When I tell people The Walking Dead is one of the most well written shows of the last few years, I am often met with skepticism and mocking laughter. It’s no wonder, since the any mention of zombies brings to mind shows and movies such as the Resident Evil series, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later. These pieces exist for the sole purpose of mindless (albeit sometimes awesome) zombie killing action, gore and suspense. In short: zombies for the sake of zombies.
The Walking Dead is not a show about zombies, it is a psychological study of the human reaction to trauma and immeasurable loss. Zombies just happen to be the method that brought these characters to those crossroads.
Take for example a concept so invariably black and white as suicide. When Andrea loses her sister and Jacqui is left alive while the rest of her family is dead, they both decide life is no longer worth living. The subject of suicide is also addressed near the end of Season 2. In today’s society suicide is far from an accepted option for dealing with pain or loss, so watching a group of people just like me legitimize suicide is incredibly thought-provoking.
And then there’s Shane. Shane not only loses most of the people he cares about, but his best friend Rick comes back and takes both the woman Shane loves and Carl who became like his own son… except Lori and Carl are still right there in front of him. The only thing worse than losing something, is having what you lost dangled in front of you. These circumstances send Shane through a transformation that crescendos into one of the most emotionally heartbreaking scenes I’ve seen.
Right vs wrong is a key theme spread throughout all of The Walking Dead. To most of the group things aren’t as black and white as they used to be, but not to Dale. When murdering a kid, who could be a threat to the group, is decided upon as the correct course of action, Dale holds his ground. In one of his finest moments, Dale shows that he fears losing his humanity even more than losing his life. While most viewers would probably be agreeing with the rest of the group, Dale shows us that no amount of trauma is going to make him give up his belief in doing what is right. Would I have that kind of resolve?
How many zombie shows dig into topics such as the legitimacy of suicide, the emotionally crushing effect of incredible loss, and the subject of reassessing the definition of right and wrong. This is what makes The Walking Dead so much more than a zombie piece. You could swap zombies out for any other disaster and the show would still be a fascinating investigation of the human soul.
I would argue The Walking Dead is full of more real life than almost anything you could choose to put on your TV screen today.