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Undead with me on the straight and narrow} ?> Zombies are terrifying for three reasons: they’re deceptive, they bite, and they never give up.
That’s what gets me about the undead. Plus, they could pop up at any moment. They’ve exceeded us on the food chain; now we know what it’s like to be the gazelle chased down by the lion. And we don’t get a chance to catch our breath or a time-out to plan our next move.
Since I was a teenager, my fascination with zombies was knotted together with my fear, but then one day I decided to try some exposure therapy to set myself free.
I was tired of pulling back the shower curtain to make sure I wouldn’t get attacked every time I went to the bathroom. So, I dove head-first into the rotting mess of zombie horror flicks to become a new man.
One summer afternoon, I watched Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later back-to-back. I had to pause the movie more than a few times and remind myself that I was at home, in my PJs and safe from the horde, but it didn’t stop me from clutching a nerf-gun for protection.
The therapy worked. My chains fell off and my fears, though not totally purged, sank to a manageable level. I saw a whole new realm of entertainment opening up to me, including The Walking Dead.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t get enough of The Walking Dead. In the show, there is human drama set against a dying world. Every contingency of life is written into the characters’ experience of their new reality: surviving together.
Rick and his group starve, love, trust, fight, kill, forgive, and suffer. They also commit themselves to each other on incredibly nuanced and intricate emotional levels. They travel hundreds of miles looking for a chance at a better life. They don’t give up amid tragedy and atrocity regardless of how much they may want to. I think this is exactly the type of family that would evolve if our world was suddenly plunged into the zombie apocalypse.
I know I am desensitizing myself to violence by watching The Walking Dead. I was brought up by Christian parents who forbade me to watch Care Bears, much less a gore-infested zombie show.
Yet, the more I think about it, the more I see the show bringing me closer to God by teaching me how to love; it doesn’t separate me from my beliefs and morals, but makes me live them more deeply. Just as viewing art pulls us out of ourselves to see something more than we are, The Walking Dead shows me that I’m not the centre of the universe.
It presents me with ideas and images that I am forced to deal with. Watching it and discussing it with friends further proves how small I am: one fan with one opinion in a sea of millions.
There are aspects of The Walking Dead against which I will always protest, but if I allow those objectionable aspects to control my holistic experience of the show, then I’d still be that little boy sleeping with his light on. Maturity demands facing your fears. I am taking part in a world of walking dead, but I am not one with all of its ideologies and motivations.
I know The Walking Dead is not for everyone. My family will never appreciate it like I do. There are moments that I still cannot watch: the collision of innocence and brutality, the helplessness of those dying but not yet dead.
But I continue to watch it because of the honest humanity present in the characters. They are like me, but unlike me. They are living with something to which I cannot relate, but I can still see myself in all of the characters.
As I watch my favourite characters die, part of me dies too. As I talk with my friends about life’s agonies and delights, I mourn or rejoice with them, better understanding life from their perspective.
Paradoxically then, what a gory zombie-horror series teaches me is not about detachment, but empathy and sympathy. The Walking Dead, it turns out, is the perfect training ground to love my neighbour as myself.