Update!: You can now read my full article about sex and romance in The Walking Dead! It is published in Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead which you can buy on Amazon! The book is part of McFarland’s “contributions to zombie studies series” which is super cool! I suggest you check it out!
This blog post is going to be an adaptation of a conference paper I delivered for the Society of Utopian Studies in Toronto on October 7, 2012. These talks are only 20 minutes in length, so I’m hoping to extend a couple of my thoughts a bit by posting them here. On this note though, I am not extending it too too much, because with everything else going on I don’t have time to give this topic the full attention it deserves. So I am well aware that I am glossing over things a bit. I would love to get into the specific relationships between characters, especially the queer relationships, but because this was just a short talk/post I only gesture towards their existence to make a point about how important sex is within this narrative. The title of the talk I gave is “Sex, Romance and Monogamy as Survival Technique and Coping Mechanism in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead” and my presentation involved discussing the interplay between sex and the utopian impulse in Kirkman’s ongoing series. I am going to center on predominantly the first 50 issues to avoid spoilers for people who may wish to read it, as well as narrow my focus from the massive storyline that now spans over 100 issues. But, mind you, I am going to mention a few things that happen in issues 50-102 so… SPOILER ALERT but trust me, if you read the first 50 issues, none of what I will say will come as too much of a surprise but a spoiler is a spoiler. As of this writing, I haven’t read any academic work on The Walking Dead comic series, possibly stemming from the TV adaptation’s overwhelming popularity and therefore all the writing that exists on that topic. I know there is this collection of essays but I haven’t bought it due to mixed reviews and because I can’t determine how many essays in it deal with the comic directly. I also saw that there is this collection, and I would be interested to hear from people if it is worth picking up. If you know of anything relevant to the comic series I might find interesting please feel free to get in touch (email address in the About Me section).
So here is a blog post in which I say the same things from that talk, albeit in a bit more relaxed, blog-friendly adaptation. Enjoy!
The Walking Dead has become incredibly famous since being picked up by AMC as a television series in 2010. Previous to the television show, the comics themselves (now drawn by Charlie Adlard, originally drawn by Tony Moore) were already very successful, well liked, and well read within comics communities. The sales of the series quickly surpassed many other well established and canonized serials in book stores and comic shops, grabbing much attention. I feel the reason The Walking Dead has done so well is largely because it is extremely accessible to both comic book and ‘zombie enthusiast’ alike. Hell, it’s accessible to people who have never consumed a zombie narrative OR a comic book. I personally know quite a few people who have read every Walking Dead comic to date, and yet haven’t read ANY other comic in their entire life. As I mentioned before, the popularity of the comic only increased when the TV show began, and it is only increasing again with the newly released Walking Dead video game from TellTale Games development studio. What makes this series so different from other zombie narratives is what an extremely important role sex and relationships take in perpetuating the story line. Kirkman’s series is by no means your typical sex-laden soap opera, but the characters disappear, switch partners, die off and reappear just like you would expect from any daytime drama.
When we think of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, be it the TV show, video game, or comic, we likely think of classic post-apocalyptic dystopia, which of course it is. Like any dystopian narrative it takes the extreme nature of a post-apocalypse setting and uses it to put pressure on contemporary social situations and tensions to demonstrate what is wrong with our society. But what often isn’t talked about is the distinctly utopian aspects of the narrative. What utopian scholars refer to as the “utopian impulse” (the desire, the impulse, to create or imagine a perfect society) is demonstrated at length by the characters in The Walking Dead, and typified by series protagonist, Rick Grimes.
In this post [originally: “conference paper”] I’m going to talk about the utopian impulse that writer Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard depict throughout the series, and furthermore I am going to focus on the central role sex plays within the creation of these utopian communities. Lastly, I am going to discuss how, for many characters, this hell on earth is a utopia for them in the simplest sense as it liberates them from their previous lives. The zombie apocalypse facilitates a utopian escape for its readers for the same reasons. It is the chance to fight, to embrace our natural instinct to battle with and kill a politically correct “other” — that is, the shambling hordes of humanity: the only other it would be acceptable to kill, the other who is already long dead, who threatens to kill you as well, who represents in many ways your own participatory death via the integration of the self with capitalism and technology (if that is the zombie theory you buy into).
