When I was a kid, my Grandma had a garden. It wasn’t like the gardens that people know, now. It wasn’t a corner of her back yard. It was huge. It had to be. It fed four people year-round, and it made possible Sunday dinners for our extended family of ten. Grandma didn’t work her garden alone. Grandpa helped, with his tractor. We all helped pick and dig, when we were visiting.
Rick Grimes has a garden. It’s a tiny corner of the prison yard. Sometimes, his son Carl helps in the garden, although Rick would far rather Carl attend story time, like the rest of the kids. The garden is where Rick piddles away his time, trying to heal his wounded soul, rather than a necessity for a group of at least thirty people.
I’m fully aware that fans of The Walking Dead have no interest in watching Rick break his back in a garden. I actually don’t, either. It would be boring. It would be far more boring than the season we spent on Hershel’s farm, which I actually didn’t find to be boring at all, although many fans did. In spite of the fact that I don’t want The Walking Dead to be a gardening show, I still can’t believe that there isn’t a bigger outcry about the improbable lives that Rick and his band of survivors are leading. I write zombie fiction (Zombies Take Manhattan! and Junk Mail) and I’m a fan of post-Apocalyptic tales in general, so I know damned well that the devil is in the details. You’d better get them right, or people just aren’t satisfied. The Walking Dead is skimming the details of survival, when it’s not ignoring them altogether. I’m starting to starve for some reality, although nobody on the show seems to be hungry, at all.
The top of Season 2 touched on the fact that the walkers are not only a menace because they want to eat the survivors, they are a menace because they keep the survivors from eating. The survivors were in trouble because they were forced to raid an area that had already been picked clean. The prison seemed like a haven, at least in part, because of the promise of undiscovered food. Season 4 finds Rick playing at farming while the rest of the mouths to feed that the group has blithely accumulated do nothing much. Okay, okay. Daryl does hunt. Michonne scours the countryside for luxury items like comic books, stale M&Ms, and the Governor. Glen takes some core members of the group to raid a store that seems more Best Buy than supermarket. Hershel heads up a governing counsel and dispenses wisdom. Carol reads stories to children and secretly teaches them to kill. Carol also kills, and her murders of two flu victims are a refreshing little whiff of common sense compared to a quarantine that is basically making sick people sit on the other side of the room.
If The Walking Dead were a realistic show, every man, woman, and child would be busting ass in that garden. The survivors wouldn’t be poisoning their little available land with a graveyard of rotting loved ones. The prison yard isn’t big enough to support a farm that would feed them all, as it is. They would also need a massive purification system to make safe the water from that stream, which is surely full of corpses. Water would be a even greater concern than food, in fact. The deaths of the pigs would be as much a disaster as the walkers trying to take down the fence. There wouldn’t be prison rats for someone to use as walker treats, because the rats would all be in the stew pot. Hershel would have sent a party out to the veterinary college for antibiotics long ago, because the weakened, starving survivors would be a hotbed of infection. In fact, Hershel, former farmer and veterinarian, wouldn’t be limping around like Ben Franklin and Santa Clause had a baby. As the person who would surely have the best understanding of food production and disease, he would be in a blind panic over the whole lot of nothing that the group has.
I’m fully aware that the show can’t be exclusively about the daily grind of survival, but what it takes to survive is an integral part of post-Apocalyptic fun. There wouldn’t be reality shows about survivalists and people who live in harsh climates if none of us were interested in the nuts and bolts of staying alive without running water and Walmart.
I kind of need the Mystery Voice on the radio to be a cannibal trap. And I need one of Rick’s questions to potential new group members to be, “How many people have you eaten?” Cannibals would give us that satisfying touch of post-Apocalyptic reality that the show is currently ignoring.