Tomorrow, "The Walking Dead" will premiere on AMC, the latest in what seems to be an endless wave of zombie-focused horror. Ever since 9/11, it seems like our cultural outlet for the sense of wrenching shock that hit us when the World Trade Center collapsed has been the endless variations on the zombie apocalypse story; it seems like the common thread to all of them is the main character waking up to suddenly realize that overnight, Things Have Gone To Hell In A Handbasket.
That theme runs through the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "28 Days Later", "The Walking Dead"...and even in stories where the character is awake and active through the zombie apocalypse, it always seems like events move a little faster than the perception of them (as in "Planet Terror" and "Cell", for example.) You can never stay on top of a zombie apocalypse, anymore than you can keep up with events in a world where the Official Enemy is Al-Qaeda one day, the Taliban the next day, Saddam Hussein the day after that, and the entire religion of Islam a few years later. It's a potent symbol, a mythic pool that keeps on welling up as we express our nation's trauma.
But the problem is (yes, I'm getting to it, now that I'm done being pretentious) that what makes emotional sense doesn't always make literal sense. One of the big set-piece sequences in "The Walking Dead", one that they're replicating for the TV series, is the hero's trip into zombie-infested Atlanta. You see the endless hordes of zombies overrunning the city, complete with a crowd of them clustered around a deserted tank.
At which point, the logical brain rebels. (Or at least, mine does.) "No," it says to the emotional brain, "that is not a potent symbol of the impotence of traditional military power in the face of a terrorist fighting force that can control the grounds of engagement! That is a potent example of the dumbest fucking tank crew ever, because short of running out of gas in the middle of downtown Atlanta, there is absolutely no way on God's green earth that a tank could be stopped by any number of zombies you care to name! It's a TANK! Teeth and fingernails have about as much chance against a tank as Bambi does against Godzilla! It does not matter how many zombies there are--more zombies just means more time hosing down the tank treads after the inevitable victory! Gah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Because that's the problem with zombies. No matter how potent they are as a mythical symbol, no matter how many movies and books and TV shows and comics and audio plays portray them as an implacable, undying, endlessly patient force of primal killers, the fact remains that they are, at heart, a bunch of slow-moving unarmed and (for the most part) unarmored humans who don't use tactics, strategy, ranged weapons, or dodge attacks aimed at them. Ask the US military if they would trade off "has to be shot in the head" and "can turn their victims into members of their fighting forces" for "no weapons, no armor, no strategy, no tactics, no ranged capability, and oh by they way they don't know what the word 'duck' means", and the US military would say, "HELL YES!"
Basically, the only way the zombies win is if everyone is colossally stupid. And while it's fun to imagine a world where zombies have won, and will remain so, the other reason that the stories always start with the hero waking up to find out that the zombie apocalypse has already happened is so that the writer doesn't have to explain how the military loses to unarmed people walking slowly towards them.