Zombies and Me: A Love Story by Sarah Ockler
When I was a kid, my parents had a fairly lax policy about gore and violence on television. And by fairly lax, I mean, there was no policy. My brothers and I were allowed to watch anything available with only two exceptions: The Entity (for which we eventually devised an elaborate scheme to convince my grandmother to let us watch it while she was babysitting us one night, and then we were all plagued by nightmares for a year) and Platoon (by the time Dad thought I was "mature" enough to handle this one, I popped the tape in the VCR only to discover it'd been completely warped. I had to wait another 10 years and see it on DVD.). I don't know why these two movies were deemed *too* violent and scary while Commando, Poltergeist, and Road House passed the test, but who was I to question my parents' unquestionable powers of logic and reason? *Cough* movingrightalong.
Fast forward a few years (decades). I met my future husband, aka Pet Monster. Turns out, Pet Monster was a huge zombie fan. I don't mean these fake-ass zombies walking around yelling "Brainz!" either. I mean, original George A. Romero zombies. So, being the good girlfriend that I was, I accompanied him to each and every zombie movie remake, each new take, each weekend long televised special, whatever. If there was a zombie event going on, I was there with my buttered popcorn and unflinching smile. Because like Beyonce says, If you liked it than you shoulda put a zombie on it.
But the thing is... I hated zombies.
I hated them more than I hated vampires. I thought maybe it was the whole cannibal thing, because blood and guts in general kind of freak me out, so the thought of anything willingly *eating* blood and guts... *shudder*
But the more time I spent watching zombie movies with Pet Monster, the more time I spent reflecting on my zombie issues, until one day I unburied an old, dusty memory, and then I finally came to the root of it all. It was George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). My parents let me watch it when I was ten years old, and I was clearly suffering from PZSD (Post Zombie Stress Disorder).
Sure, the trailer is a little campy, but you have to understand, I was a sheltered little kid. Watching the future governor of California machine-gun his way through a giant mall was one thing, but I had never before thought about the possibility of dead people rising up from the ground, surrounding your house, and rending you apart bit by bit with their teeth just so they could munch on your intestines. Happy Thanksgiving, nom nom nom! And when that little girl stakes her mother in the chest with a garden spade? O.M.G. I think I threw up. I want to throw up again now, even thinking about it. The sound alone... The fact that it was black-and-white made it worse. More creepy, somehow. More real.
Obviously my mind blocked out the memory of that movie experience so I wouldn't have to endure any more trauma over it, and it took me years of dating Pet Monster and pretending to dig zombies to finally uncover it. "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" Arghhh! So once Pet Monster put a ring on it and we got married, I really thought it was the end of my fake love affair with the undead. Thank god! No more zombies! But then...
Pet Monster told me about this graphic novel series, The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman. I mean, he was really into it, tearing through each issue, talking to the characters out loud as he read. And when he heard AMC was making a TV series out of it? Holy... well, put it this way. For 10 years we survived without cable. And now we have it.
All right, this show must be a pretty big deal if it inspired us to get cable. So despite my previous post-marriage anti-zombie stance, I agreed to watch an episode (and I didn't even make him watch any Kate Hudson movies with me in return. How's that for loyalty?). There was a lot of gore and flesh-munching and other creepy-crawliness I've come to expect from every single zombie movie or television show out there. But this one was somehow different.
My Night of the Living Dead flashback issues suddenly vanished. Gone was the little girl and her bloody garden spade. Gone were the undead shambling through the field around the house, munching on thigh bones like they were turkey drumsticks. The Walking Dead presents such a unique, human take on the traditional zombie tale. The characterization and writing is so wonderful that I can't help but get attached to these people, following their struggles and cheering for their small triumphs and yes, even crying. What? There are really sad parts, okay?! I love that they don't use typical big actors, because I can actually see the characters as real people instead of typecast celebs. And I love that each episode keeps getting darker and more emotional. The characters are getting dirtier, inside and out. And I know, even though I haven't read the graphic novels, that things are just going to get worse. It's not just the horror of the undead, either. At it's core, The Walking Dead isn't a story about zombies. It's a story about people who happen to be dealing with the zombie apocalypse.
And I'm 100% unapologetically addicted.
That, your honor, is how after years of faking it, I finally fell in love with zombies for real. So whether you're already a zombie fan or your reluctant and squeamish like me, I encourage you to check out the show. You can watch some trailers and previous episodes on AMC's The Walking Dead site. And then you can click over to Twitter to get your zombie love on with me and Jeremy!
- Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Zombie-Boy Summer and Fixing Delilah's Severed Head
Sarah Ockler is the author of the upcoming Fixing Delilah and the critically acclaimed Twenty Boy Summer, a YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominee, an IndieNext Kids List pick, and a New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association Book Award early nominee.
She lives in Colorado, where she enjoys hiking up mountains, hugging trees, and talking to birds with her husband, Alex.