“So, I can’t stop thinking…has the thought crossed your mind that we’re living in that time period just before the people in the Walking Dead realize, oh shit, life is never going back to the way it was, is it…” I questioned, staring at my own face as I recorded a Marco Polo to my sister. For the record, we were Polo’ing way before social distancing made it a thing.
I’m about to get a little weird, so buckle up.
Taking out the recyclables a few days ago, the normal everydayness of the act struck me as so…strange. Out of place. Are we being naive in thinking this is just a blip in time? Here we are (those of us not on the front lines or ill), still separating the recyclables from the trash, creatively social distancing, working from home, drinking wine at virtual happy hours, waiting out the end, while New York and New Orleans and other cities around the world are imploding. Maybe this is what Rick Grimes & Co thought in the beginning, too. Yet 10 seasons in, we’ve discovered the zombie apocalypse is in fact…endless.
I resisted watching The Walking Dead for years. Zombies, the apocalypse, the far-fetched nature of so much destruction never appealed to me. My sister Tessa kept telling me, it’s not about the zombies, just watch it. Eventually I caved and binged all five seasons, back when there were only five seasons to binge.
And she was right. After the initial novelty of zombies wears off and the fun game of identifying the same zombie in multiple different scenes gets old, I sort of just stopped noticing them. They fade into the background, reduced to stage props, expensive scenery, very little to do with most storylines. Their ghastly makeup, dead noises, staggering walk and gaping mouths serve only as a distraction, almost comic relief from the horrifying things real live humans are doing to each other.
Throughout the show, various groups of survivors all refer to the zombies a bit different: walkers, biters, floaters, roamers, rotters. The more I binged the more I contemplated the meaning of the actual title of the series. The Walking Dead refers to the zombies, sure. And at some point you learn the virus lives in everyone and within hours of death, if no one is courteous enough to pop ya with a direct shot to the brain, you’ll rise as a zombie. It’s only a matter of time, there is no escape. Dead man walking.
But as I watched the storylines unfold, it became the perfect description for so many people. Those who had lost their morality, empathy, understanding and compassion. Their ability to reason, to trust, to love. It described people who had committed such monstrous acts simply to survive, to be the one standing in the end. With every death, every attempt to protect one’s own group via violence and murder, every step upon another human to get ahead in the apocalyptic world, pieces of their souls began to rot. The Walking Dead also represents the people who lost everything that makes humans…human.
Over 10 seasons, you witness multiple moments characters start to see this, to feel this in themselves, when they realize who they are, who they have become. As humans, we have the ability to think about alternative futures and make deliberate choices. When they realize how their choices aid in the creation of a pretty miserable long-term future, they kinda lose it and just…can’t. Not if it means tearing down someone else. Not if someone else suffers, has to die, just so they can live.
Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. Destroy or be destroyed. I mean, it’s a shitty situation to be in. I often wonder what choices I would make.
If we are to settle on a single lesson from the coronavirus crisis, I hope it is this: Human beings are more than the sum of their economic contributions to society. We are more than walking dollar signs, and should be valued far above and beyond our ability to make a buck – or to produce a buck for somebody else.Joel Mathis March 26, 2020
What happens when you no longer see your neighbors as people? When you can’t understand they have lost as much (or more) as you? They too, are suffering, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, one that destroyed their own homes, hopes and dreams. What happens when that doesn’t matter anymore? When you can’t distinguish friend from foe and focus on tearing apart anyone who stands in your way instead? What happens when you can no longer see what unites you, that you’re in this together, and can’t work together to rebuild a future? Or worse, what happens when evil bands together to build a future based on fear, tyranny and power?
So yeah, it’s not about the zombies. It’s about who people truly are at their core when shit hits the fan. When life as you know it becomes life as you knew it. When panic and fear threaten logic and reason. It’s about who we become when every rule of every game is blown to pieces and it’s up to us to create a new puzzle. When we learn just how much a human life is worth.
Our values will be tested in the coming days and weeks. Now is the time for us to affirm our true worth to each other.Joel Mathis March 26, 2020
From the outside looking in, I’d rather be a zombie than a member of the walking dead. But I can’t shake the feeling we’re all about to be on the inside.