Rick Grimes is an individual searching for an America that no longer exists. Despite the failings of his many utopian efforts and the many deaths of friend and family, Rick continues to push forward in an attempt to survive the American wasteland in hope that he will be able to (re)build an ideal community in the fallout of society. The Walking Dead chronicles the survival of Rick, the protagonist, and the hundreds of people he encounters after the zombie apocalypse. Rick functions as the story’s tragic hero and, no matter how far he “falls” in terms of his disposition and moral compass, he still remains one of the most likable characters in the series. He dictates the movement of his very large group of survivors as their leader and is responsible for the “creation” of all the utopian settlements that the characters build up and attempt to inhabit. Rick becomes an object of desire for various characters throughout the story in his protector role, seemingly unfazed by the death that surrounds him, his bravery and consistency marking him as desirable sexual partner. His candidacy for leadership initially stems from the old-world [pre-apocalyptic] significance he carries as a police officer, with traditional associations of order, masculinity, and protection in that role. Over the course of the narrative, such old-world significance is inevitably dispelled as his more genuine, fundamentally humane traits define him and his leadership. This tragic hero’s fatal flaw is his utopian impulse. He fails his wife, children, and fellow community members on many occasions because he can’t resist the urge to expand his community, to bring in new people, to protect and defend those who can’t defend themselves, leading to the death of all who surround him.
Like in many post apocalyptic narratives, the characters are visibly concerned about finding food, shelter and weapons but this is not the primary concern in the case of The Walking Dead. The characters primary concern throughout the narrative is attaining and sustaining human contact, and it is the reason characters most frequently survive conflict with the undead, but also often the reason they die, which I will get to later on.
The idea that Kirkman seems to focus on above all else is that, in narratives of survival (read, any zombie apocalypse story) we tend to sell into an idea that surviving, living, breathing, moving is a type of reward in its self. Yet in Kirkman’s world the characters only live — only desire to survive — if they have something, specifically someone, for whom to keep living. A character’s motivation for continuing to live in the zombie wasteland is interestingly not their children nor even their pre-apocalypse relationships, but rather the relationships they make in the new world. Their reason for living is often their post-apocalyptic partner, who they have chosen for their suitability as a partner in their current world instead of the past world. A person they feel they literally (not figuratively) can’t live without. These attachments become much deeper and more important than pre-apocalyptic attachments because the individualism that we all know and value becomes obsolete. This is not a world where anyone wants to go to bed alone.
So, to give this long ramble some structure, I am going to break it up into 4 sections, what I call the 4 Cs of the apocalypse. They are:
The first time the importance of sex in The Walking Dead becomes apparent is when Kirkman deliberately emphasizes the coupling of various characters.
Rick is comatose in the hospital when the dead start to come back to life. Rick’s wife Lori and son Carl skip town with Rick’s best friend and former partner Shane, with the assumption that Rick will remain safe in the hospital. Within only a few weeks of being separated from her husband, Lori, doubtful as to whether Rick is alive or dead, has started having sex with Shane, taking him on as a partner in knowing he has always been in love with her. The community that they join is also full of couples, some pre-apocalyptic and some not. As the story continues, we see all these characters at some point or another partake in coupling, including Ricks 8 year old son. For all the same reasons we see monogamy as a favored form of coupling today, we see this preferential habit performed tenfold by the characters who tend to pair up as if life depends on it, because in fact it does.
We see a lessening in the othering of racial or sexual difference for two reasons: firstly because the zombies have become the only “other” that holds any threatening weight for the surviving populace, and secondly because the partnering options left to people are so decreased. People couple up across racial boundaries, and many characters broaden their idea of sexual orientation, taking on partners of the same sex and even noteworthy differences in age cease to be a factor for the characters involved. Without the old-world institutions and their normative moral compass, age has no relevance as a societal qualifier and very little to do with how soon you may die. At one point, a much older character Dale questions his spouse Andrea why she would want to be with someone so old by asking: “how many good years can i have left?” To which she replies quickly “Good years? None. Nobody has any good years left.”
