Ed. Note: Our “Love Story” feature encourages writers to tell the story behind their love for their favorite movie, band, or television show. Today, Kat writes about The Walking Dead.
Hey zombies, hide your faces – for me, PLEASE. I’m being polite and in return expect a little common zombie courtesy. Sheesh corpses, seriously! Quit snipping and clattering your gnarly chompers at me. I realize these are post-apocalyptic times and that our seemingly beautiful world has been delivered to hell in a pleasantly woven wood and ribbon wrapped bundle. But—MANNERS!
Travel back for a moment to peek in on a young, budding zombie enthusiast. Okay, so I wouldn’t actually refer to myself as an enthusiast. Perhaps, zombie inquisitor or prudent coward would be a more appropriate title. I was about six (or close to it) when I watched my first zombie film, which was Return of the Living Dead (1985), and this fine example of campy horror-comedy/trash cinema terrified me. In retrospect, this film is pretty ridiculous. And yet, I refuse to revisit it (I own it, and I’ve tried). The bizarre, grotesque visuals (and I’m sure goofy to hardcore horror fans) in this film remain ingrained in my acquiescent 6-year-old mind. In my memories, I still unwillingly cart images and sounds from a living head and torso with skin like a squashy decomposing sweet potato as she thrashes her spine and hisses about “the pain” of being dead. I carry clear recollections of an anatomy model of a half-dog mounted to a board whimpering and panting. I’m certain it didn’t help that my dad would reach his arms out, and chase me around while wearing one of those disturbing rubber, zombie-faced masks, as he slow-chanted, “I love you, and you’ve got to let me eat your BRAAAAIIIIIINS.” No matter how high-functioning and able you are to decipher reality from fiction, you are going to be traumatized by that.
I watched Night of the Living Dead (1968) around the same time, and I would certainly jot this movie on my list of greatest films of all time. I own it as well and try to watch it every year around Halloween—partly for its frights, visuals, and social and political commentary—but beyond even those elements and more simply without explanation—it’s just a damn good scary film.
Flash forward a bit to 2011—I was sitting with a friend, browsing through Netflix offerings for something decent to watch. I can’t remember who picked the flick, but we ended up watching Dead Snow (2009). If you’ve never watched Dead Snow, it’s a gory Norwegian romp about a group of friends vacationing at a remote cabin in the winter, which obviously leads to them being chased and maimed by fast and ruthless Nazi zombies. Yeah, that crap gave me nightmares.
And all of this explains why I avoided The Walking Dead for so long. I refused to watch this show in an attempt to keep those unbidden images locked behind chained doors. No need to stick a key in the lock and wake them, right? Every time I watch a zombie flick or show, I elevate to the next level of psychologically scarred. Zombies fasten to my memory in the same way ligaments bind bones. And there’s no amount of cartoons or happy family sitcoms that can flush those images of coffin-n-crypt stirring stiffs away.
However, I have grown to love The Walking Dead in the same way that I love Night of the Living Dead, not the animated corpse aspect so much, but the humanity and the storytelling.
I’m drawn to the character growth, the psychological implications and influences of a violent and nightmarish dystopian experience, the result of loss, the adapting to dire circumstances, the rebuilding, the unfeigned relationships, the hope—and the love.
Also, there’s Michonne. I’m definitely a self-proclaimed Andrea and Michonne shipper.
Sigh, katana wielding Michonne…
She’s my favorite character. Adore her. And when she confronts The Governor (played by David Morrissey or as I so fondly call him—the other Morrissey) on his deception, lunacy, and misguided hopes—and jabs him in the eye with a jagged piece of tank glass, I loved her even more. Damn fine content—and just one instance of how The Walking Dead delivers superior crescendos and peaks.
Now, where was I?
I’m sure I could write about how this show serves as a contemporary social commentary and drone on about my own observations of real present-day zombies which exist as drooling mainstream media corpses, lurking and biting in the boorish streets of social networking comments, where Facebook unfriend actions equate a zombie apocalypse bullet-to-the-head. I could argue that The Walking Dead represents a mass epidemic of the Cotard delusion, which reflexively prompts a rapid physical manifestation. However, those would be completely different pieces—and quite possibly pretentious, patronizing, full-o-shit pieces.
I do enjoy the variety of analytical insights, parallels to our world, and even the pop culture references presented in this show. But, more than anything, I’m fascinated by the depth of character development this show reaches—and specifically, the triumph of the human spirit. It’s uplifting, beautiful, and miraculous to watch some of these characters overcome and thrive (maintaining compassion and love) beyond each obstacle presented (if they live), while it’s heartbreaking to watch others psychologically breakdown, morally deteriorate, and prosper in a more primal and brutal way (e.g. The Governor and the cannibals at Terminus—who survive based on a self-seeking, non-negotiable method similar to the way “walkers” survive but more deplorable because they have a choice).
Other characters fall somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned moral spectrum by selecting (subconsciously or deliberately) a course of delusion (Dawn, Abraham) or denial (Father Gabriel). Dawn clings to a belief that they are (she is) maintaining order in the chaos and preparing for that moment when salvation arrives and order is restored. Abraham adheres to a cure and makes it his mission (in a militarizing manner) to deliver resolve. In the case of Father Gabriel, he hides in denial and avoidance in an attempt to silence his guilty conscious. Point—this calamitous world affects everyone in some way (just as any world does). Observing the various character outcomes (responses) in this post-apocalyptic narrative is one of the things that keep me fully invested in The Walking Dead, which in turn helps clarify why I relentlessly return for more.
I’m still not into zombies. Hate ‘em. And so long as they remain a lot of taut, decomposing rovers—always ravenous, always moving and unremittingly searching for their next rare meal— I’m just not going to be into them, and I’ll probably never be able to overlook that. And this show will never console me regarding that fear. It isn’t supposed to. Still, when I gaze beyond the zombie scope, I find that I actually might love this show. Perhaps Lizzie can help me finalize this assumption about myself.
Excuse me while I pluck petals—I love The Walking Dead. No, wait. I hate The Walking Dead. I love it. I hate it. Love it. Hate it. Ah, last petal… LOVE.
I suppose that leaves me with a barren stem at the end of the railway line—terminus, if you will. And here we are, already into the 5th season of The Walking Dead, with record number viewers on the season opener, and of course I’m watching and will continue to watch. I’m obsessed—I love the characters, I love their interactions with each other, I love how intricate and fully fleshed out they are—and I love The Walking Dead, I just don’t LOVE the walking dead part.
And may Carol be with you!