Cari Donaldson is the incredibly famous Catholic author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories. She’s got like 20 kids and a garden. She writes about those things on her blog Clan Donaldson. Haley and I think we would be great real life friends with Cari and her husband, Ken. But this will never be proven because they live in the frozen, foreign land of Connecticut (spelling?). Cari also LOVES owls.
One time, I told Cari I had some problems with The Walking Dead. She got SUPER mad and we fought about it. Now we’re bringing our feud to the internet, the natural home of all reasonable debate. My post is over on her blog, here. Zombies! Brrraaaaiiiinnnsss…..
I first got hooked on zombies in junior high. Well, I got hooked on Bill Pullman in The Serpent and the Rainbow, and the zombies sort of came along as a bonus gift.
Yes. Bill Pullman. But not Bill Pullman now. Bill Pullman then.
Old age, man. It happens to all of us. What a drag. Also, is it just me, or does Old Bill Pullman look like the jerk mathematician from Good Will Hunting? I think it’s the scarf.
So I loved Bill Pullman, which didn’t work out, and at first just liked the zombies. Real zombies, part of the cultural and theological train wreck that is voodoo, those were my original interest. Then I branched out into the zombies of fiction, and I liked those pretty well, too. Ultimately, I traded anthropological papers on the controversial role of tetrodotoxin in the creation of real zombies for horror films about fictional zombies. Either way, I was a winner.
The thing that had always interested me most about zombies was the same, whether looking at cultural or literary versions. I was fascinated by the rules, the structure created in which the zombies moved around. How did one become a zombie? Was it chemical? Viral? Spiritual? What specific physical changes did a zombified person undergo? Did they need to eat? What did they eat? Were they fast or slow? Could the process be reversed? It was ok with me if the rules changed with each new story; I just loved the endless variations people dreamed up when invoking the reanimated undead.
Even Max Brook’s excellent novel, World War Z (not to be confused with a mediocre movie with the same title and absolutely nothing else in common), had me less interested in the survival of humanity, and more focused on the rules of the game. It’s not that I’m a misanthrope, it’s just that you’ve seen one disaster film, you’ve pretty much seen them all, but with each new zombie incarnation there were so many fun new details to learn.
That all changed for me when AMC greenlighted a screen adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics. Now, though I’m a comic book fan, I’d never read Kirkman’s work, so the whole story was new to me. Well, “new” relatively speaking, because the opening scenes of the series premiere were pretty much par for the post-apocalyptic course: lone survivor, surveying scenes of carnage, just as puzzled as the audience. The flashbacks were familiar and not terribly thrilling: jerk cop, earnest cop, blah blah blah. I’d seen it before, from the rude hospital awakening that I’d already seen in 28 Days Later to the zombie-with-a-trace-of-memory I’d known from my Serpent and the Rainbow days.
As the series progressed, however, I became more and more confused- why were they not explaining The Rules? Where was the Smart Character, revealing to the Stupid Character the nature of the zombieism? Where was the chronology of the Fall of Civilization? How did it start? How would it end? Where was the order that facts help instill onto chaos?
We never got it. There were glimpses thrown out here and there: headshots must damage the brain for true death to come, bites will result in high fever, death, then reanimation. Not much. Even the Smart Character, when we finally met him in a doomed CDC building, didn’t have answers for us. If there were answers, nobody was telling us.
So in the absence of the Zombie Playbook, I was forced to really look at the people still left. I was forced to look at them as more than zombie fighters or zombie food, and start contemplating them as individuals. Lots of times what we see is horrible, whole colonies of horrible, as Woodbury and Terminus show. Lots of times we see bad things happening to beat down people, and we think, “Why are we watching this show?”
It’s a good question, and one we should probably all be asking ourselves more frequently. For me, I’m watching The Walking Dead because it’s unusual for a zombie show to get me to stop objectifying the humans. I’m watching The Walking Dead because it puzzles through questions of community and isolation, of faith and despair, and the conclusions it seems to be drawing are ultimately hopeful. Rather than a world that values survival above all else, I see a show that affirms that forgiveness is possible, that life has value and dignity, and that a community founded on truth and goodness will outlast ones based on lies and violence.
All that, and Daryl too.
Don’t forget to read my post over on Cari’s blog.