Walking Dead serves as metaphor for reality

When it comes to the subject of supernatural phenomena, producers have moved in quite a few different directions.

There are the romantic, sexualized vampires that seem more interested in finding potential mates than sucking blood, which supposedly is their natural instinct.

And there are glamorized witches and wizards from series such as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Wizards of Waverly Place.

Whatever forms they take, paranormal creatures recently have been portrayed as desirable, alluring or comedic — the film Zombieland made zombies into a joke and Warm Bodies portrayed a zombie as loving and expressing human characteristics (which is much different than the archetypal Dawn of the Dead-type of zombie situation).

However, the much-acclaimed The Walking Dead, which ended its third season on Sunday, is bringing the true, original blood-and-gore of zombies back to reality.

Fortunately for AMC, the show is not all blood, guts and gore. In a seemingly impossible situation, it seems AMC has brought deep meaning into the goriest of the supernatural.

Fans seem to rave about how each episode leaves them longing for more. How can a show called The Walking Dead — a title that conjures images of zombies ripping flesh off of screaming victims — keep viewers on the edge of their sofas?  The drama and personal stories amid the zombie apocalypse though, are what make the show worth watching.

In fact, even someone who would never in a million years expect to enjoy a zombie-filled apocalyptic world (and would much prefer harmless romantic comedies) can be swept away by the story line and outrageous arc in The Walking Dead.

What is truly remarkable about this show is that, essentially, it is an outrageous hyperbole of everyday life situations. It brings up common issues such as what we, as humans, do when we are desperate in traumatic situations. Do we look out for ourselves or do we keep our compassion for our loved ones?

It brings up inherently complex issues of loyalty, loss, self-worth and regard for human life while still remaining true to the idea of waking up to a terrifying world taken over by zombies.

Essentially, is The Walking Dead meant to be a metaphor for real life?

Characters, such as the leaders Rick and Shane, are thrown into complex situations in which they must take control of their questionable motivations to try and come up with the “best” solution for the struggling group. The choices are never clear, and the answers are never obvious.

Failure is not an option. For the show’s characters, death occurs often, in tragic ways. Despite the instances of heartbreak that characters face, they move on and continue trekking through the zombie-filled forests.

In the last episode before the season finale, the returning crazy yet beloved character, Merle, finally “mans up” and attempts to help the group — unfortunately, he does not quite change his irrational ways in time to survive.

Guilt also exists. After all, why should a friend die when another friend lives?

Characters point fingers, sleep with their friends’ wives and kill their best friends in Lord of the Flies-esque situations.

This is one of the most profound paranormal television shows currently on air.

The characters deal with tragic loss, heartbreak, and issues of moving on, which are matters all individuals deal with at one point or another, whether the situation is as simple as an elder family member passing on or dealing with a catastrophic event such as 9/11.

In the article from Psychology Today, “The Moral Molasses of the Walking Dead,” Dr. Steven Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, discusses the psychology behind The Walking Dead.

According to Schlozman, The Walking Dead “keeps the outlandish authentic and real.” In the article, he states that the show uses moral questions as a means of how humans react to terror.

“You can’t watch the show without putting yourself in the characters’ shoes, and that, for my money, is key to good drama,” Schlozman writes.

Moreover, The Walking Dead goes beyond other zombie-centric works where the main point is to watch zombies brutally taken down by heroic champions. Instead, it presents morally complicated choices that make the viewer stop and think about what he or she would do in the situation (no matter how outrageous it is).

Perhaps there is something authentic about the outrageous. Using the hyperbolic situation of a zombie invasion can show humanity’s deep tendencies more than a realistic, nonsupernatural show.

The Walking Dead shows humanity at its lowest — in desperation, searching for a way out of the most traumatic of situations. That alone sheds a new light on television (and specifically, the “dreamy” vampires that do not even drink human blood).

The one issue with The Walking Dead, however, is that sometimes it seems to go on and on, with no way out and no clear imminent ending. After all, it’s not like Superman can fly in and save the day by ridding the world of the “biters.”

