I have finally succumbed to The Walking Dead. As I had noted in a post earlier this week, I am ensconced in a friend’s apartment, house-sitting, with access to–among other things–an impressive collection of graphic novels. Included in them is the first compendium of The Walking Dead comic book series (Compendium One, May 6, 2009, issues 1-48), which I’ve worked through. I’ve also immersed myself in the AMC television series, watched the six episodes of the first season and am five episodes deep into the second; as you can see, I’ve been spending my time well. (I’m not a serious consumer of comic books so this represents a change in my reading habits and an investment in time. It has not been one I’ve regretted in the least.)
Obligatory show-comic comparison: the novel is starker, darker, more complex, but the show has its own strengths in creating and sustaining moments of chilling horror and in the development of interesting characters and story-lines.
So, post-apocalyptic horror, eh? What is it good for? Well, the taglines at the back of the Compendium say it quite well:
How many hours are in a day when you don’t spend half of them watching television? When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something that we wanted?
The world we knew is gone.
The world of comfort and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility. An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. In a matter of months society has crumbled, no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV.
In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.
And living, really, when you get down to it, is a series of hard choices that need to be made. Portraying the making of those choices, in a world whose most distinctive characteristic is the corrosive proximity of death, disease, and danger, is what gives both the comic books and the television series their gravity. There is violence aplenty, but it is not what gives The Walking Dead its air of dread. That has been accomplished, quite well, by ensuring the world inhabited by Rick Grimes and his family is one whose relentless demands can produce in a parent the otherwise unthinkable thought that it might be better for an injured child to succumb than to recover into a world made anew like this one. It’s the visceral thought of a world like that is the fear that animates The Walking Dead.
For philosophy professors looking for pop culture material to illustrate reading lists: the show and the novel both bristle with segments that could be drawn into classroom discussions of states of nature, libertarian philosophy, ethical dilemmas, philosophy of technology, feminism, race relations and so on.
Note: I intend to write a follow-up post on the show’s treatment of sexuality.