Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Walking Dead

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Walking Dead

Article excerpt

When I was a child in the 1970s, the two big excitements of the run-up to Christmas were first the chocolate Advent calendar which, somehow, I managed to smuggle past the prison-guard inspection at my Colditz-like prep school; and second, browsing the Radio Times to see what televisual delights the Christmas hols had in store.

Now I hardly bother with chocolate --unless it's Artisan du Chocolat, in which case, yes please. And I find Christmas TV, all Christmas TV, even if it's a Nick Park animation that has never been on before, so intrinsically depressing that I just want to string myself up from one of the giant black hooks hanging from our kitchen ceiling. They have been used for this very purpose once before, by one of the previous tenants. But obviously, I'd make sure to keep in with the festive spirit by using a long sturdy twine of mistletoe or tinsel rather than ugly, quotidian rope.

The other day, I was delighted to meet a fellow Christmas sceptic, the Revd Richard Coles -- the former Communard who presides over that agreeable Radio 4 show Saturday Live . Richard -- with whom I bonded enormously over liver and bacon at a Northants pub -- tells me that if he had his way, he would retire early on Christmas morning with a boxed set of The Walking Dead and a bottle of whisky and spend the rest of the day in bed.

Both of us suffer the tragedy of having to live with partners who won't do zombies. I think this is cruel and unfair of my wife, for whom I make many sacrifices. Just now, for example, I joined her in the garden to rake some leaves -- even though I'm sure they'd have been much happier where they were, rotting on the lawn -- because I know these little touches make her happy. You'd think that in return the very least she would do is sit beside me pretending to enjoy the dwindling band of survivors bashing in zombies' brains much as I pretend to enjoy it when I sit with her through an episode of Gardeners' World .

After vampires -- proper, Salem's Lot -type vampires, not your pale, vegetarian Twilight imitations -- zombies are probably my favourite horror creature. The reason they make such good TV, and why The Walking Dead has lasted so many seasons, is that they are simultaneously the worst thing imaginable (the rotting flesh, the terrible potential outcome) and reassuringly, almost charmingly harmless.

They're a manifestation of what Brian Aldiss called the 'cosy catastrophe'. He was using it -- disparagingly, I think -- to refer to the works of John Wyndham. But surely this is why Wyndham -- in Triffids especially -- remains so enduringly popular and endlessly remade. …

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