The actual interpretations of The Walking Dead show itself have already been fully realized in the form of the article “Zombie Western of the Postmortem South” which used to be on Red Wedge but has since disappeared. Whatever.
The general gyst: the original series is an oscillation between patriarchal white boys with guns re-establishing their local neo-feudal tyrannies, and the sheer inhumanity of zombiedom’s ultra-capitalism, mass graves, apocalypse, plague, and cannibalistic undeath. (Sounds like every day on the news, but I’ll get back to that point.) The idea was that this oscillation can never really be resolved but just keeps continuing. Maybe the last season is evolving away from that toward some new framework of rugged conservatism (Rick & “the group”) versus civil but weak liberalism (the new walled community), with some kind of synthesis or alliance. Again, whatever. The moment of most depth was the one I had called years ago when the series began, when Rick said “We are the walking dead.” Not sure if that meant some kind of total abandonment of humanity, or a gritty resolve to get through any crisis (with the risk of getting lost in death mode), but that was pretty much the peak for me. Maybe Tyreese’s struggles with ethics were a similar story.
I find the subject matter of Fear the Walking Dead to be almost instantly more interesting.
The opening shot is a heroin addict so off his face that when I saw his bloodshot eyes I thought he was the zombie.
The show is pretty much just one giant compendium of the social crisis of the everyday. The kids are on heroin. The family is broken up. The kids hate the parents in various patterns. The school doors have metal detectors. There’s a flu going around.
Weird rumors are circulating on that damn Internet. Addicts repeat their cycles of addiction. The school is struck by a sudden massive wave of absenteeism.
Zach Galifinakis said something like the world is getting exponentially more ridiculous. That’s kind of a nice spin on what is a living nightmare where the weather is so fucked that summers and winters probably take years off our lives (unless of course they are so temperate as to not even be summers and winters).
Here’s the thing: It wasn’t just weird. It’s not just “an unusually hot and dry season.” You can feel it in your very cells: this is all part of a increasingly vicious, mean-ass vortex of accelerating evidence that the planet and all its animals – of which we are merely one – are under a potentially fatal stress like no other time in modern history.
The point is, Fear the Walking Dead is rather different from simply, The Walking Dead. In The Walking Dead, a big bad thing happens, and people are forced to do bad things.
In Fear the Walking Dead, people are already doing bad things. Bad things are already happening. Bad things are normal. It’s unbelievable that crisis is the new normal, but it totally is, and we are living it every day. Catastrophe is so constant that we become numb to it – what other choice do we have? We have to go to work, we have to carry on, we can only protest so long before having to get a job or something. Everything is on fire and no one cares.
In Fear the Walking Dead – as in reality – normal life is already so saturated with crisis (like the , that if one more thing happens, the wrong catastrophe with the wrong cascading effect, it feels entirely plausible that the whole fucking thing would just implode. The zombie virus is not the end of the world. It is just the straw that breaks the camel’s back in a world that was already spinning down the toilet bowl, a world that was already ending. The addition of the zombie crisis is not a qualitative shift in awfulness, but the addition of one more quantity of shit that forces a breaking point. (In reality, I think we will have something more like a long, slow decline, with punch-by-punch catastrophes knocking us down but leaving society intact enough that we can revolt and change course. Or I hope.)
And in Fear the Walking Dead, as in reality, the authorities do not tell us. That news of that final straw comes to us not through official channels, but over social media through those damn phones, with those damn kids sharing the internal bulletins!
“It’s not real, I mean it can’t be real.” [says the goodie-two-shoes-overachiever who is probably voting Hillary]
[the truth-tested alternative chick responds:] “Watch. This here’s the new real.”
And a generation raised on death and futility is already prepared for the zombie apocalypse, in our hearts: