The Walking Dead has been one of the biggest smash-hit shows of the last decade. Based on the comics of the same name, The Walking Dead quickly amassed fans way back when it premiered on October 31st of 2010 for its gut-wrenching gore, motley cast of characters and incredibly bleak setting. All elements that made the comic popular and infamous were present in the show, and it pulled no punches in its transition to television.
As is the case with much apocalyptic fiction in the genre, the show was and remains a steadfast favorite with preppers for its unflinchingly depressing look at a ravaged world, this despite the fantastical (we hope!) cause of this shambling doomsday.
While they may not admit it, more than a few preppers are paying close attention to the show and making decisions about their real world plans and preparation based on the trials and tribulations that the characters endure; a sort of “wargaming” if you will.
While it might not seem harmful on its surface, basing real-world disaster responses and procedures on any kind of fictional setting may not be a good idea, no matter how generalized the “wisdom” you partake of it is, and The Walking Dead is a perennial offender on this front. In this article, I’m throwing down the gauntlet on TWD and making a case why you should not waste your time watching it.
Is it R&R, or Something Else?
Before you take me behind the woodshed for hating fun, let me clarify that I have no problem with recreation, TV, any kind of violent media or anything like that, within reason. I myself love gritty, bleak dystopian fiction and get a thrill from the fly-on-the-wall perspective of seeing people squeezed by immense pressures and how they react to them. I quite enjoyed TWD for the first several seasons before I burned out hard, but that is not why I am writing this article today.
I am all for rest and relaxation, and digging into a good book or voyeuristically digging into a favorite show is a fine way to take a load off and enjoy yourself. One could surely choose to do that with The Walking Dead, and to your heart’s content.
No, my gripe with the show is two-fold. The first fork is that the show has devolved into a repetitive cycle of set-piece drama that no longer truly does justice to the themes of survival, of eking out a life among the ruins and the headstones that the first couple of seasons did so well. It is no longer what I would call internally consistent. I started having a harder and harder time enjoying it.
The second fork is that it does not make for particularly thought provoking fiction compared to other examples in the genre. Sure, it is a heck of an entertaining show with a dynamite cast, but compared to some other stories I’ll share with you it is sorely lacking in verisimilitude, and in my opinion closer to a hard R-rated cartoon.
Plainly, I still prefer my recreational activities to be stimulating and thought-provoking. The Walking Dead has become nearly as mindless as the shambling corpses which used to be the biggest threat to the protagonists and antagonists alike.
The Same Old Song and Dance
Comparing the past few seasons of TWD to the first two, the show has settled into a particular and predictable groove: zombies are no longer the primary threat, except as “environmental” hazards akin to severe weather (in large numbers) or an incidental threat to an unaware or otherwise preoccupied character.
The primary villains are competing human kingdoms led by an eccentric dictator who is hell-bent on bringing our band of survivors into compliance. Human drama is always a draw for TV audiences, but in my opinion The Walking Dead traded away its most compelling hook, for me at least, in order to ramp up the interpersonal conflicts to the nth degree.
Gone is the tension, terror and emotional roller-coaster highs and lows that were punctuated by the chafing of personalities within the group. The emphasis on survival, the staying ahead of and outsmarting problems be it food, shelter or security, is long gone.
Each human kingdom in the most recent seasons has more than enough resources at its disposal to make day-to-day survival taken for granted, and the only worry and anxiety on that front comes from the occasional quest to recover key information or personnel.
Here’s what we are left with: a bunch of people squaring off that results in posturing, raids, some subterfuge, betrayal, reversals and an inevitable giant battle with a handful of people getting bitten by zombies and a bunch of people getting bitten by bullets. Fun stuff, but this has been going on for seasons now.
Despite the setting entailing enormous risks and the devastation wrought by the zombie menace stretching away seemingly forever in all directions, it is only rarely that any of our main characters are truly threatened, unless the human drama demands it or one of actors is departing the show.
Even for seasoned, tough survivors that they have all become, all the main characters are invincibly durable, crack marksmen, and seem to care very little for moving about in unsecured areas with anything even resembling good order in a prepared fashion. It is just no longer believable, not to me.
I tune in for an apocalyptic survival show, and it plays now more like a soap opera with a sprinkling of zombies and liberal amounts of gunfire.
No Brains. Like the Zombies!
This may just be my burnout talking, but the show has gotten so treadworn even the new episodes feel more like an old movie you keep watching over and over again because it is comfortable.
You know what will ultimately happen long before you ever see it. This formula is a recipe for a successful show and plenty of viewers, but it has been a long time since the show thrilled or interested me.
I need something from my media. It needs to be thought provoking, or be so carefully and realistically portrayed (fantasy elements notwithstanding) that it genuinely moves me, or makes me think, really think about the characters, their situation, and the choices that they made and how they unfolded. The best fiction, whatever the media, can have significant impact on you.
I don’t think The Walking Dead is in that category anymore. Sure, some will chalk it up to fan fatigue, but I think not. There is no overarching lesson to be learned except that of borderline mechanical need to persevere and triumph over the hat-of-the-week group of bad humans.
