Speaking of Brian Wilson, the folks behind the television adaptation of The Walking Dead commissioned a cover of his song, “Love and Mercy,” specially for an episode of the show. This is the same brain-trust that opened recently on a tribute to David Lynch’s ear-in-the-grass scene from Blue Velvet, an homage so obvious it had me giggling incredulously in my seat. I began the series with Robert Kirkman’s jaw-dropping graphic novels, and they were so damn good (seriously, so damn good), that I didn’t really want to watch a television adaptation — I figured it would just be cheap/effective tension tricks and cliffhangers to sell advertising. It’s a rare thing, and don’t tell anyone I told you this, but every once in a while, I am in fact, wrong.
The acting, the writing, the loving but not slavish handling of the source material, all of it is top, top notch. More than anything, they understood the thesis of the series, which is the thesis of all zombie movies stretching back to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead: nothing actually changes in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, it’s just that death has now been given form. For us pampered, bovine Americans, droning the days away in whatever combination of work and escapist fantasy we prefer, the specter of our own mortality is this impossible thing. We lock that awful knowledge in a room, refuse to acknowledge we’ve done so, then pretend it doesn’t exist. Is it any wonder then, that when it bursts out, as it must, we are woefully unprepared to face it?
Death in a zombie apocalypse is just another part of life, the same way it was for our ancestors, the same way it is for people in less developed parts of the world. It’s always there, and every day could be the day we slip and it snatches us down. Done correctly, zombies are nothing more than shambling, grotesque, excellently articulated metaphors. They’re the doom that stumbles along next to us, clutching vainly at our ankles; the clumsy, absurd half-wit, that despite all our best efforts, will someday eat us alive. It’s always there, always waiting, but better that it’s part of the scenery, moaning softly where we can see it, than forgotten in the closet, pawing at an unlocked door. Death comes for us all in the end, sure as shit, but it’s not necromancy and it’s not evil, it’s just a part of life — and life, my friend, is beautiful.
“So love and mercy to you and your friends tonight…”