‘The Walking Dead’ and survival: What the show can teach us about making it in the wild

Could you survive this?

Could you survive this?

I’m a sucker for a good story. One of the stories I follow on TV is “The Walking Dead” series on AMC.

Now don’t worry, there’s not going to be any spoilers here. But I’ve thought long and hard about why this show appeals to me, and to millions of others.

The story lines, the acting, the action — sure, all of that plays a part. But I think the foundation is built on a question: What would I do in that type of world?

If you’re not familiar with the show, it goes something like this: A mysterious disease swamps the world, and there’s no cure. Only a few survive it, and the infected become mindless zombies looking for the flesh of the living on which to feed. Those who survive must contend with a world that went from civilized and technologically advanced to the dark ages in a matter of months. Governments, money, modern conveniences — they’re all gone, leaving behind a brutish, savage and dark world.

So I ask myself, “Could I hack it?”

My take on it will be different than it is for a lot of people, mostly because I look at it from the point of view of someone who spends a decent amount of time outdoors. I’ve tried to learn how to operate in areas beyond the reach of roads, technology and comfort. I might be up on this subject more than most, but consider myself very much the student still. But letting this question percolate brings to mind some basic survival concepts that you, too, would face if thrust into a zombie apocalypse, or something dreadfully similar to it. So here goes…

Worse than zombies.

Worse than zombies.

The big things will scare you, but it’s the little things that will kill you. Fear of a zombie horde will motivate you to be safe, but chances are, your end wouldn’t come by way of a bite from the undead. It would be something much smaller. A blister pops, and without proper medicine, infection sets in. Untreated, sepsis will occur, and that will take you down. Small illnesses like colds or the flu can become crises of lethal proportions absent the comforts and cures of the developed world. Clean water will be harder to find, and given our lack of immunity to waterborne diseases, a gastrointestinal malady will take you out in a matter of days.

The fix: Learn wilderness first aid, and how to filter and sanitize water. These aren’t cure-alls, but the fewer incidental infections in the wild you have, the better your chances of survival. Bummer if you get the flu, though.

Ed Wardle went into the Yukon backcountry and couldn't stop thinking about food.

Ed Wardle went into the Yukon backcountry and couldn’t stop thinking about food.

The thought of food will consume your thoughts and activities as much as anything else. Sure, you’ll scavenge and hoard the non-perishables for awhile, but eventually those supplies will run out. At that point, you’ll have to resort to growing our own food (hard to do with Negan on the prowl, or zombies closing in) or revert to hunting/gathering.

Most of us don’t know how to farm. And farming/gardening can be very seasonal, depending on where you live, meaning that those lean winter months can be tough sledding. So chances are, most of us will have to go paleo for real and become hunter/gatherers.

I watched a show a few years ago called “Alone in the Wild,” where the star of the show planned to spend 90 days in the Yukon wilderness. As the show progressed, I couldn’t help but notice how most of his thoughts dwelled on food. Where to get it. How much he needed. How hungry he was. All the time. How sapped he felt. All the time. He could catch a trout or two, but consume only 400 calories while burning through 2,000 to 3,000 a day. After awhile, he was reduced to mimicking the wildlife around him, possessed by the thought of the next meal, and controlled by the lack of it. That’s your life in “The Walking Dead” world if you survive the initial calamity.

The fix: Learn how to hunt (firearm and archery), trap and fish, and bone up on your edible plants (here are some examples). Couldn’t hurt to pick up some food preservation skills, either, to get you through those lean months.

Negan's one bad dude. In chaotic survival situations, sometimes ordinary folks break bad.

Negan’s one bad dude. In chaotic survival situations, sometimes ordinary folks break bad.

Wildlife can be dangerous, but people more so. People are social animals, but as we know, more of us die at the hands of other people than we do wildlife. And in the middle of an undead dystopia, the worst of us are going to manifest themselves into characters like The Governor, Negan, The Wolves, and those dreadfully hungry residents of Terminus. In the real world, famine, disaster, civil war and other disruptive events that can crash a society have shown that we truly don’t understand how deep people’s bad intentions can become when survival is on the line.

The fix: There is safety in numbers, but trusting others in dark times is risky business. Carefully pick out a small group you can trust, and one that can bolt for safety at a moment’s notice. No point getting caught by warlord’s minions while trapped in a stationary place with lots of defenseless people. And speaking of defense, it’s always a good idea to learn how to defend yourself. Pick up some martial arts. If you’re going to defend yourself with a firearm, learn how to use is and practice regularly. If you’re going to live in the wild, be prepared to fight like there are no rules.

Home is where you can make it. Make it right.

Home is where you can make it. Make it right.

Most of us are helpless without gadgets, gasoline and the power grid. It will hurt if you lose those modern conveniences, but where this really hits you is when you need to find adequate shelter and warmth. And it’s a killer when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B. Think about it: Your house or apartment becomes a really tough place to stay when the power is out. Dead of winter? Freezing cold. Mid-summer? Unliveably hot. And where would you be if you didn’t have the ability to drive a car, hop a bus or take a train?

You could get by for awhile, but as time passes, gasoline will run out, cars will break down and shelter built on the contingency of the power grid working will eventually cease to be viable.

The fix: Home is where you are, and that’s something to remember if you are regularly on the move. Without modern transportation, you’re going to need to condition your body to hike long distances, with all your possessions on your back (don’t forget those 10 essentials). Take up backpacking and make hiking a habit. That, and learning to ride a horse might also be a good idea. As for shelter, sure, you can make do with existing  structures. But you’ll also want to learn how to make your own shelter: Lean-to shelters in warmer months, and in snowy areas, you should know how to make a quinzee. And at the top of this, learn how to start a fire (here are some ideas on how to do it without a match or lighter). Fires are crucial for warmth, cooking, and sterilizing water and medical tools. If you have these skills down, you’re several steps of everyone else wandering around in the apocalypse.

Bob Doucette

4 thoughts on “‘The Walking Dead’ and survival: What the show can teach us about making it in the wild

  1. I really enjoyed reading this — I love killing time on a road trip or over a beer discussing doomsday and zombie apocalypse scenarios with a buddy or two. Weapons, shelter, provisions, water supplies, ideal group size…it’s easy to pass a few hours laying out survival scenarios 🙂

    Entertaining writing with good information!!

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