The Walking Dead is back on TV tonight, after a “midseason break” that probably worked as well as such tactics ever have to whet appetites for the bottom half of a season.
It’s a remarkable TV phenomenon: a show that should theoretically gross out a sizable portion of its potential audience, and which is roundly mocked for occasional bouts of plot erosion and inexplicable character behavior, but retains stratospheric popularity. (You’re really going to declare your house a gun-free zone in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, Hershel?) If the show follows the general narrative of the comic series that inspired it, it will delve deeper into how civilization unravels under extreme duress, and how difficult it can be to find the meaning of life in a world of the dead, where building anything of permanence is horrendously difficult. The human enemy becomes at least as dangerous as the zombie menace. And the zombie menace guarantees that no human colony is ever safe; in fact, the larger any settlement becomes, the greater the danger of someone dying from illness, natural causes, or misadventure and rising as a zombie, potentially bringing Armageddon past even the stoutest of walls.
The TV show has been a bit kinder to the sinister town of Woodbury than the comic was, and it’s probably more interesting that way. (Viewers of the TV series would be astonished and deeply unsettled by how much more intense a few of the Woodbury atrocities were in the comic.) Making the Governor a bit easier to understand, if not exactly sympathetic, makes for better drama. It’s not easy to rebuild civilization from the ground up, under extreme duress. Some of the niceties we take for granted suddenly seem like luxuries nobody can afford. That’s where the most durable chills of The Walking Dead come from.