‘The Walking Dead’ and life
by Suzanne Jurva
If only life could be so neatly packaged like episodes and seasons of a television series. The summer my son Alex turned 13, our private apocalypse hit and we were raptured and thrown into another world. We thought we were happy, suburban Los Angelenos but an opportunity came to move our family to another state and the transition time was perfect with Alex starting high school.
We all had good survival skills; but Alex had great skills, I thought, since he had just survived middle school and a growth spurt that was nothing less than scary to watch. Starting a high school in Georgia wouldn’t really be different than starting high school in the L.A. area, right? The film business was growing in Atlanta and the number of possibilities for work seemed equal to L.A. so we left in August and began our new Southern life.
Around October I woke up from my moving coma and realized my son no longer spoke to me, or anyone. He had transformed into a sullen teenager who now brought home a 30 % in English on his first report card. He was out in the wilderness by himself where nothing mattered.
That is until we found something dead. I mentioned to Alex that I heard a graphic novel, The Walking Dead, was turned into a television series and it could be really good based on the names attached to the project. Making a suggestion to watch this unknown show was a big risk: If it was bad, or childish, my kid would be lost to me forever, kind of like Sophia in the first year of the series. But, I took the risk. Kind of like Rick Grimes, the main character and peaceful moral leader of the group. “Let’s watch it ok?” I said, “It’s filmed here in Atlanta so if nothing else we can see if we recognize any landmarks.”
From the first notes of the eery opening music, I was intrigued. But was Alex? “Wow,” I said. ”Can you shut up?” he said. “Yes, I can.” “Really, I want to watch this,” he said annoyingly. Our first conversation in months.
And, thus started our television/life odyssey in Season One of The Walking Dead. I could sit with Alex and watch, but could not talk.
After the mid-season break, I became a little like Darryl Dixon and got out my heavy artillery and introduced spaghetti and meatball dinner (Did I know that Hershel would say spaghetti Tuesday would be on Wednesday a season later? I looked like a genius!) to extend the time together. At this point, all we had was The Walking Dead, but we had something.
Second season I said let’s eat and talk during the repeat episode. So we did and we talked about the characters and what motivated them. Did he notice that the characters who tried to go it alone did not fare so well? Could this be a social commentary on rugged individualism in America?
“Quit sounding like an English teacher. And, why do you think you know any of this anyway?” (The realization hit me that my son had no idea that I worked in the industry as a feature film development executive and head of research at DreamWorks and now as an independent producer of everything from documentaries to large format Imax films was almost as shocking as Shane dying to me).
Zombie School was coming up and maybe Alex could be a “walker extra” if he stopped eating pasta. No, baseball would interfere with his acting debut but we were forging a conversation about the importance of community and relationships and some times in life, or the Zombie Apocalypse, you have to form a new community.
During Alex’s senior year and Season Three, we argued about the human characters’ outer conflict of trying to stay alive and their internal conflicts, which often times were the greater enemy. Was Rick being too soft as a leader and did he represent the moral fiber of the group? Could the group sustain itself and still try to have humanity towards the walkers?
We meet a new group of people in the community of Woodbury, which looked like a suburb of Atlanta, and lead by The Governor, a man who was a strong leader but a seemed a little off. This sociopath, who was the polar opposite to Rick Grimes, could only have some kind of “English-class meaning”, Alex said. “When you think about what the characters are representing you can appreciate the story more by understanding the subtext.” That moment is the reason we have children.
By the last episodes of Season Three Alex was in a new community, away at college, living in a freshman dorm, loving English Composition and watching The Walking Dead with a group of fellow students. After the mid-season finale, ping goes my phone and I dried my eyes to see a text from Alex: “Awesome writing. Hershel had a noble death.” I wept more because I knew the meaning behind the text, the subtext if you will. I knew he understood the social commentary of a horror television series, the craft of storytelling and he would do well in college English (he did, he got an A first semester), while forming a new community away from us.
Which brings us to Season Four. Again, I watch the new season alone knowing he is watching it with his group. The credits roll and the the phone pings. “I know you are watching. This season will be about Carl becoming a man.” “Yes, it is,” I texted. And, yes, I thought to myself, you are too. We survived the episodes of the teenage apocalypse and like Michonne, we are in a stronger season.Tags: Film industry, Hollywood, Impact and influence of television on society, Mother-son relationship, Parenthood, Producer, Suzanne Jurva, Television, The Walking Dead