We live in uncertain times. We wonder about the future, about how we got where we are and what will happen next. How will we survive? How will we protect our families from the onslaught? We debate building walls to keep out people who some of us believe are out to destroy us. Others think walls aren’t going to stop the onslaught, that we have to work with our neighbors, that we must coordinate with them to build a brighter world not just for our children, but for their children as well. For all of us.
This scenario may sound like America, or Britain, or many countries in Europe, but when I wrote that I was writing from the point of view of a member of Rick’s “family” in the AMC series The Walking Dead. Rick is a former lawman who wakes up in a world that has turned upside down. He finds himself confronted with an enemy who looks just like him, a human-like figure who relentlessly stumbles towards him, who looks like him but is not like him.
The zombies are an obvious enemy in the show, in this new world, but they are not the only ones. There are others, less obvious, other humans who are not walking dead. It is from these that Rick discovers he must protect himself, must protect his family by building walls and hiding behind them. By attacking and killing the others because they want to attack and kill him.
It is a metaphor for our time, and shows like this have telegraphed what America has become. We fear the other. We fear not only the ones who would come into our country to destroy us, but also those who are already here, those living among us. We fear “liberals” and we fear “conservatives.” We fear “foreigners” and “immigrants” who come here to steal our jobs, to take away our lives. We fear the obvious other, and we fear the ones who are not so obvious, the ones who live next door.
The Walking Dead is not the only show to delve into this metaphor. Lost, too, dealt with a fear of the other. In it we followed the immigrants, the foreigners who arrived on the island as unwelcome visitors. But the visitors are us, the viewer, and those who inhabit the island already are called “the others.” To us, those who came here, they are the enemy. But to the others, we are the enemy. Jack and his “family” fight to survive in this strange new world where one group is pitted against another. The others, too, fight for their survival, fight to maintain their own borders, fight to keep these newcomers, these foreigners, from destroying what they hold dear, their home, their land.
The real world is never quite so black and white as it appears on television, of course. In the real world we are all humans, and we must all learn to live together on this little planet or none of us may survive. Perhaps one lesson to learn from these television shows is what happens to the ones with whom the viewer identifies: the survivors of the crash in Lost, Rick’s “family” on TWD. It is not only the others who die when “we” fight “them.” We lose people, too, and often those losses are hard. In Lost there were ultimately only six survivors of the plane crash that started the show. (Leaving out the final episode in which we learn that none of them may have survived at all.) On the Walking Dead, the camp that Rick takes over in the first season is full of people: women, children, fathers, wives, sisters, brothers, friends, families all struggling to survive the strange new world. Now, in the seventh season, there are less than a dozen survivors. Rick and his son, Carl, are the only ones who have managed to make it through from the beginning.
I don’t watch The Walking Dead anymore because I like to think that humanity is not that dark, that humanity can find a way to survive the anger and the fear and the hatred. I believe we can put aside our fear of the other, our anger at their intrusion, put aside the things that make us different, and instead look to the things that make us the same, our similar humanity, our love of living, our love of liberty. In order to survive—all of us, not just a handful—we must put aside our differences and find strength in the things that bind us together. We must put down our weapons and stop fighting, stop blaming, stop building walls and start building bridges. Not only with the outside world but with those who live inside our walls as well, inside our own houses.
Otherwise we all become the other. And in so doing we all may one day become the walking dead.