There is no resolution in sight as far as what pathogen/curse/divine retribution that resulted in the zombies (I know that is consistent with the comics so far) and considering that they are literally in the name of the show, it is disappointing. I don’t have to have a nice, tidy conclusion with a bow on it, but I do need decisive resolutions to the main arc of the story. TWD is lost in the weeds, there.
So, compared to the intense, grounded and nuanced survival-centric show we had in the early years, what we have now is a paint-by-numbers, gore-soaked soap opera, not an apocalyptic tale of endurance, ingenuity and overcoming adversity. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but not what I want in survival fiction of any variation.
Like I said earlier, I need to justify my R&R time: if I am not getting something substantial from it, I could be doing something else that needs doing. Your mileage may vary, but that is just the way I am wired. Do you want to keep sinking hour after hour week after week into a show that has long since settled into a predictable, looping formula? Didn’t think so.
Now, what if there was some hard-hitting fiction with chops, I mean properly researched, grounded and written in such a way that they are closer to what-might-yet-transpire than simple stories? Are there works of fiction in this genre that can give you some serious food for thought, if not an outright mental kick-in-the-pants?
Yes, yes there are.
Best Bets for Prepper-Centric Survival Stories
I know some of you are ready to throw down with me in the comments, but I will admit that I am picky about my fiction, especially my survival-centric and apocalyptic stuff. So, in keeping with my personal resolution to never proffer a complaint without offering a solution, I will provide a couple of quick recommendations in this genre.
Both of them have a lot more to offer, in my humble opinion, than The Walking Dead, and will certainly get your noggin joggin’ in the right directions regarding elements of your own preparation and readiness. Things like material preps, skill development and even your ethical and mental spheres of readiness.
All of these are also books (one has been made into a motion picture, and another is possibly in development) and I have recommended them before here on The Survivalist Blog. Sorry TV fans, but there is no other show even proximal to The Walking Dead on TV that encapsulates the themes most of us preppers care about.
One Second After, by William R. Forstchen
A sobering portrayal of what might potentially be one of America’s most glaring technological vulnerabilities, One Second After is the tale of a one man’s attempt to survive a nationally crippling EMP strike that plunges civilization back to near pre-industry levels of advancement.
The protagonist must rely on his wits and training as a former Army officer to help keep his family alive in the face of severe lack and loss of much modern technology, including electricity.
The picture is grim indeed, and lack of food, essential medicine and other taken-for-granted commodities unfolds with startling attention to detail and attention paid to the strain it places on society, and what desperation people are helplessly driven into when there is not enough of anything to go around.
Why do some people abandon morality in times of trouble, and why do some hold fast when times are tough, even unto death? This is one story that addresses exactly that.
Without spoiling anything, the author heartbreakingly illustrates what happens to normal people in the face of such irresistible forces, and he pulls no punches.
The trials and tests of this small community in the face of true catastrophe are shown in a highly believable way, and the intersection and grating of various personalities and factions against one another is rich with nuance and detail.
The characters might be any of us, could be any of us, and this book is such a vivid and terrifying portrayal of such an event that it has been cited within Congress as a realistic depiction of what might happen if a major event disables the American technological wonder-network. Scary, thought-provoking, and much, much more likely than any zombie plague.
Day by Day Armageddon, by J.L. Bourne
It is not too often that survival fiction is written by an author who so happens to be both highly skilled and experienced in doing so and also a damn good writer. The author of this chilling nail-biter, J.L Bourne, is both.
This is a proper zombie apocalypse book, the first of a series, and in my opinion the best. The story is written from beginning to end in the “doomsday diary” style, as if the pages (complete with scribbles, corrections, bloodstains, and other wear and tear) were taken right from the protagonists personal journal.
From our protagonist, a military pilot, everything is recorded in first person as it unfolds one fateful day prior to his going on duty. The text ebbs and flows according to the writer’s state of mind and stress level, recording the events of the day as well as his thoughts, fears and observations. This is not loved by everyone, but if style of storytelling is right up your alley this is one of the best.
What I enjoy most about this book is the careful and realistic attention paid to all the details of survival: weighing risks, taking stock, making educated guesses and reacting to emergencies are all accounted for believably and the author is no Mary Sue who is invincible, even for all his skill and modest previous preparation.
Many times he makes mistakes that nearly get him and others killed, and sometimes events conspire against him through no fault of his own with serious consequences.
In short, this is one main character who is as vulnerable and human as any of us, and is doing his damnedest to survive pretty much the worst scenario imaginable. For all his expertise, skill and preparation, this is one book that also drives home the importance of luck for survival.
An excellent book, and one of the exemplars of grounded, believable zombie apocalypse fiction. If TWD has left you flapping in the breeze for some years now, Day by Day Armageddon will rekindle the magic that the show brought in the early seasons.
The Walking Dead, once a paragon of prepper-centric apocalyptic entertainment, has been rendered down into a gory, grisly soap-opera of petty fiefdoms vying for dominance among the wreckage.
What value there was for preppers wanting a better class of doomsday entertainment has long ago been spent. If you are going to chill out will some fictional entertainment the next time you are relaxing, consider something else.