'Walking Dead' Summons American Spirit of Independence, Grit

The new guys running the fourth season of AMC's The Walking Dead understand that the show is about zombies, not feelings. This is good. And the astronomical ratings for the Oct. 13 premiere showed something good about Americans as well.

There are no real spoilers ahead unless the thought that a show about zombies might involve zombies is one--though in the case of TWD, that actually could count as a surprise.

Season two eliminated the nightmare known as Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), the liberal whiner whose bright ideas included dumping a whole cache of weapons because … well, he was liberal. He didn’t really need a reason to be annoying.

Season three lifted the curse of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), the most annoying cable wife outside of Breaking Bad’s Skylar and Boardwalk Empire’s Margaret. Rather than torment us with car wash or women’s clinic story lines, the producers just offed her--thank goodness.

And as for Andrea (Laurie Holden), well, good riddance.

So, the new season begins without a lot of chatty baggage and with a whole bunch of new residents of the prison to act as red-shirted ensigns down the road. This is all good. Sadly, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) still seems to be the center of the show, and his judgment appears to be as farsighted and wise as ever.

“Crazy chick wants me to go alone back to her camp?  Why, how could this go wrong?”

There was some nice zombie action in a glorified Wal-Mart, where mindless creatures who devour everything set in front of them feel right at home. There was some eerie foreshadowing as the number of zombies outside that rickety fence line kept growing. And there was a nasty little cliffhanger set up at the end that once again raises the question of why--why--these people never seem to learn to set up security around their camps no matter how often zombie come traipsing though. Sheesh.

The first new episode is much better than the tiresome third season, but the millions who tuned into the premiere didn’t know that. The astonishing popularity of TWD among Americans superficially seems to be something of a mystery until one realizes what the show really is--and therefore recognizes the chord it strikes in Americans.

The Walking Dead is a western, a show about life on the frontier, about the trappings of civilization being stripped away. This is uniquely American--the frontier is in our cultural DNA. In the world of TWD, it’s just a man and his gun against the savage hordes. Just substitute cowboys and townspeople for the characters and Indians for the zombies (Hollywood used to depict Native Americans as mindless savages as instead of the skilled warriors they were and remain in our armed forces today).

You have all the pieces of a classic western--heck, Rick is a Sheriff, and he insists on carrying a six-gun for heaven’s sake.

Americans, prosperous, comfortable and (except for the .5 percent off at war) living in peace, wonder if at some level if they still have what it takes to do what the pioneers did. Americans’ fierce defense of their right to keep and bear arms comes from the same place. Unlike Europeans, liberals and other submissives, they believe it is their personal duty to act to protect their community and country in time of crisis--with an AR-15 if need be.

This is why if, heaven forbid, some bunch of jihadi degenerates ever decide to pull a Nairobi mall or Mumbai assault in America, it won’t be in Arizona or Texas.

Americans ask themselves whether, if all hell broke loose--if society fell--could they cut it? TWD is more than just a show about monsters chomping overly chatty humans. It’s a show that lets Americans think about how they would personally measure up in a crisis.

Of course, those of us who served with Americans in war know the answer--the answer, proven again and again, is “Yes.”


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