4 Reasons 'The Walking Dead' Hates Humans More Than Zombies
Experts agree there is no more than a 40 percent chance the world will end in a zombie apocalypse. But when we say that The Walking Dead is full of shit, we're not talking about that part, or the fact that every member of the cast is an expert marksman. We're talking about the unspoken rules by which the entire universe functions -- a universe which, aside from the zombies, is supposed to be our universe. Think about it. The central themes of the entire series are that ...
When Shit Goes Wrong, Only The Badass Killing Machines Will Survive
In the world of The Walking Dead, nobody has jobs, unless stabbing zombies in the brain through a chain link fence can be considered a job (and even if it can, it's certainly not a career). Now, this is of course part of the appeal of any apocalypse story (as we've mentioned before, most of us would love to trade long days in a cubicle for lawless zombie combat), but it's also by far the most implausible part of the show, even including the undead and the fact that women can apparently survive a zombie apocalypse while dressed like this:
"THERE, I AM NOW UTTERLY BITE-PROOF."
It's not the implausibility that's worth noting; it's that it implies something about the world which only terrible people believe. Let me give you an example:
There's a moment in Season 3 in which some of the main characters are driving along in their product placement SUV and a random, able-bodied survivor in a backpack tries to flag them down, begging to join them.
They pass the guy, ignoring him, the unspoken understanding being that they can't take on another mouth to feed. Later, at the end of the episode, they pass by the same dude, now lying dead on the street. They stop, take the supplies off his dead body, and drive off into the distance. The message is clear: In this new, dog-eat-dog world, all people are good for are the food and tools in their backpack.
So ... what if it had turned out that guy was himself a badass zombie-killing machine? That'd come in pretty useful, right? Well, maybe they could tell by looking at him that wasn't the case (no visible weapons, not covered in enough zombie blood). Fine. But what if he turned out to be a skilled surgeon? Or an electrician? Or an expert gardener? Or a carpenter? Or a mechanic? You don't think they'll ever need somebody who can heal wounds, or hook up a generator, or grow food, or build a shelter, or repair a vehicle? Really? Because it seems like 90 percent of the group's problems could be solved by somebody who knows what the hell they're doing.
"But," you might say, "what percentage of the population are actually experts? The odds are probably better that he's both worthless and a pedophile!" And if you're saying that, congratulations, because you share the same worldview as the producers. So let's say the hitchhiker isn't an expert at anything, but did work at a Walgreens when he was in college years ago, and thus knows what antibiotics to steal and what dosages to use them in. Or maybe he was nothing but an unemployed hipster, but he was an Eagle Scout when he was a kid and thus knows how to tie every kind of knot, how to identify every kind of edible mushroom, and how to skin every kind of game. Maybe he's simply a really good cook. How many people do you know who are truly worthless? You can learn a bunch of useful shit merely working at a convenience store for a month.
Hell, maybe he's just really funny, and thus good for morale. You don't think that would be helpful in a world in which 90 percent of the conversations are about how they don't know if they can continue under the weight of their crushing despair? If so, it doesn't occur to anyone in the world of The Walking Dead. It doesn't occur to them that any fellow human might have something useful to offer. The central theme has always been that in a world where society has broken down, only the most cold-hearted, murderous badasses survive. The rugged individualists who don't need anybody.
The rest of the survivors out there, well, they're sheep. Dead weight waiting to get slaughtered by either zombies or psychopaths, in a world that has naturally selected against everything but. That leads to the larger message that ...
Communities Are Cool And All, But In A Crisis, It's Every Man For Himself
At this point in the show, we're about 18 months into the apocalypse (though there seems to be some confusion about that even among the writers), and even now, when somebody needs food or medicine or diapers, they have to go scrounging through nearby buildings to find it. This is a world where there is no commerce, in defiance of all logic and reason.
"What, you think they'd be able to go buy shit from a department store during a zombie apocalypse? Ain't gonna be no Walmart after the zombies come!" You're wrong, and I can prove it.
If the zombies came to your city tomorrow, somewhere out there will be a dude who owns a pharmacy, or works at one. He is not a badass, or a zombie-killing machine -- he might even be frail and old. But when he sees shit is about to go down, he will take the opportunity to stash as much of his stock as he can in a secure location and wait. He will do this because he is a thinking human being, with a fucking desire to live. Then, in the aftermath, he will start hanging fliers all over town that say: IF YOU NEED MEDICINE, COME TO THE CORNER OF FOURTH AND MAIN. WILL BARTER FOR FOOD, SUPPLIES, AND PROTECTION.
"But some thugs would just come and steal his stash!" No, they won't, because it's not his stash that's valuable; it's his knowledge. This is what people in the real world know, that everyone in The Walking Dead forgets. You don't kill the medicine guy, because he's the only one who knows what any of that shit is and how to use it without killing yourself. You might need him -- if not today, then next week, or next month, or next year. It's the same reason you wouldn't kill the mechanic, or the gardener, or the carpenter, or the cook, or the prostitute. Contrary to what The Walking Dead would have you believe, humans can do things for each other that make life better. This is the fundamental truth upon which the entire world exists, and something which everyone in The Walking Dead universe somehow ignores.
"But the rules change after the apocalypse!" Right, in that world, you need those people more. The fact that pharmacists, mechanics, cooks, etc. are rarer in that universe, and that training new ones is incredibly difficult, means they're even more valuable. The town dentist would have a fucking army around his house.
And Carl would be dead within seconds.
In fact, it would be in the mutual interests of the carpenter, mechanic, and pharmacist to gather in one secure location, where the armed badasses protect the border in exchange for the right to live in a place that has medicine, food, and working cars. This is what us humans call a town. Yet in The Walking Dead ...
