Whether you love the show, hate the show, or have never seen the show, The Walking Dead has a huge fan base, and I think one of the reasons is that it’s actually pretty relatable for most of us in our everyday lives.
Stay with me here.
There are zombies in every episode, yes, and they pose a big threat, yes, but that’s not the main point of the show. Really, they’re just kind of background noise. The main heart of the show is the people. It is the courage of the people who just keep going even in the most dire circumstances, the resilience of the people as they fight for survival and adapt to this new world, the resourcefulness of the people who try to find even the smallest pockets of light in an ever-expanding world of darkness. There’s the constant struggle, but there are also the people who continue fighting, every single day, no matter what. It also showcases the evil lurking in humanity, and how easily it can be brought out. Unfortunately, we see this in our world all the time; it’s just heightened in The Walking Dead because, you know, zombies.
So yes, the show is about a zombie apocalypse and yes, the zombies are pretty bad, but in this world it’s the people who are the real villains. With societal structures, laws, and governments all gone, many people revert to their primal selves and think nothing of killing anyone who gets in their way.
So what’s my point? Well, it’s all about perspective.
Viewers of the show follow Rick and Daryl and their merry band of ever-changing characters (ever-changing because people keep getting eaten by zombies, among other things) and, because we’ve been with them since the beginning, we think of them as the ‘good guys’, while anyone who rises up against them are considered to be ‘bad guys’. For example, when The Governor shows up, or Negan, or Alpha – they’re clearly the bad guys. You know because they have questionable morals, they lead by fear or terror, and… oh yes… they kill people. A lot. The problem is, the same could be said for Rick and Daryl and their merry band of ever-changing characters. But it’s OK because we’re on their side, we’ve been with them since the beginning. They’re our people. They might not be perfect, but they’re what we’re used to. In this horrific fictional world, they’re pretty much all we’ve got.
But what if the show had followed The Governor from the start? Or Negan? Or Alpha? Would we still think they’re the baddies then? If they came across Rick Grimes or Daryl Dixon, they would be the outsiders, the ones not to be trusted. After all, the ‘goodies’ on The Walking Dead have all done terrible things too – that’s just what happens in a zombie apocalypse, you can’t really get away from it. We only think they’re the ‘goodies’ because we’ve been with them since the start, we’ve followed their ups and downs, and we’ve got to know them inside out as characters (and sometimes because, of course, their insides have actually been pulled out). The show creators have essentially manipulated us into siding with them, even when they do truly terrible things.
In one episode, a much-loved character, Michonne (played by the awesome Danai Gurira, and much-loved because she kicks ass), is drugged and goes on a massive trip, during which she imagines herself making a different decision in her past, a split second where she chose one path over another, resulting in her ending up in Negan’s gang, not Rick’s. In this parallel universe, she immediately becomes a baddie, because she’s with the other ‘baddies’. What if the show had started with Michonne in the first episode instead of Rick, and we had followed her journey as she fought her way through the apocalypse and eventually teamed up with Negan? In this parallel universe, with her as our heroine, Negan’s gang would be the goodies, despite his love of bashing people over the head with a baseball bat covered in barbed wire (well, no one’s perfect, right?).
So, why am I blathering on about a zombie TV show? Well, because we can do the exact same thing with our lives, and with any situation we don’t know how to deal with.
Could we possibly look at it from a different angle? Through someone else’s eyes? From the perspective of an outsider? And does that change things for us? It could make it easier for us to make a decision, or perhaps it could encourage us to lose the anger we’re feeling towards someone else? Are you looking at someone as the ‘baddie’ when, in their own story, they see themselves as the goodie? Are you the baddie in their eyes? After all, for most of us, we see ourselves as being the heroes in our own story. If we’re not, we’re clearly writing the wrong story. Does that help you understand the ‘baddie’ in your story and their position a little more? It’s worth a think – and it’s worth doing a few writing exercises around (which is kind of my thing, if you weren’t aware). Here are a few ideas taken from lessons learnt in the zombie apocalypse:
Switching Perspectives Exercise
Write down the biggest problem you’re having in your life right now that concerns another person. For instance, perhaps someone you were dating ghosted you. Perhaps you’re having constant arguments with your partner. Maybe you haven’t talked to a family member in years due to some ancient grudge. Or perhaps you’re angry at someone for something they said. Now, write out a sentence or two explaining the situation and then turn it around – do the old switcheroo (that’s the technical term). Rewrite those couple of sentences as if you were the ‘other person’ in the scenario. You were the one ghosting someone, you were the one starting arguments or picking fights, you were the one who had said the hurtful thing. Then write out a list of all the potential reasons that person might have for doing what they did, but write it in the first person as if you were that person – and only write out the explanations you think are believable, reasonable, and forgivable. For instance, having constant arguments with your partner. What could explain this behaviour? (And remember to write it in first person.)
