What happens when you consume the same piece of pop culture so many times, you peel back the layers of rotted flesh to discover hidden depths that, on first glance, you missed?
This piece by our dear Audre Myers is a beautiful illustration of that phenomenon. That said, the series she’s reviewing—yes, as entire, decade-plus-long series—is arguably something more than mere pop culture. It may represent a work of television art.
The late aughts and early teens of this century saw a golden age of television as an art form. Outside the confines of a film’s ninety-or-so-minute runtime, television series have the luxury of developing characters across hundreds of hours of screen time and multiple seasons. Narratives can explore deeper complexity. Themes can be examined in all their glorious nuance.
I don’t want to give away Audre’s key insight about this show, but I’ll note that I think she is correct. Let me know what you think in the comments.
With that, here is Audre’s series retrospective of The Walking Dead:
November 20, 2022 presented the final episode of The Walking Dead. Now that it’s concluded, I can finish thinking about the way this series affected me.
Rick walked out of the hospital and found a world that defied anything he’d ever experienced. He rode a bike past his first zombie. Days later, better settled and prepared, he went back and found that zombie. He said,”I’m sorry this thing happened to you.” Then he put a bullet through it’s head.
It’s that scene that led me to think this was something different; this was a different story. This was not your typical television series. After multiple binge watches, and with the ending in place, I think my interpretation holds, makes sense, can be defended. It was a fight trying to watch it every Sunday night – my husband said he got over zombies when he was fourteen and it was up against the weekly football game. I lost control of the TV more times than I won and it was difficult to keep up with the stories. When he really wanted to watch football, he’d look at me and say, “Fine thing for a Christian woman to watch,” voice dripping with disdain. What I couldn’t explain to him, because it was still so new to me, what I couldn’t explain is I think it’s a Christian story.
Yes, that’s right, I think it’s a Christian story and I think it’s a story that supports conservatism (the political kind of conservatism). Let me know when you’ve picked yourself up off the floor – I’ll wait. The story started with compassion and that is displayed throughout the series. When the group does right, the outcomes are good – or hopeful, or uplifting. Conversely, when they act out of selfishness, things tended to go very wrong indeed. Understand; this was not played out in such a straight forward way. It took years of watching and thinking about the series for these things to fall into place. One of the characters, an Episcopal priest, no less, is a craven coward when the group meets him. His story is upsetting, especially because he’s a priest. But as the episodes play through a season and then another, he finds courage and God. The sentence that moves me is, “We’ve been praying for God to save our town. He already has. He’s given us everything we need.” With that, he goes out into a hoard and helps other townspeople defend their home. The group winds up on a farm and the man who owns it is religious but in the way most of us are religious – in our hearts and in our minds but only outwardly spoken about when an opportunity presents itself. It’s comical to me that every time the farmer brings up the subject of God and lives being directed by God, the other characters deny any such thing. But we, the audience, can see the truth.
The zombies are merely the vehicles by which the story is advanced – the real horror is the living people and the things that people do. The group encounters cannibals, and extreme narcissists of the psychopath sort. One, the very biggest and worst narcissist and psychopath gets saved by the group. His punishment for all the horror he has committed (with great joy, I might add) is to be jailed forever. He is held in a cell by the group and through seasons of the series, being exposed to this group and conversations with the leaders of the group, he begins to change. His is a redemption story. There are story lines all through the series where it’s obvious, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear (as the Bible says) that this is an unspoken theme.
Now; how can this be conservative in a political sense? With a few exceptions, the female characters are those Karen types; they think they know everything and everything should be the way they want things to be. They are wrong every time. Sometimes it happens quickly and sometimes it takes time for the ‘come-uppence’. Those exceptions, the female characters that have a sense of themselves, are like a lot of us who are conservative – we support our husbands and don’t try to be our husbands. We support men and work with them and share their joys and sorrows. Very different from ‘the narrative’.
If someone reads this review and has never seen the series I do have to warn you that the zombie makeup is, ummm – scary. There’s only one way to kill a zombie and there’s lots of that because there’s a lot of zombies. But you can get used to the makeup and once you meet the major characters, they bring you back for the next episode because you’ll find you just have to see what happens next. You will wind up caring about these people. Oh! I almost forgot! Daryl is mine.