Every Large Gathering Of People Eventually Turns Into A Horde Of Cannibal Rape Monsters
It's kind of a running joke on the show that every time the main crew runs across a seemingly stable/peaceful community, it always turns out to be a nightmarish hellhole behind the scenes. From the town held under the oppressive thumb of the cruel and insane Governor to the cannibal factory behind the scenes of the Terminus camp, every attempt at a community fails. This happens even when it's a tight-knit group, like when the heroes themselves try to hole up in a vacant prison. Get more than, say, a dozen people together, and they immediately start betraying each other or turn out to be sociopaths.
"Wait, you're saying he's secretly a villain? Impossible!"
Because nobody has jobs. They turn on each other because there's no reason not to. Of course a community fails when it's a big clump of hungry mouths having petty arguments with each other. If that's all humans were, we'd have never formed communities in the first place.
But we did, and we continue to. In the real world, it wouldn't take 18 months after a collapse for people to start getting shit organized again. It wouldn't even take 18 hours. How do I know? Well, if you've been paying attention to Cracked, you know we've kind of been interviewing some apocalypse survivors, because we were curious about precisely that. We spoke to people who lived through the collapse of governments and economies in the Ukraine, Egypt, and Greece. When the cops disbanded, neighborhood watches formed to fend off looters. When bands of rebels ran low on supplies, they formed armed convoys to bus them in. When store shelves were bare, black markets formed to fill the gaps.
See, humans cooperate, because in the real world, we all live better when we do. That's why we started doing it tens of thousands of years ago. The entire premise of The Walking Dead -- and all apocalypse fiction -- seems to be that civilization is this bullshit idea that can never work once the chips are really down, as if it's some frivolous artifact of the modern world that will crumble the moment shit gets difficult. In real life, the exact opposite is true -- when shit gets real, we organize harder.
"But," you say, "the world is full of examples of chaos resulting in armies of horrific rape monsters! You know, like ISIS is doing in the Middle East!" Exactly. You know why ISIS rose to power? Because they swept into regions with no strong central government and quickly organized one. ISIS will establish a police force, pay municipal workers, and even direct traffic. They're filling a vacuum.
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In The Wake Of A Collapse, It's All Downhill For Humanity
If you're not fully caught up on The Walking Dead, this is spoiler territory. Basically, in a recent storyline, there is a plot point wherein a character shows up claiming to be a scientist with a cure for zombie-ism. He just needs to make it to a lab where the smart people can gather and put together what would be the climax in a movie like World War Z. That character turns out to be a fraud and gets beaten into a coma for lying. That's a typical story beat in The Walking Dead: The protagonists stumble across a flicker of hope in the darkness, then it gets snuffed out in a gruesome and violent way.
That, again, is the central message of this kind of story: Once civilization falls, that will be that. There will be no rebuilding. Humans aren't capable of it. This is clearly a universe where 100 years down the line there will not be some fledgling new civilization, just a world devoid of humanity, where insects and rodents rule. The title of the show and the comic it's based on is a reference to the survivors, not the zombies. They're not humanity's last hope; they're the Walking Dead.
But it's not like we've never seen an apocalypse before. Hell, at least the Walking Deaders have all of the previous infrastructure in place, including all of the standing buildings, working transportation, and stockpiles of food/medicine/fuel left behind by the recently zombified. Contrast that with Japan right after World War II, when huge chunks of the country looked like this:
About 40 percent of their infrastructure, factories, etc. was turned into smoldering craters. Now, you of course know that today Japan looks like this ...
... and is an economic and technological powerhouse. About how long do you think it took Japan to recover from having been half-bombed into smoking rubble? The answer is about ten years. That's it. By the mid-1950s, production was back to prewar levels.
"Yeah, but they weren't having to rebuild civilization under the threat of zombie attack!" OK, but the first time civilization was built, it was under threat of zombie attack. Well, not zombies, but certainly under the threat of suddenly being eaten in your sleep. I guarantee you that to a group of humans 50,000 years ago, a pack of wolves was a fuck of a lot scarier than a few zombies -- faster, stealthier, hungrier, smarter. Compared to what our ancestors faced, zombies are a bunch of shambling, bumbling stooges.
"Yeah, but even that wasn't in the wake of a worldwide apocalypse!" Well, Europe lost up to 60 percent of its population due to the Black Death and recovered without the aid of any of the modern technology/knowledge we have today. Hell, it's theorized that 75,000 years ago, a worldwide cataclysm killed all but a few thousand humans. We came back from that too.
That's because, in the grand scheme of things, we humans are pretty good at survival, and civilization, and taking care of one another. We're natural builders, organizers, and tool makers. Kill 90 percent of us, and the next time you look, we'll be swarming over the landscape again like ants. Organizing and building until we're landing our tools on fucking Mars.
So yeah, it's easy to watch a fictional apocalypse in which humans are tearing each other part like dogs and say, "See, that's what people are really like. Take away all of the laws and society and cushy consumer bullshit and you'll see the truth!" But, you see, we've been there. The laws and society and consumer bullshit didn't always exist. They're here because we built them, because that's what we do. That is what people are "really" like. Everything around you is living proof.
In other words, if you want to write a real scary story, start with a world overrun by zombies and watch them try to fucking deal with an outbreak of us.
Put this lifesize cutout of Daryl Dixon in your window just in case the zombie apocalypse breaks out while you're asleep.
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David Wong is the executive editor at Cracked. His latest novel, What The Hell Did I Just Read, is available everywhere right now.
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