The Walking Dead, a staple of the AMC cable channel’s Sunday-night lineup since Halloween of 2010, returns for the second half of its sixth season this Valentine’s Day. The zombie apocalypse isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the world’s most commercialized holiday, but if you’ve ever disappointed a significant other on February 14, you already know what the end of the world looks like.
I started watching The Walking Dead in the fall of 2012 by streaming the first and second seasons on Netflix. It was the first time I’d ever “binged” on a TV series, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was suddenly obsessed with this particular one. It’s filmed in Georgia, where I was born and raised, and was set in and around Atlanta until halfway through season five, so the first two seasons made me homesick for magnolia trees and southern accents. But when home is sick — in this case because of an airborne virus that reanimates corpses and compels them to attack the living — is nostalgia really a prime factor? The Walking Dead does indulge my narcissistic fantasy that Atlanta couldn’t survive without me after I moved to Chicago in 2003, but it also proves Thomas Wolfe was right — you can’t go home again, mainly because air travel no longer exists and I-75 is now backed up with more brain-dead drivers than ever before.
In the fall of 2013 my girlfriend and I broke up after five years, which is when it hit me: Our relationship had been undead. By 2012 its vital signs were gone, but it continued to lumber forward and cause pain, just like a zombie or the Republican Party. We’re on friendly terms once again, but maybe that’s just because she no longer has to hear me talk about The Walking Dead and I no longer have to watch NCIS as she falls asleep in my lap, the remote control tragically, tauntingly just out of reach.
In case you haven’t seen The Walking Dead, there’s no TV in the zombie apocalypse. Life itself is now one long episode of Survivor, and mankind can only pass down its memories of the things it holds most dear, like all ten seasons of The Real Housewives of Orange County, through oral traditions. In the long run it’s okay if future generations won’t know that Bravo, the home of the Real Housewives franchise, started out as a channel showcasing foreign films, Broadway plays, and classical concerts — it’s hard enough for current generations to remember that.
Putting aside my own epiphany — which surely would’ve added a welcome splash of pop psychology, or at least pop-culture psychology, to the couples-counseling sessions I attended with my ex — I think the main reason why The Walking Dead has connected with millions of viewers since 2010 is because it’s an allegory for the Great Recession: the life you once knew is gone and isn’t coming back, so you’d better get used to it. Of course in real life it was the Internet, not a mutating virus, that killed people’s livelihoods by, say, making the classified ads in newspapers free via Craigslist, or by making music easy to download or stream for free, or by making shows like The Walking Dead available on iTunes six hours after new episodes air on AMC, lessening the need for expensive cable packages. The Internet can’t turn you into a zombie, but if you’ve ever sat next to mouth-breathers on public transportation and watched them “like” photos of coffee and beer on Facebook and Instagram, you might think otherwise.
The end of the world, according to The Walking Dead, means no more social media. But it also means no more social pressure to care about personal hygiene. Plus, all previous financial debts are null and void — your dream house may be uninhabitable now, but you no longer have to pay the second mortgage on that house, so stop being so negative. Dating is also easier in the zombie apocalypse; women aren’t looking for a man with a good job anymore, although if you’re a doctor, you’re still going to be a catch.
There are various relationships, courtships, and flirtations laced throughout the six seasons of The Walking Dead: Rick and Lori, Lori and Shane, Abraham and Rosita, Abraham and Sasha, Glenn and Maggie, Glenn and a conveniently placed Dumpster, and so on. Rick, the series’s protagonist, began his romantic pursuit of Jessie, a mother of two in our heroes’ new home of Alexandria, Virginia, by killing her abusive husband at the end of season five. It’s not the most traditional way of saying, “Will you be my valentine?” but I imagine a Whitman’s Sampler would be hard to come by after Judgment Day.
Jessie is pretty and kind and levelheaded, so it’s understandable that Rick would be smitten, but she’s also the gated community’s resident hairdresser, and the fact that she gave her younger son the most unfortunate haircut we’ve seen so far in the zombie apocalypse should be giving Rick pause. Daryl, a motorcycle-riding, crossbow-carrying fan favorite, went from a short, scraggly trailer-park ‘do in season one to a sassy rock-star coif, complete with auburn highlights, sometime around season three — shouldn’t he be the one starting his own salon in Alexandria?
We probably won’t see the grand opening of Daryl’s Chop Shop in tonight’s midseason premiere, but I’ll still be watching — tomorrow, that is, on iTunes. I’m not proud that, like many others, I’m helping the Internet devour the cable industry, but just like in a relationship, it can be difficult to hold onto your individuality and standards in today’s world. Sometimes you just want to join the herd of zombies and chow down on instant gratification.