We see a break down of gender roles in variety of interesting ways. First of all the desire for coupling is a two way street. We see the man searching for a partner for protection as much, if not sometimes more so, then the female characters. We see females quickly decline any positions of power, decision making, or leadership and instead opt to take on soldier or warrior-like positions to defend themselves as well as their male partners. It seems Kirkman does not see women as walking away from roles of authority because of any sort of weakness, but walking away because they are less power hungry then the men, and at many times more practical and resourceful. The new world is indeed very patriarchal, but this does not stop women from embodying traditionally male roles and men being seemingly okay with this. For the most part, I’m going to leave the topic of gender alone because luckily, in this text, I don’t feel as if the personality of the characters has much to do with their gender in this harrowing new world. Strong or weak is not a division made upon gendered lines. Characters confront ideas of gender in this text but they rarely embody a recognizable stereotype. When the men or women do something that is quite conventional, they usually acknowledge this. Men still tend to be in the majority when hunting zombies, but that doesn’t stop characters like Maggie or Andrea, who are good with a gun from joining up, and the men rarely ever deny their presence. The entire community acknowledges, in fact, that Andrea is a better shot than anyone, male or female. The characters find themselves battling less with gender roles (as they discover quickly these don’t apply anymore) and more with heteronormative monogamy that still dictates their thoughts and actions.
We see some characters try to break this last sexual stronghold of monogamy in order to adapt to the new World. For example the character Carol is desperate for a partner after her post-apocalyptic boyfriend Tyrese cheats on her with an aggressive newcomer to the community, Michonne. Wrecked with grief, Carol initially sees no other options and slits her wrists in front of her own daughter. After her recovery from this suicide attempt, she changes her strategy by proposing to Rick and the very pregnant Lori to couple with her, taking part in what would be for herself a polygamous bisexual triadic relationship. She finds close moments with both Rick and Laurie and uses the moments to come on to them. Both Laurie and Rick reach out to Carol as friends and Carol attempts to convert these feeling of platonic love into something more intimate. She kisses both Rick and Laurie during these moments, hoping desperately that they will, as a unit, choose to couple with her and raise their three children together. She genuinely feels incapable of parenting her daughter Sophia alone in this world, and believes that her only option is to create a new family structure. Laurie suggests such an arrangement would “scar [their children] for life” where Carol thinks this scenario would be the option where her daughter is most likely to have a positive life. When Rick and Laurie reject her proposal Carol soon submits herself to a zombie tied up in the yard (in an overtly sexual/intimate manner) and is quickly consumed by the undead prisoner, leaving her young daughter alone in the world.
Kirkman establishes two things about his views of humanity through these situations. First, he establishes his views that monogamy is possibly the most deeply entrenched social norm of our culture, and second, that humans are inherently selfish and would choose death over loneliness even if it means leaving their own children to suffer out the apocalypse alone. Abandoned children is a extremely frequented subject within The Walking Dead.
Next, we see increased copulation between the characters. Many characters, if not for all of them of them, are having much, much, much, more sex then they did in their previous, pre-apocalyptic life.
Instead of using the common trope of increased conservatism in a dystopian climate, sexual interaction becomes much more liberal. Sex before marriage, gay sex, sex between different races, and between people of greatly varying ages becomes normal as the availability of sexual partners is limited. Monogamy still reigns, and reigns seemingly more powerful then ever before due to its endurance in such morbid conditions. If you lose your partner, to the undead or otherwise, there may be no other fish in the sea, so to speak. Therefore, you want to make sure you 1) have a partner and 2) that they are sufficiently pleased. Moreover, if one isn’t living sufficiently, they may as well be one of the zombies from whom the group is trying to protect themselves. Simply put, a zombie’s “life” is quite over. They can’t eat or sleep or love or have sex. Those in the community actively having lots of sex are those that remain furthest from the dead, in a psychological, existential sense. Sexual intimacy becomes the most readily available and effective form of comfort for the characters.