Inevitably, it seems there is no way out of “zombieland.” But perhaps there, lies the true metaphor to reality.

As zombies cannot be simply eradicated from the earth, people cannot simply escape from their problems. Instead, they must fight to live good, honorable lives – — and take out as many zombies as they can along the way.


Mollie Berg is a freshman majoring in communication. Her column “Mollie Tunes In” runs Mondays.

2 replies
  1. Ken
    Ken says:

    Great article, I found it to be spot on, and very well thought out comparisons and analogies. The changes we witness wholesome characters go through is something one can miss if they aren’t paying attention to subtle cues, such as shane slowly turning bad, or Carl’s slow turn into exactly what his mother feared. The basic human instinct of helping people in need, turns into a shoot out between two parties simply because their is no real way to determine whether they mean to do you harm. It’s crazy to think the solidity of civilization, the basic connection of goodness between living things, the good that always defeats the evil….is more or less just an instant slip back into the dark ages in a world changing event like what’s depicted on the show, or even less in a very serious natural disaster, the people turn primal, survival comes before moral decency, there seems to be a lot of room for error and when I look at the possibility that good people may engage each other in violence simply by crossing paths and not knowing the intentions of the other is sad and it makes all the advancements in culture, lifestyle, and civilization over the past few hundred years, look far less concrete and more of a facade we put on, to get away from the fact that instead of hunting food with spears and bows, we have shopping carts. This cycle of war peace war peace historically repeats itself, but anyhow, I found this piece of writing to be spot on and above and beyond the average pieces I’ve been reading. Very keen of you to approach that angle of this series, which has dumbfounded me in how popular it’s become, I expected the cult fanatics but not mainstream average folks to be as engulfed in it as they are shows like homeland and dexter. Anyhow it’s all very interesting food for thought and philosophical consideration, theirs no room for saints or sinners…dale, Hershel, all have a great outlook but unfortunately that do unto others stuff goes right out the window when failure to engage a group like ricks passing by could result in them engaging you, neighbors, common people who were once closer to the side of saints, having to do whatever it takes, to save the ones they love from even the chance that the passerbys aren’t peaceful….it’s a very grim outlook of humanity, in the words of Merle, “you as cold as they come officer friendly” systematically you go from best friends to deterioration of everything you once were when food and water and shelter and security were readily available. It is optimistically worth noting that when their is growth, acts of kindness and peace are worth more than they were to begin with. When you can grow to trust people you are either smart or dumb, but one thing is for sure…the made for tv version is easy for people to distinguish its make believe, what is not make believe though are the human interactions, tendencies, evil getting a place to thrive, good having a difficult time staying on the path or righteousness, and the basic yet super justifying need to survive, their are a lot of things a human would do without hesitation to survive, that he or she would never even see themselves doing. All of the skills that would make you a good asset to the group to be invited to stay as part of the family, are exactly the same dangerous skills that would make you a threat. Or simply in a more desperate time, having your own food and arms is easy Pickens for sinners next meal without any remorse felt. The show does an amazing job of diversifying the prototypical characters….exhibiting pregnancy, and lack of communication, children, lone wolves, weirdos, veteran, rednecks, hunters, michonne the only black female samurai possibly ever, nerds like Milton, heroes, villains, saints, devils, prey, predators, peacemakers, peacetakers, possibly the most real emotions I’ve ever fealt from a show which have even been terrorizing nightmares….fear, safety, anger, rage, forgiveness, loss, courage, growth, peace, mistakes, love, sacrifice, family, cannibalism, leadership, allegiance, betrayal, and most of all the expectation of anything….all the photographs come from a time before, no one is taking any post apocalyptic group photos or Polaroids …. I’m so excited to see where this direction is heading, I expected more closure from tonight’s episode as twd has become notorious for finale closures. Thanks for writing this piece! Keep up the good work and best luck to you on your career path, with pieces like this you are destined for greatness, this is what people want to read aa out and are juggling in the back of their minds between episodes and cliffhangers.

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