On The Walking Dead, Hunger Games, and High Stakes Living

I read an article a few months back about the success of shows like The Walking Dead. The author, an editor at Entertainment Weekly, suggested that shows like this one (The Walking Dead, Revolution, Lost…) tap into what may be the greatest fear our generation, the fear of waking up to find our entire world upturned. He said, there’s nothing that scares us more than the possibility of having to start over.

As I was reading, I realized these were all my favorite shows—the kind of shows I watch not for fun but because I feel compelled, because I feel like I’m watching something important when I tune in. 

When I saw them boiled down so succinctly, I agreed with both the assessment of the show and the assessment of us: we hold too tightly to things and relationships and achievement, our white knuckles the evidence of deep-seated fear. We hoard and amass and insure and diversify and deadbolt—just in case. The Walking Dead bothers us because it reminds us we’re not in control.

So, yeah, we watch The Walking Dead because we’re messed up. But maybe we also watch it because we long not to be. Maybe we’re not just afraid. Maybe there’s something more noble at work.

When I watch The Walking DeadI imagine myself as a character right in the middle of the action (My character-self is tough, y’all—I wear knee-high Doc Martens and have white-girl dreads—but I don’t kill zombies because I’m working on an ingenuous way to heal them). When the show is on, I don’t cower on the couch thinking, “I want as far away from this as possible.” No, I want in.

You may not be with me on The Walking Dead—zombies are, admittedly, gross—so instead consider The Hunger Games. You’re watching Katniss with that bow and arrow, running and tree-climbing for her life, and you’re thinking what? Is it possible you’re wishing you were her?

That seems crazy. Katniss—poor, tired, mentally and emotionally scarred, stuck in the middle of a devastating love triangle—is sentenced to die in a public arena to appease the blood-lust of her oppressors. And you—you want to be her?

Well, I do.

What I think is so appealing about The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead and LOST are the stakes. Every one of these shows/books suggests that in starting over, in entering a new world, these characters have stepped into something important.

I think we watch and read these stories because we’re tired of living small lives, and because something inside us calls out for an epic, life-threatening adventure.

I don’t think we’re scared of starting over. I think we’re scared and thrilled both.

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I sat in my living room two nights ago with my small group, my band of brothers, and we memorized a verse of scripture. We said it together aloud three or four times until it seemed a battle cry: 

If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

When we finished, those words burned into our beating hearts, I forgot about the emails I needed to send and the laundry piled on my bed. For a moment I remembered the high stakes life I’d chosen. Here I was on a Tuesday night living an epic.

A long time ago God called me to start over, to throw away what was and step into what could be. The past I left behind seemed small but it was sure, predictable, and comfortable. The future He called me to seemed big, mysterious and a little bit crazy. I picked big, mysterious and crazy.

Every once in a while, I find myself drifting back to safe and comfortable, my life looking more like an episode of Parks and Rec—little at stake, a comedy of errors. I watch The Office and feel comforted in a camaraderie of small living.

But then I remember the calling—“If I live, I live for the Lord; and if I die…”—and I’m drawn back into the adventure.