As the characters attempt to settle down into and inhabit multiple locations, they attempt to build a utopian society from the ground up. The many commune experiments are predicated on protecting the family unit and brining as many people together as possible in order to create more family units. Facilitating the ability to have sex and a family play a large part in the logic of building an ideal space in which to fundamentally exist. Much like Charles Fourier’s ideas of building a society that works with human nature instead of against it, Kirkman’s society encourages people to embrace their desire to have sex, as well as their instincts to kill. Mental stability seems to be found most frequently in the characters who have little problem shooting and killing zombies all day and who have a caring, active sexual partner to come home to at night. Finding, protecting, and maintaining a sexual partner becomes for many the raison d’etre.
Sex saves the lives of many in The Walking Dead. One of the most lovable characters in the series is the young Glen. From their time in the original camp Glen has had his eye on the attractive Carol who couples up with the strong and reliable Tyreese. After this coupling Glen loses his compassion, he loses his will to live. Kirkman and Adlard show many silent panels of Glen looking unsettled throughout the first three “camps” that the characters inhabit, alluding to a possible suicide or act of carelessness. Just when it seems Glen is about to see an early grave, Rick’s son Carl is accidentally shot and brought to a nearby farm home to a spiritual and knowledgeable vet, Hershel, and his young adult family. Hershel’s daughter Maggie sees the sombre Glen and inquires in a very frank manner as to his gloomy temperament, to which he replies, “everyone around me is pairing off … I don’t want to end up alone too.” In view of the situation, Maggie succinctly and pragmatically offers in response “…if that’s what your after, I’ll fuck you.” This terse conversation spurs possibly the most authentic and earnest romance of the entire series. The two become arguably the most psychologically stable couple in the book who kill zombies together during the day, and enjoy each other’s company at night. The two become self sufficient on their own, they have the ability to survive, but, they also want marriage, they want children and to do that they need a home and a community.
Observing sex in play actually also acts as a comfort to characters. When the characters realize that others around them are comfortable enough, (their immediate needs are met and they are physically safe) to have sex, they have hope and optimism for their own future, for their own visceral escape. They use sex as a way to distract themselves from their situation, to forget that the end of the world has already come. For example, the short lived character Donna walks in on Dale and Andrea having sex soon after the group has arrived at their first “utopia,” Willshire Estates. Although Donna initially exhibits an extremely conservative sentimentality, seeing this display of physicality between the elderly Dale and twenty-something Andrea, this display of human truly living, Donna is shown placid, contemplative, and left with some genuine hope. She says to her husband directly after “you know, I still don’t approve of those two, but Andrea is a grown woman and she can make her own decisions. It’s just nice to see people happy with all that’s going on. I’m happy for them.” She goes on to elaborate that, “[Dale and Andrea] both lost someone they loved… someone very close to them, it hit them hard, we saw that … but they eventually puled out of it. Seeing them together last night… they’re happy. Seeing them — knowing that they can put their lives back together, it gives me hope.”
Unfortunately this happiness is both short lived and unproductive. The next morning the newly happy Donna is careless in her inspection of the homes in the suburb. She joyfully looks around saying “This is going to be so fun. It’s going to be like one of those home shows but better!” Almost immediately after this display, the left side of her face is torn off by a stealthy zombie. In this scenario we see Dale and Andrea using sex to cope with their tragedy, but when one moves past simply coping in this world, to full fledge optimism as Donna has post-voyeurism, they quickly die. Kirkman’s work seems a bit formulaic in this sense. You can often tell when someone is going to die because things seem to be going too well for themselves, or more so, when they get ahead, when they gain too much hope and reflect old-world optimism, it usually indicates that Kirkman is getting ready to kill them off. Often, the character to die is the character who is the most enthusiastic about the settlement and who views this habitat as their potential new utopia. We see repeated throughout the narrative that a character will become too complacent, and their lack of fear and awareness gets them killed. Or worse, their disregard gets their partner killed. I’ll speak more to this trend later when I dwell on the groups habitats.
