Popped Culture: No Flies on Those Zombies
Cor, The Walking Dead, eh? I loved the graphic novel. I admired the TV series (well, until Season 2′s ill-thought-out ‘Let’s all sit tight for several months so nothing interesting happens’ story arc). I was actually surprised that TV managed to get across the essence of what I loved about zombie apocalypse scenarios. I was utterly shocked that The Walking Dead game series was similarly awesome; games made on the back of some other media tie-in, they’re not usually something to get excited about.
The original Romero zombie flick was intended as a biting (hurr!) social commentary. It had brains (delicious braaains). Perceptions have changed since then, and zombies are generally seen as almost evil, comical cannon-fodder. But if The Walking Dead proves anything, it’s that trying to survive in a world overrun by the reanimated corpses of our loved ones, all hungering for the warm succulent flesh of the living, is actually extremely relevant in our day-to-day lives.
What are the most dangerous places in The Walking Dead? That’s right: cities. Obviously, with the high population density, the zombie infection will spread fast, to a LOT of people. You may remember that in Season 2 of the TV show, the survivors have to hide on a motorway as a horde of zeds shamble past them, migrating en masse to bigger population centres. One cannot help but be reminded of the desertion of rural landscapes for the opportunity of the big city in modern Ireland. Or our rather more recent emigration surge, as our young people shamble off to Britain, America and Australia to gorge on the still-living flesh of another, healthier economy. The grass is always greener on the other side, even for the undead.
But the larger cities can also have other groups of survivors, resulting in fierce competition for resources. Some are just bandits, out to watch the world burn and speed it along a bit. Others are just as moral as you, but just as committed to survival, and they’d rather stab you, a stranger, than let their child go hungry. It’s dog-eat-dog out there, people. Or possibly human-eat-human. Today’s job industries are worryingly similar, where compassion for others goes out the window to ensure competitiveness or survival. Stock exchanges, banking, upper management, corporate lobbying… Zombies and CEOs alike will go for the throat.
Another thing that will strike anyone playing the games is the variety of genuinely difficult decisions they’ll have to make. It goes well beyond ‘Who gets the limited food rations this week?’, with such awful dilemmas as ‘Which survivor do I save, the child or the guy with the shotgun?’ and ‘Do I shoot this dying woman before she turns into a zombie, or leave her so her final screams distract the hordes from the rest of us?’ Even siding with someone in an argument will be remembered by both parties, and the consequences will manifest some time down the line. Grudges result in help being denied when you most need it. Loyal friends are a great boon, but you cannot please everyone.
There are huge parallels with the real world here. When push comes to shove, being faced with a tough choice shows you aspects of yourself you may not like. Sometimes, words are not just simply words, and you can’t undo something you said or failed to say. Introspection is hard, so a lot of people avoid it. Some people just can’t handle big decisions, instead going through their days trying to please everyone, their actions based on what others might think. Is that really living, or are they just shuffling along, grasping clumsily for something they can’t possess? Those iconoclasts who, when faced with crisis will meet it eye to eye, or make the tough decisions without flinching, or accept that not everyone will like them: they’re the survivors in the real world, grabbing life with both hands and refusing to let go. The mental strain of day-to-day survival reminds us that it’s not enough to simply survive. You have to live. There’s a scene in the game where Clementine, the lead child, is kicking a ball about rather forlornly. It’s the only game available, but she takes to it, because we all need ways to relieve the stress of getting through another day, with or without someone trying to bite your face off.
Perhaps more superficially, The Walking Dead shows us that looks aren’t everything. In these days of hundreds-strong development companies with armies of artists, The Walking Dead looks decidedly dated. But if you can overlook the grubby textures and rigid, corpse-like animation, and sink your teeth into the core of the game, you’ll find that it is very much alive and kicking. Not to mention delicious. Episode 5 will be the final in this season of the games, and if Episode 4 was anything to go by, it’ll be a blinder. A bleak, uncompromising, perhaps bittersweet blinder.