If I’m honest, I don’t particularly care for the zombie story; I’ve never been able to become a fan.
It strikes me that I should, however, because I did quite like Aftermath: Population Zero (2008, National Geographic Channel) and Life After People (2009, History Channel). These semi-documentary series are not favorites because I’ve a misanthropic wish to be the last man on Earth. I like a little science in my sci fi.
Zombies seem to appeal to our collective sense that – due to responsibilities and commitments – we each have too little time to be ourselves. The wage slave metaphorically trudges from task to task to task in Sisyphean servitude. Ironically, if too late for the zombies, the apocalyptic pandemic triggers the utter collapse of obligations. This may explain the allure of the zombie story. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for walkers to usher us to a Utopian vista. Although freed of duty, the zombie is reduced to mere appetite. Time enough at last but what difference does it make?
Survivors should be completely free to be themselves, their true selves, 100% of the time. To preserve zombies as a threat, however, any would-be exemplars of ideal idealization are reduced to an equally Sisyphean sleep-fight-run existence. There’s never a definitive explanation of the onset nor is there any ever a real chance for a cure. It’s a no win situation. A Möbius stripping of potential.
Popular zombie fiction, in my view, has no moral. It could (and maybe should) be a fine environment in which to outline an eidolon; ultimately, we’re left with heroes that – though they may survive – gradually become indistinguishable from the monsters they fight. And when the characters give up, I follow suit. The closer to Hell a situation becomes, contrast should show how much closer to Paradise the characters might be, no?
All that said, I must admit I was following both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. When the first debuted, it hadn’t been very long since the pseudo-documentaries on collapse mentioned above. I may have started watching AMC‘s initial show out of curiosity and in hope there might be a similar exploration but with the overlay of fiction. The teasers of the prequel actually included the line, “When civilization goes, it goes fast.” But that’s not actually the theme of either show. Both have become a seemingly endless series of almost literal standees (as stand-ins for true plot) while the living use them as an excuse to be terrible to each other.
Zombie stories don’t have to be about small bands of survivalists wandering between one lord of the flies and the next – ever further from any semblance of civilization, restored or reinvented. If you’ve guessed that I prefer an uplifting end to even the most grim of stories, you’re not wrong. These stories ultimately fail, in my opinion, because they never reach a conclusion. They’re designed not to have one. The fiction itself is undead and mindlessly immortal so long as ratings and reviews permit.
Every crisis passes. We’re not supposed to merely muddle through a chain of largely indistinguishable days. That is not a mission. In essence, it could be said that solving problems – including crises – is our mission… our responsibility.
I’m not particularly satisfied by stories in which a smart hero can’t anticipate and try to avoid dystopia or, failing that, a diligent hero being unable to solve the problem. You might get some red on you but there should be an epilogue showing how life has changed and that life persists. What does it look like 28 years later?