As I have been explaining the main use of copulation in this narrative is for coping. It is near impossible for the characters to deal with the overwhelming fear they feel and therefore they use sex as their main coping mechanism. Sex is one of the only pleasures left that is completely free and attainable in this dystopian future. This is highlighted by Glen and Maggie in two of my favorite panels in the whole comic. The reader is provided with a conversation between the recently widowed Alan and Rick while watching Maggie and Glen sneak off hand in hand to have sex. In the two panels Alan says “I know what you’re saying Rick it’s just hard. Everything is just hard” to which Rick replies “I know, nothings easy anymore. Nothing.” This conversation when contrasted with these two panels quickly implies that actually, even at the end of the world there is one thing that is still simple, and in many ways it is even simpler. Sex and coupling is presented as available to everyone in this world: young or old, gay or straight, able or disabled. Even if you can’t be a protector, you can still be a sexual partner and a confidant. It becomes an easy way for the characters to escape the drudgery of their lives which are full of death (or undeath, depending on your definition). Not only is sex an access to pleasure, of which there hasn’t been much in their lives recently, but it reminds them that they are not yet completely dead themselves. This sounds a bit dramatic, as what would make you feel more alive then being surrounded by zombies? But when one is simply surviving instead of LIVING, the line between living and dead begins to blur. Rick meditates on this topic upon being demoted from his position as leader after he is seen killing in cold blood Rick lectures his group saying:
“The second we put a bullet in the head of one of those undead monsters — the moment one of us drove a hammer into one of their faces — or cut a head off. We became what we are! And that’s just it. THAT’S what it comes down to. You people don’t know what we are! We’re surrounded by the DEAD. We’re among them — and when we finally give up we become them! We’re living on borrowed time here. Every minute of our life is a minute we steal from them! You see them out there. You KNOW that when we die — we become them. You think we hide behind walls to protect us from the walking dead? Don’t you get it? We ARE the walking dead! WE are the walking dead.” -Vol 5
This is when we get into the real thesis of Kirkman’s work, where out of these 1000s of pages we can see what he is trying to get at. To kill or not kill in this world is a complicated matter, ethically more so in contradistinction to the values of the old world, where the case might be made that murder is much more black and white. What is much more complicated in Kirkman’s new world is the choice to live or die. And if you choose the former are you living or just surviving on borrowed time? Furthermore, it allows us to pull away again. To look at ourselves. In case the reader forgets the self-reflective aspect of dystopian fiction, Kirkman has left a little reminder on the back of the book. It asks the reader: “When is the last time any of us really worked to get something that we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really needed something that we wanted? After following these questions up with a description of the world the characters are living in he concludes “in a world ruined by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”
We. Not they. Kirkman is looking out at us in society through Rick’s eyes, in a manner of speaking. Telling us personally that WE, so unconscious of our existence as a society, WE, as capitalistic media drones, we are the walking dead.
And so we’re brought to the last C that comprises my talk. In this dystopian landscape, “survival of the fittest” is the rule of the day, particularly in regards to the sexual survival of the human species. Those who show their desirability not only survive, but survive in order to copulate, and every established relationship is thus at risk from competitive corruption by remaining survivors. When an eligible bachelor or bachelorette makes him/herself available in the time of the zombie apocalypse there is no time for shame. Against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, bachelors and bachelorettes makes themselves readily available to each other almost entirely without any shame that might have mitigated the progress of socio-sexual play before the fall of civilization.
