These fictional visions of End Times—zombies, an irradiated techno-dystopia, encroaching frozen wastes—are all spaces in which to achieve catharsis by safely exploring the anxieties of a post-social world without having to meaningfully engage with any of our current behaviours which are contributing to bringing it about in the real world—our rapidly dwindling resources and rising seas. Instead we are placated.
Just as thrill rides are a nonthreatening way for us to confront our mortality in doses small enough for us to cope with, extreme dystopian narratives work as a release valve for our pent-up fears about the future world we are leaving our descendants (Look at these Walking Dead people, it’s not so bad, they found some pudding). These kinds of fictions are no doubt vastly less appealing to anyone who has ever had to actually live through a real natural or ecological disaster, military incursion, displacement or act of terrorism. They are thrilling only if your life has never been threatened in actuality. When that isn’t the case, they provide a pleasurable venting of anxieties in a pretend confrontation with our own demise.
The unsubtle hint of The Walking Dead is that it’s not the ceaseless hordes of infected who are the dead men and women walking, but the few people left alive, each barely clinging on before inevitably succumbing to being consumed (from the show’s perspective, in preferably the most inventively gruesome way possible. If only that much thought went into the plot!), almost never before the last remnants of their humanity have been wretched away from them in brutalizing and nihilistically extreme situations designed to elicit maximum despair.
As a result, the overwhelming feeling that comes from watching The Walking Dead, more intensely than any other vision of global collapse, is one of exhaustion and stasis at seeing nothing more than staving off the inevitable.