"The Walking Dead" explores surviving abuse together

This is exactly what the zombies (walkers) represent in “The Walking Dead,” and it’s what fills us with dread. Family, friends, neighbors—people who were once good and loving transform into monsters that want to consume other people. This is what happens in an abusive relationship, and it’s probably why abuse is a thread that runs through the show, both in subtext and in the lives of the characters—Carol, Daryl, and now Jessie.

Theirs is a haunting, but very real, picture of what it’s like to be abused. The abuser is so empty of life, of a sense of himself (or herself), that he has to suck the life out of the person he says he loves. Abusers control their victims with fear and consume every aspect of their lives so they aren’t even themselves anymore. They become food to feed the abuser. They get to the point that they can’t even relax around regular people in everyday settings. They’re always on guard, living in fear, their life dictated, even remotely, by the abuser and his unpredictable rage.

So many people who have been abused can testify to this sense of losing themselves, as if they don’t even exist any longer. They can’t develop relationships with other people, make plans for the future, dream, or enjoy life. They can’t even delight in the little things, the innocent moments that happen every day, because they’re always looking over their shoulder, always living in fear.

They never know what will set the abuser off, what will bring the hand across their face or yelling, name-calling, and explosive rage.