People establish very quickly what they have to offer and their willingness to have sex in a timely and efficient manner. What arises is a sexual competition that, directly or indirectly, leads to a variety of characters deaths. Carol’s eventual death is a result of the combative and militaristic Michonne effectively “stealing” Tyreese from Carol in a sexual affair, and Rick’s best friend Shane’s death comes as a result of Shane’s jealousy and failure to retain the companionship of Rick’s wife, Lori. The dynamics of sexual conquest and deprivation become a lot more complicated as the series progresses. When first at the abandoned prison (a major settlement and attempt at utopia), Rick offers an edict to the community “you kill you die,” in what Rick perceives as a much needed moral compass. He soon realizes, however, when he has to start killing the living as a matter of survival that things are not so black and white. It is soon after this that we start to meet other characters in competitor communities, who also share Rick’s utopian impulse but not his specific ethical design for arriving at that utopia.
It is because of these relationships, this coupling and copulation for the sake of coping in the eyes of competition that the characters seek out the constructs of their previous society. It is because of all these factors that Rick continues to set out and establish a utopian setting for his group of survivors.
The group moves from location to location in an attempt to establish some sense of permanency in the face of adversity. Settling in with the intention to stay indefinitely, Rick’s group consistently comes up aganist the threat of not only the zombie populace but of competition with living humanity, and this sends the group packing in every scenario. By the time they reach Hershel’s farm, the third settlement on their journey, most of the survivors have coupled up with five couples admitting they are “in love.” Shortly before his infidelity, Tyrese proclaims to Carol: “I’m so glad I found you… Everything is perfect.” As established in Kirkman’s grand scheme for the narrative, this display of confidence and optimism places Tyreese in a dangerous, sobering territory suspect to horrors beyond expectations. And these horrors do come to him inside the prison, the place he believes will be his personal utopia with both his daughter and Carol supposedly safe and sound. In a similar set-up, upon discovering the prison Rick exclaims to the group: “It’s perfect. We’re home,” and well… I’ll just let you guess how well that goes for him.
Pairings like Rick and Lori, or Glen and Maggie, are looking for a place where they can properly raise not just existing children but children they want to bring into the world. The ongoing competition against and within the community is a competition is for space, for food, for weapons, but more importantly for the creation of a habitat where monogamy and reproduction can thrive; without love, without sex, without companionship, the characters’ existence would mirror that of the walking dead.
Once these basic needs are met, however, Rick’s need and drive to establish a community grows beyond its initial design. He ruins his groups chance for safety because he needs to keep expanding the community, much to the reluctance of everyone already involved. His safety in the prison has given him an increased sense of optimism, and despite the fact that he has a partner and a baby on the way, he risks everything when he sees evidence of another group of survivors, reasoning that “the idea of meeting other survivors has me more than a little excited.” Despite having everything one could ask for in this struggling new society Rick can’t stop striving for more.
The utopian impulse keeps Rick moving forward. He discovers a fully functioning town which serves as a working Utopia for some involved. Unlike himself, though, it’s leader is no self-styled hero, at least not in the sense that defines Rick. The town is run by a power-hungry, murdering rapist and implied necrophiliac incestuous child molester. Let’s face it. You don’t really get many villains far worse than that criteria. The meeting of these two societies marks the moment when both the reader and Rick realize that the walking dead is by no means the definitive enemy to the group’s survival and utopian goals.
The man who runs this town calls himself the “Governor,” and he does not share Rick’s optimism for this new world. The Governor insist that: “You gotta keep people occupied, or they’ll turn on you. Reading and fucking will only keep people busy for so long. Eventually there’s got to be something else. Hence our little sporting event here” (ch 5). What the Governor is referring to here is the modern Colosseum he has built where two living people engage in theatrical, hyper-violent competition with each other while surrounded by the chained living dead, in a sort of post-apocalyptic shades of the classic Roman Empire. In a grim reflection of Rick’s earlier assessment of humanity and its undead counterpart, The Governor says of the undead “I almost admire them. The thing you have to realize is that they’re just us — they’re no different. They want what they want. They take what they want, and after they get what they want — they’re only content for the briefest span on time. Then they want more” (ch 5).
