Hugs and zombies: A look at The Walking Dead

As you already know, I love pickles and a good pen. But as I’ve said, there are countless other things I also love. One of those is The Walking Dead. I also love hugs.

And man, there were some good hugs in the season five premiere. | Like the hug that came after this look. Yeah. | Like the hug that came after this look. Yeah.

Don’t get me wrong, there was more to the episode than hugs. Zombies, for example. But the hugs are what stuck with me long after I watched the episode.

For those of you who have managed to avoid TWD, the show is based on a series of graphic novels of the same name and  follows a group of people  trying to survive among the walkers – re-animated corpses who attack and eat anything living. Along the way, they also must deal with the living, who are more often than not even more dangerous.

TWD  is one of the most popular shows on TV. The season five premiere this Sunday broke its previous ratings and Twitter records, bringing in an estimated 17.3 million viewers, 1.32 million tweets and dominating all 10 trending topics on Twitter in the U.S.

Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. Seasons one through four are on Netflix. I’ll wait here until you’re caught up.

Done? Let’s get on with season five (proceed at your own risk – spoilers are coming).

Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC | This is Carl. Or, if you'e a Bad Lip Reading fan, Carl Poppa.

AMC | This is Carl. Or, if you’re a Bad Lip Reading fan, Carl Poppa.

After spending the last few weeks re-watching all of the seasons, I was more than ready for the premiere. After a season on the farm and another at the prison, I, like many others, expected most of the season to focus on Terminus. But Carol made short work of that.

Remember when Carol was the weak, meek, battered housewife? I barely do. She’s come a long way.

Which brings us to our first hug of the episode: Carol and Daryl. There may or may not have been tears at our house when that hug happened. It was the culmination of four seasons of waiting and watching the characters grow, both individually and together, seeing them ripped apart and then finally, FINALLY, getting confirmation that no matter how broken two people can be, they can still find a way to make each other complete.

caryl hug | Look at that hug: that run; those faces; that tightness; the head drop on her shoulder after.

They put everything into that hug. From the way Daryl’s expressions slips into shock and the way he runs to Carol, as if he can’t quite get to her fast enough, to the smile on her face and the way he grips the back of her head – the emotion is overwhelming. The impact is even bigger when you remember just how much Daryl has always balked at displaying affection or touching other people.

Regardless of any criticisms you have about the show, you can’t deny the talent of these actors. Anybody can read a script and follow directions. But rarely does a performance make me feel that tightness in my chest, that lump in my throat, and make me really believe that these characters, not the actors, but the actual characters, exist. They’re no longer Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They ARE Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier.

It didn’t stop there. Hug number two happened seconds later after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) asks Carol if she’s the reason they escaped.

Thank goodness for Carol. |Thank goodness for Carol.

I already knew Lincoln could act, especially after season one when Rick unexpectedly finds his family and then again in season three when his wife dies. The way he hugs Carol makes you realize all is forgiven and our group is (maybe) going to be OK.

His skills are again evident in the third hug, this time when he embraces his infant daughter whom he believed to be dead. He runs with the same abandon and disbelief Daryl did. You can tell there is nothing he wants more than his arms around Judith. | It reminds me of the hug in season one that he gave Carl.

With that, we get to our final hug: the one between Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). Neither of these characters are from the original group of survivors, but they’ve grown to be a part of the mismatched family to which we’ve  become attached. And while their hug is not as dramatic or drawn out, it’s the laugh-sob that comes from Sasha that gets me, along with the realization that I’d react the exact same way if it were my brother or sister and I.

Here's I am giving Johnny a strangle-hug. Love you, too, brother.

Here I am giving Johnny a strangle-hug. Love you, too, brother.

That right there is why I think the show resonates so much with people and why it’s been a huge success. The story (and the comic books, for that matter) has always been about the people, the living ones.

The dead are just another obstacle they face in their attempt to survive. The story is about the people who do so, the relationships they forge, and the choices they have to make to avoid death (whether it be their actual death or even worse, their emotional death). Combine this with a group of actors who so phenomenally breathe life into the characters and it’s no wonder people can’t help but tune in each Sunday.  | The greatest thing you'll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return. | The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.

They force the viewer to ask themselves how THEY would react if thrust into a wrecked world. Would they hold on to their humanity, despite seeing the worst in people who relish the lack of rules? What would they sacrifice to keep their parents, their siblings, their children, safe from those that would do the worst to them? How would they react when reunited with those they thought were dead?

When everything else is gone, all that’s left are the relationships we’ve built and the impact we’ve made on the people around us. That’s what TWD has shown me. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season will bring.

Now where the heck is Beth? | Now where the heck is Beth?