This water-bloated, rotting zombie sat at the bottom of their well. It moaned and knocked up against the bricks that lined the rough circle. The zombie apacolypse survivors realized they couldn’t shoot the thing. It would poison their water supply, so they encircled it with a rope, and they all worked together, and they pulled the unspeakable thing up and out of the well.
They work together and appear that they are going to be successful in their task. But it’s prodigious, pale, yucky belly gets stuck. It sits their kicking and wailing like a toddler built in hell. They pull and they pull. And they succeed only in tearing it in half. Innards of every sort and color poke out of the lower half, as it falls back in. Worse, all these fluids, stews, smoothies leak out of the thing, defiling the water beyond question.
Have you watched “The Walking Dead?” The scene above stands out in my head, for some reason. It’s amazing.
In addition to all the things that might be said about the amazing writing, acting, production, etc… I think there’s a lot to be said about subtext. What’s going on beneath the surface?
There is a wide question here: why do zombie captivate us? And a narrower question: How has ‘The Walking Dead’ tweaked these ideas?
I think today, I am just going to take on the broad question: Why do zombies captivate us?
They are a staple of the horror genre. There are centuries old roots to the lore. But looking at these doesn’t much answer the question why they frighten us in the first place… Plenty of folk lore is essentially forgotten. What about zombies causes them to seem fresh, relevant, and scary?
On a very literal level, zombies stories are virtually all survival stories. The role of the heroes is to avoid becoming zombies. On the surface, that seems pretty far-fetched; irrelevant to our every day lives.
But zombies are purely and only physical beings. They have only hungers, no mind, no soul, no compassion. A part of the mythos is that it is very easy to become one and impossible to go back.
Zombie stories, I think, speak to our fears about growing up. What will we have to sell off to survive? Will we keep our soul, our mind, our compassion? Beneath those questions is an even scarier one:
What if those things don’t exist at all? What if it doesn’t matter that we have dreams and hopes for the future? What if their is no soul?
This pair of questions carries a pair of fears with it. The first fear is that we are powerless to fight off our zombie-sides. The process of becoming an adult is irresistible and it will turn us into a creatures that just want to propogate more soulless cannibals. The deeper fear is that we are zombies already, just too stupid to realize it. All the things we hold on to as separating ourselves from the zombies are just delusions that will fall away.
If I am close to right, the grossness, the oozing, the putrification, is a smoke screen. Despite R-ratings and general yuckiness, zombie stories are very much morality tales. It is easy, at first to see who is right and who is wrong. But there is an opportunity for much more nuanced questions about what is right and wrong. Lurking only half a step behind those questions are questions about reality and God himself. And I think those are important questions very much worth asking.