The Governor continues to murder and rape his way to his goals, personally abandoning any of the old-world standards of restraint or virtue, while publicly serving as authority figure who enforces the makeshift laws in the community of Woodsbury. When the Governor walks through town the reader can see how people try to return to their normal lives, even the homeless “bums” attempting to go back to being bums despite the fact that food and shelter are free and easily obtainable.
A Better Life?
All these 4 cs: coupling, copulation, coping, and competition, allow many of the characters to become a completely different and often better people then they were before. Or at least a person they like. Carol for example says to Laurie upon arriving at the prison “I’ve almost got things BETTER now — Tyrese is better than my husband EVER was … I mean look around you. Look at this place. We could have it all here. We could rebuild — make a new life.” This rhetoric never seems to die down for the characters of The Walking Dead. No matter how many settlements fail, no matter how many group members they lose to the shambling hordes, infighting, or outside competition, the only way to carry on and keep living is to hope that this is the time it may work out. Otherwise, as Rick says, you are the walking dead.
The most moving example of this is Andrea, one of the only characters who remains from the first chapters of the story up to present day. She tells Rick,
“Rick listen… When Amy and I were living in the RV with Dale… before you even made it to the camp, I realized my parents were probably dead. That was hard. Then I lost Amy. I felt so alone it drove me into Dale’s arms, and I fell in love with him. Then Donna died, followed by Allen, and Dale and I were left to raise Ben and Billy. I had a family… I’m Twenty-six years old. Over the course of a year I inherited a family – I grew up – I loved the women I became and the life I had. And now it’s all gone. I’m all alone and all I can think about is how I’m that girl again, the girl I was… the one I didn’t like.”
During her sexual attachment with Dale, Andrea implicitly displays her refusal to recede into some existential infancy; her ability to find in Dale a reason to keep living marks her and those like her as distinct from the undead mimicry of those in the Woodbury community. Despite being surrounded by death and decay constantly, having no luxuries and being constantly uprooted, Andrea has more attachment to her post-apocalypse life. She had all the things she didn’t have in normal society. Including the chance to fall deeply in love with a man who was over 20 years her senior. Once that is all taken away from her, she is left with nothing. Despite the fact that, at this point in the narrative, she finds herself in the community that is by far the most utopian of all the places they have lived, she is back to the point of hating herself.
I could go on at length with virtually hundreds of specific examples of why sex is the driving force behind Kirkman’s ongoing story. Because it really does come up that often (no pun intended… well, maybe). This spurs a variety of questions as to how primary this force really is in our society, how much it effects our day-to-day interactions, and how much our movement towards monogamy and cohabitation is a reflection of a very primal and primitive desire to survive in the face of the other.
These zombie narratives allow readers or viewers or players to imagine something as liberating as it is unimaginable: a world without capitalism, without law, without rules, without borders. This dystopian world for many invokes a new American dream. The kind of world where we can be an entirely different person. Where we can ask what parts of society do we value? In Kirkman’s eyes the answer is human contact, human experience, love, family, and community. He then asks the much more deeply problematic question of what parts of being an animal do we value? How much of our existence is as caught up in the desire to kill? To dominate? To… fuck?
Does the hysteria over the zombie narrative in our society demonstrate that there is a deep-seeded desire for justified, thoughtful violence? Allowing us to play out the fantasy in which we embrace our violent instincts and feel no shame over it? For many characters within The Walking Dead, this post-apocalyptic existence is in many ways an improvement over their previous lives, as it allows them to be the person they always wanted to be. A person they like. They have the opportunity to transcend their imposed roles within the order wrought by capitalism. A gym teacher becomes a soldier, a policeman becomes a leader, a lawyer becomes the lone warrior, a young girl is blessed with her fantasy family without ever giving birth, a prisoner becomes a farmer, a thief – a husband. Most importantly, this narrative allows us as readers to live out a type of postmodern fantasy in which we can pretend, even for one second, that we are able to once again identify our selves and our enemies by splitting society into two. That we can imagine the simplicity of dividing ourselves into the simple categories of us or them, living or dead.