A nuclear war, zombies, viral outbreak, alien invasion: Take your pick. These scenarios are the go to for post-apocalyptic stories. I have always been drawn to these types of stories. My favorite shows include The Walking Dead, Defiance, and Falling Skies. The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King’s The Stand are among my favorite books. The continued success of these titles obviously shows that many of you out there love these stories as well.
So what is it about these tales that keeps us coming back to the desolation again and again? The tone of these stories is often bleak and emotionally heavy. We fall in love with characters only to have them brutally taken from us. Yet, we can’t get enough of it. Why?
I can’t answer for all of you out there, but I enjoy the honesty. Don’t get me wrong. I also enjoy zombies, aliens, and everything sci-fi and fantasy. However, it’s the honesty of these stories that I love. What I mean by that is the honesty that these scenarios bring out of all of us.
It is my belief that when we are faced with the harsh reality of the end of the world, it brings the very best and very worse out of us. When we are in survival mode our true nature is revealed. What ever we have inside comes out for the world to see. These stories show us the best of humanity and the worse.
Our society as it is at the moment keeps most of the worse parts of humanity at bay. Our justice systems, our law enforcement, our militaries, and governments prevent it for the most part. The question is what happens when all that goes away in the face of global catastrophe? How do we govern ourselves? Who do we turn to when our leaders are gone? What does society become when the constraints of government are completely removed? These are questions that I love to ask myself and would like to invite you to do the same. For the purpose of our discussion I’m going to focus on The Walking Dead.
Both the comic and the TV series are mind blowing. I don’t think there are many who would seriously dispute that. Without going into the amazing writing, art, acting, directing, special effects, and everything else that makes them great, I want to focus on the ongoing narrative that we love. The Walking Dead puts us right in the middle of the post-apocalyptic world. When Rick wakes up in that hospital he embodies the very idea of the end of our society and the struggle to come to terms with it.
Rick, a deputy sheriff, represents law and order. He is a reminder of what the old world was. He eventually dons his uniform, hat and all and ventures out into the world. Seemingly he is going to restore order using the instruments that he once did. However, he quickly learns that the previous model of society is now obsolete and a darker more sinister version now rules. Maybe even harkening back to the days of the Wild West when men ruled themselves more by the act of force and brutality. Rick truly embraces this and seems to realize he has to put aside his old mantle as a keeper of the peace. Taking up instead a mantle of protector of the peaceful. To me this is clearly shown in both comic and show when Carl is shot and Rick takes off his Sheriff’s hat and gives it to Carl. He never wears it again.
It is very powerful imagery and again it makes a very clear statement about the post-apocalyptic world. In a lawless society men become a law unto themselves. With no ruling body dictating the rules of an engaging society we realize we can do whatever we want. This aspect of living in a post apocalyptic world is truly terrifying and the reason why most seek community of some sort.
Rick seeing his son shot and near death with no 911 to call, no ambulance to come, and no hospital to go to sees the world for what it has become for the first time. Instead of being a man who guards and protects all people for the greater good of society he must become a man who closely guards and protects his loved ones from society itself. In both the comic and the show we see this ideology played out as Rick and his group face off against the Governor and his group. Of course we pull for Rick and company as our heroic protagonists, but we must concede that the Governor is only embracing his role as protector of his group against society. The difference being that the Governor is what happens when the protector fails to safeguard those he loves most. His zombie daughter Penny is of course evidence of that. We just have to ask ourselves isn’t the Governor what Rick would be if the same happened to Carl? To bring it even closer to home, what would we do to keep our children and loved ones safe in that world?
We actually see Rick’s resolve in the new world order when faced with the possibility of Carl’s death later on in the story. There is a particular scene in which a group of bandits, who have become a law unto themselves, capture Rick and his group. This scene plays out in both the comic and the show, but it is more striking in the show.
This group has captured Rick, Carl, and Mishone with the intentions of raping Mishone and Carl while making Rick watch. One of the bandits holds Rick at gunpoint as his comrade holds down Carl to sodomize him. Rick snaps and escapes his captor by ripping his jugular out with his teeth. It is a gruesome scene. It’s certainly the goriest of the series. I have to say it’s necessary to show the development of Rick’s character. This fierce protector is who Rick becomes when he must protect his son at all cost. Perhaps it’s who he would become permanently if something ever happens to Carl. Maybe it’s who any of us would become in this world.
There are certainly many dark aspects of the post-apocalyptic world, but there are also many positive elements as well. In part two I intend to explore these in the world of The Walking Dead as well.