understand the fear of being trapped inside a surrounded building. But I can also understand the fear of not being trapped in a surrounded building and instead simply being eaten alive out in the open.

And, last a general point. I think the makers of Walking Dead could do us all a favor (and by us all, I mean a very small fraction of the public that cares about these things) if they exerted some effort to address many of the fundamental problems with the zombie canon itself. From the original George Romero movies to Max Brooks’s World War Z, there are simply a lot of flaws to the idea that we couldn’t crush a zombie outbreak very, very quickly. Cracked laid out most of them very well here.

Which would you rather face, the Chinese Red Army loaded for bear, or an army of mindless, weaponless, slow-moving ghouls? I think any serious analysis says that human opponents would be much tougher. And yet the whole genre of slow-zombie movies never really address these inherent flaws and simply takes it for granted that the whole U.S. military would be ground down to almost nothing — and very quickly. The 28 Days Later movies — I know it’s heresy to pick fast zombies over slow, but at least the fast-zombie scenario is more plausible, both epidemiologically and scientifically. After all, walking dead flesh defies everything we know about biology. A virus that makes people act like Angel Dust freaks seems vastly more believable.

And because the show hasn’t really laid out how the zombie infection spread so successfully, they have an opportunity to wrestle with some of the thorniest issues and most eternal questions plaguing mankind for millennia (and by mankind I mean sci-fi and horror dorks like me).

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