When the tv show The Walking Dead made its debut on cable tv, I was a sophomore in high school on Halloween night.
A heavy advertisement campaign for the show meant I was aware of its impending premiere. My fascination with horror lent me enough intrigue with the zombie drama that I recorded it.
I remember the first season of this show well.
The Walking Dead disturbed me beyond what I thought possible. The ruins of humanity brought about by their own undead hands. Survivors getting eaten alive, entrails ripped from their torsos. The imagery made me sick and the concept terrified me.
My mornings during the winter of The Walking Dead started hours before the sun rose. As a swimmer, I would be up and out of the door into the bitter cold and darkness before 5 AM.
I can recall the anxiety I would feel, wresting myself from slumber, padding to the main floor of my home. My eyes would dart to the windows, anticipating a morbid almost-human waiting for me to spot it so that it may come and devour me alive. I would collect my keys in a hurry and hold my breath when hurrying to my car in the garage.
The Walking Dead premiered ten years ago. I no longer watch it, nor do I fear the concept of zombie apocalypses as I did when I was younger.
This show’s fear factor, taken at face value, scares the young minds that watch it. The horror presented plain affected me as War of the Worlds did years before. As impossible as these realities were, they dominated my thoughts when I was fresh from viewing them. My dreams would devolve into nightmares with alien invaders or zombies taking center stage.
I think this fear, looking back on it now, is an innocent sort. You grow up and you witness a lot of the real grit of the earth. The kind that is able to shift a fear like zombies into a fictional thrill. What once touched me as a teenager does not work well to hold my attention as an adult. I miss those innocent fears. The fantasy of them.
What scares us as we grow older? I mean what really scares us? Even the statistical anomalies of getting murdered or kidnapped have little bearing on my anxieties nowadays. No, growing up brings with it a long list of things to replace these horrors.
So long, zombie nightmares.
I went back to watch that first season of The Walking Dead. As a horror show, this one does well in targeting a big fear for us humans. As a young person, this fear is overshadowed by the sheer terror of zombies. You must revisit the series again at a later time to glean that more subtle anxiety this show is targeting.
It’s that fear of total isolation that hits me this time. Watching the main character stagger through the hospital alone hits you with despair. No longer am I stricken with intense fear when he encounters the zombies. An air of grief and sympathy take the spot once held by anxiety. All he’s ever known, gone in an instant.
This is the trigger on the gun. Eyes, instead of widening, downturn at the thought. And to think I once lost sleep over the zombies.
Here is a revelation I made since becoming an adult: uncertainty is a true thing of horror. Regardless of the root cause, be that zombies or aliens or a rocky relationship, the fear is the same. We are creatures that crave predictability. The thought of losing that essence of control is a far more potent poison for anxiety.
I touched on this once before in my writing. My bad dreams are not because of the threat of man-eaters or other similar catastrophes. It’s the loss of control and anticipation that forces me up from the depths of unconsciousness. That fear was the same back when I was a kid but rooted in the non real.
That fear is now very real.
So, what am I most afraid of? Regret. Making the wrong choice. Losing control. Uncertainty.
The one difference between today and the world you see in The Walking Dead? Not much beyond the zombie thing. Same problems, slightly different world.
That’s what makes it scary.
I kind of miss the preoccupation with the idea of zombies as the biggest threat to my life. At least then I could remind myself that was silly. Not so much anymore. Still, the show’s a good time.
I recommend it to anyone old enough to see the tropes for what they are.