1. I’m not sleeping well, therefore I have no energy, therefore I’m not eating well, therefore I’m feeling groggy and lethargic, and I’m taking it out on other people. It has nothing to do with them and everything to do with how I’m feeling.
2. I feel like whenever we talk, we don’t listen to what the other person is actually trying to say; we’re just waiting for our turn to speak, which is really frustrating. Perhaps we need to figure out a different way of talking to each other.
3. We’re arguing more because we’re spending more time together than ever before – there’s bound to be an adjustment period. And so on.
There. You’ve just made the villain of the situation into the hero of the piece. Or, if not the hero, at least someone whose perspective you now understand a little better. Perhaps that person isn’t the baddie after all? Perhaps there’s no baddie here at all? Does that help give you an idea of what to do about this situation now? As part of this exercise, you could even ask the other person to create their own list, or to look at yours and see if any of these reasons are true, or at least let them know that you’ve been thinking about the situation from their point of view. Sometimes, even just admitting this can be enough to get you talking again and – hopefully – resolving the issue or issues that brought you to this point.
Parallel Universe Exercise
This could also be called the Sliding Doors Exercise, though I haven’t seen that film in a long time so I’m not too sure it makes sense here. Anyway, think of one huge decision you’ve made in your life, and it doesn’t have to be anything as epic as deciding whose gang to join in the zombie apocalypse, à la Michonne. This could be deciding to go to university (or not), deciding which specific university or college to go to, getting married, moving towns or cities, making a career change, accepting a promotion, breaking up with someone, and so on. First, write down the decision you made at the time. For instance, ‘I decided to enrol in the American Studies programme at the University of Sussex’ (which I did). Then think what would happen if you hadn’t made this particular decision, and write down all the consequences of that action. For instance, in my example:
1. I wouldn’t have lived in Brighton for three years and met everyone at the University of Sussex.
2. I wouldn’t have had my year abroad in America – the best year of my life – and I wouldn’t have met my friends at CU Boulder.
3. I wouldn’t have travelled around America for a month after the college semester ended, or gone on the several other trips I took throughout the year.
4. I would have graduated university a whole year earlier without my year abroad, probably getting a different job and heading off in a completely different direction in life.
5. I wouldn’t have some of the best friends I have today, as I never would have met them.
6. I wouldn’t have gone on all the amazing holidays and trips I went on with my uni friends over the years.
7. I might have ended up living in a completely different part of the country, depending on where I’d decided to go to uni.
8. If I’d decided not to go to university at all, I wouldn’t have learnt so much over those four years (not just academically) and I wouldn’t have had as much fun or had as many incredible experiences.
That one decision changed the course of my entire life, and guess what? That’s true of any time in your life. If you’re not where you want to be, or if you want more out of life, you’re just one decision away from setting yourself on a completely different path. One decision away from heading out in a parallel universe and redesigning your entire life. And most decisions can be made in just a few seconds. That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?
Zombie Apocalypse Exercise
OK, so this isn’t a proper exercise, but it could be fun to write down how you think you’d fare in a zombie apocalypse. What approach would you take? What would be your weapon of choice? Who would you team up with? Honestly, I think I’d be fine – you know, if I had a bunker I could hide away in that was full of books, tea, blankets, and chocolate.
So, what have we learnt? Perspective is everything. Just as one decision changed everything for you in the past, you can also make life-changing decisions now to give yourself a better, brighter future. And when the zombie apocalypse comes, you might want to watch out for the humans just as much as the zombies.
For more writing exercises (though I’m afraid I don’t have any more zombie ones, currently), check out my new book, Write Your Life: The Ultimate Life Hack For Achieving Your Dreams, out now!
You can also join our private Facebook group, Write Your Life Community: Design Your Dream Life, for more tips, tricks, exercises, and support from like-minded individuals going after their dreams.