Like millions of Americans, I faithfully watched every episode of AMC’s hit series, “The Walking Dead.” While a zombie apocalypse seems far fetched, I wondered if there were lessons that could be drawn from “The Walking Dead” and applied to a real life disaster and societal breakdown.
For those who missed Season 1 of “The Walking Dead,” this article contains some spoilers. A little background on the show is in order. Basically, in “The Walking Dead,” a hospitalized lawman named Rick Grimes wakes from a coma to find that the world was taken over by Zombies while he was sleeping. He struggles to survive, reunite with his family, and help them survive. Once Rick finds his wife (Lori) and son (Carl) with a small group of survivors, they collectively try to stay alive and find help in the chaos.
Here are seven lessons to draw from watching “The Living Dead” on AMC:
1. Get A Kit. The Federal Emergency Management Agency website, Ready.gov, recommends that every American get a kit of emergency supplies ready. Indeed, nearly every character on “The Living Dead” is using at least some of the survival equipment and supplies that were previously stockpiled in their home, vehicle, or employer. When the survivors run low of supplies, they are forced to hunt, fish, and forage for new resources. The need for supplies exposes the survivors to roving bands of Zombies and sometimes potentially dangerous human competitors. Obviously, the more food, water, camping gear, tools, automotive spare parts, weapons, ammunition, and fishing gear that you have on hand, the less you have to go get from Zombie territory.
2. Make A Plan. Ready.gov also recommends thatfamilies have an emergency plan in place. Families need to have emergency contacts, evacuation plans, and rendezvous locations set up before a disaster takes place. Much of the drama in “The Living Dead” stems from the quest to find family and a safe place. Early in the series, when Rick leaves town to look for his family while newfound friends (a survivor named Morgan and his son James) stay behind to dispatch their wife and mother who has become an undead walker. Before the lawman leaves, they agree on procedures to communicate via police radios so that they can re-unite. Later when the survivor camp moves, Rick leaves a note behind to communicate the groups next destination. In real life, disasters provide enough drama and communications plans exist to reduce the amount of drama.
3. Maintain Your Car. In “The Walking Dead,” the character of Dale is an old man with an old RV. He has enviable living quarters and transportation, but the decrepit RV is not 100% reliable and needs belts, hoses, and other parts. In a disaster or mass evacuation, an unreliable vehicle can be a matter of life and death. Since you never know when you might need to evacuate in your vehicle, you need to get your vehicle ready for an emergency evacuation, keep it in good running order, and keep it reasonably fueled up. For long term survival scenarios, a stockpile of common spare parts and tools is also a good idea.
4. Get Along With People. In a survival situation, humanity needs to work together. In “The Walking Dead,” very bad things happen to people who can not get along with others due to racism, sexism, and other personal issues and neuroses. In episode 2, the racist extremist character, Merle, bullied an African-American character, got into an altercation with Rick and was beaten, handcuffed to a pipe, and ultimately accidently abandoned by the survivors. In a later episode, when the survivors return to Atlanta in a try to rescue Merle, they find that he had to cut his own hand off in order to survive and escape the Zombie hordes. An abusive husband character, Ed was beaten by Shane and became easy prey for Zombies. In a survival situation, you have to follow leadership and adhere to group norms unless the group is doing something immoral or that puts you at risk.
5. Postpone Romance For Better Times. A love triangle conflict between the hero, Rick, his wife Lori, and his best friend Shane Walsh simmers throughout the first season of “The Walking Dead” and could blow apart the group of survivors in a future season. While the romance began naturally during trying times when Shane and Lori both thought Rick was dead and ended upon Rick’s return, a Zombie Apocalypse is certainly no time to start up a new romance.
6. Fortify and Guard Your Position. In Episode 4, the survivor camp was attacked by zombies while Rick and several other characters were in Atlanta trying to rescue Merle, retrieve an abandoned bag of guns and ammunition, and Rick’s police radio. The survivor’s who remained in camp were not in a good defensive position. Several survivors were off by themselves in various parts of the camp and the bulk of the survivors were relaxing by a campfire. If they had “circled the wagons,” been alert and on guard, and built barricades to keep zombies out, the survivors in the camp would have had a better chance of escaping without injury. In a survival situation, you can’t relax and let down your guard or you and your family will be vulnerable to looters and other threats.
7. Value Stealthy Weapons. Every episode of “The Walking Dead” has shown the value to quieter, stealthier, weapons. Since the loud noise of gun shots attracts walkers (as the zombies are called), the survivors use a crossbow, bow & arrow, pick axes, shovels, and other hand-to-hand combat weapons in the show. As a bonus, arrows and crossbow bolts can be re-used, while ammunition for firearms is a far more finite resource. In a real life societal breakdown, survivors may well have to hide from rioters, looters, and other criminals. Survivors who have to lay low may not want the kind of attention that gunfire may bring. Your survival knife might just come in handy if there is any sort of apocalypse..
“The Walking Dead” is a very well done show. The problems of the ever yammering Walker clan on ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” certainly pale in comparison to those of people caught in the middle of a full-fledged zombie apocalypse. While the zombie apocalypse shown in “The Walking Dead” is far-fetched and scientifically impossible, the show does make you think about how to prepare for a deadly epidemic, societal breakdown, and even The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). While you may never face zombies, in the real world, your family should be prepared for hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, and acts of crime or terrorism.
Federal Emergency Management Agency website. www.Ready.gov
American Movie Classics webpage for “The Walking Dead”: