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‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Is the Most Libertarian Show on TV

By: Adam Dubove - @dubdam - Oct 7, 2015, 1:54 pm
La serie más esperada de la temporada, Fear The Walking Dead. (Zeleb TV)
Fear the Walking Dead shows the zombies are not the only predators when all hell breaks loose. (Zeleb TV)

EspañolThis year’s most anticipated television series, Fear the Walking Dead, capped off its first season with an insightful lesson in how to deal with authority during a major emergency, like a zombie apocalypse.

The prequel and companion series to the Atlanta-based The Walking Dead (TWD) is set in California, and depicts the beginning of civilization’s collapse due to a mysterious disease that makes dead people return to life and try to eat whatever living beings they can find.

The AMC channel chose a short six-episode format for its first season, which tells the story of a dysfunctional Los Angeles family coming to grips with their friends and neighbors quickly turning into flesh-eating monsters.

But anyone who has watched TWD knows the saga was never really about zombies. It’s a show about human relations and cooperation in the midst of extreme adversity. In fact, in this series, the show’s creators only provide a few scenes of the city’s actual destruction, and instead focus on the way a family responds to the chaos.

Even so, the abundance of characters in Fear the Walking Dead means viewers only get brief glimpses of how each one reacts to these otherworldly challenges. The result is too much filler, poor character development, and a lack of emotional connection with the audience.

Rubén Blades, the famous Panamanian musician, portrays perhaps the most interesting character on the show, while falling short on face time. Blades plays Daniel Salazar, a Salvadoran immigrant whose experience during the Central American country’s civil war has prepared him to face this zombie menace. As for the other characters, doubt, confusion, and half-baked plans are the norm.

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The former guerrilla fighter quickly proves that his time in war has made him better able than most to cope with the Walking Dead world. After the city shuts down, the National Guard take over, controlling the distribution of supplies, turning affluent suburbs into ghettos, putting up fences, imposing a curfew, and killing everyone who wonders beyond their gate.

“Free medical assistance, courtesy of the United States Army,” a soldier tells a pair of locals that he has just kidnapped and jailed.

Just like everyone else, soldiers are scrambling to survive and are torn between following their orders or abandoning their posts to seek out their families. Civilians are forced to live in what are effectively concentration camps, but there is no overt racism or malice in their captors. Their authoritarianism derives from the state’s goal of keeping citizens safe “for their own good” — so they don’t get infected and become another zombie.

It’s important to note that zombies are really the only far-fetched element within Fear the Walking Dead. History has shown that human beings do not require a monster apocalypse to experience similar despotic rule. Zombie governments that don’t stop until they devour our wealth are more common than one might think.

Salazar, for instance, knew how those in command would react and didn’t hesitate to torture a soldier to get the information he needed to survive — just like he had decades earlier during the war.

All the time, governments wage battles against individuals in their attempt to “keep us safe.”

For instance, take the defense of domestic industries, a major rallying cry of Latin American governments. Populist officials enact endless protectionist measures that hinder or delay trade between peoples to benefit a handful of firms with friends in high places. Make no mistake, there is only a difference of degree between this kind of bureaucracy and the one imposed by the military in the show.

Or take the drug war, which has resulted in thousands of dead and millions in jail for non-violent offenses. Similarly, in Fear the Walking Dead, the National Guard throws innocent people in concentration camps. At least in the show, the government is fighting off animate objects, not pills and plants.

The war on terror is another example of how governments and legislatures across the world have authorized sweeping violations of individual rights.

Fear the Walking Dead is without a doubt the most libertarian TV show I have seen in recent years. Not only for the tension between citizens and the authority, but because those who were skeptical of the military regime from the outset were those who emerged as leaders of the survivor group.

Now they will have to keep running away, adapting to new territories and challenges. As the zombie herd advances, and the state disappears, it will be a challenge for the show’s writers to keep the spin-off interesting and distinct enough from the original show, which resumes on October 11 with its sixth season.

Despite the shortcomings, it was captivating to see what power relations arose when threats other than zombies and hunters were at play in the Walking Dead world. The lesson seems to be that those who distrust authority are bound to prevail.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

Adam Dubove Adam Dubove

Adam Dubove is a journalist, co-host of The Titanic's Violinists radio show, and the secretary of the Amagi Institute. Follow him on Twitter: @dubdam, and read his blog: Diario de un Drapetómano.