Just started on season four of The Walking Dead and loving it. It’s grimdark without the fantasy – anyone can die at any time in any number of horrible ways (except Rick Grimes. Like Tyrion Lannister, crafty ol’ Rick has made himself unkilloffable).
I spent the first half of 2014 playing The Last of Us – the best-scripted, utterly compelling and most beautifully rendered gore-soaked head-smashing game I have ever played. Last summer, my son and I spent weeks on Project Zomboid, fortifying our-blood soaked suburban house and making nerve-wracking sorties into town in search of carpentry books. And I recently iPlayered I Am Legend, the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson which helped kick-start the whole post-apocalypse zombie virus genre.
Why do we love the zombies so much? Part of it is the post-apocalyptic thing. Driving down an empty motorway, taking your pick of abandoned cars, pushing a trolley through a deserted supermarket and helping yourself to whatever loot your fancy from your neighbour’s houses – what’s not to love?
There is also something utterly compelling about trying to survive in a world without wi-fi, a police force, government, mains water, electricity, fresh food and antibiotics. Like winning the Lottery, we all have plans on how we’d manage it (mine involves looting the nearby solar panel farm and harvesting wild raspberries).
But what’s the other, deeper, reason we love our zombies? It’s because we can kill them, and it’s good to kill. The quick blast of endorphins you get when you pull off a perfect headshot on Call of Duty, the sense of achievement at running over half a dozen gang members in Grand Theft Auto, right down to the simple pleasure of clearing the screen in Space Invaders (one for us ancient gamers there).
But it is better when it is actual people we are killing – killing them without consequences.
Zombies aren’t strange aliens – they were once people, like us. They look like us. For a lot of story plots, we knew and loved them. To kill them, you have to bash or blow their brains out. How satisfying is that? You haven’t been able to get away with it for a few thousand years, but as a race, what we really like to do is kill other members of our race.
At one time we did this anyway, as we fought for land and spoils. Then we became civilised, and had to get our killing kicks via the media – books and films. For a while, ‘Red Indians’ were fair game (American films) and Zulus (British films). In the 1940s and 50s, it was safe – desirable even – to wipe out as many Nazis as possible.
But the wholesale killing of actual people isn’t the done thing anymore, and while we have flirted with killing aliens it just isn’t the same. We want to decimate things that look like us.
The morals are simple – killing the zombies is not only guilt-free, it is laudable. If you don’t kill the zombie, it will kill you. Not only that, if it kills you, you become a zombie as well. You have a duty to bash the rotting brains out of every zombie you see. There is no zombie police, no Crown Prosecution Service deciding whether to take you to court. You did the Right Thing. And even if you didn’t, who’s gonna prosecute you anyway?
Is is a bad thing to feed our blood lust like this? Is this just a modern way of shooting an arrow at a straw-filled dummy? I reckon so. In the meantime, I’m off to B&Q to stock up on axes and baseball bats.