There are two kinds of apocalypse. One is the question of survival in which one inevitably loses. Night of the Living Dead and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are in this category. Here one attempts to survive, but fails. We see protagonists struggle against impossible odds that ultimately overwhelm them. (There are exceptions to this being overwhelmed theme, such as Stephen King’s The Stand, Max Brooks’ World War Z, or the HBO show Carnivàle, where the characters do survive the apocalypse.) This survival theme has a weird analogue with reality TV shows such as Survivor; both types of stories ask us, on a certain level, what we would do to survive, and how far would we go.

Another kind of apocalypse is living through the cataclysm. This kind of apocalypse is The Walking Dead, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, or Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Here it becomes a question not just of survival, but also of rebuilding society. How does one survive an apocalypse and then regain something of what was lost? 

The Walking Dead is really singular, in that most zombie narratives don’t address the rebuilding-civilization theme – they usually depict people trying to survive, but who are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of zombies. But Robert Kirkman develops this rebuilding theme in his comic book and television series. How do you rebuild society when you are surrounded by desperate and sometimes vicious survivors? (By definition, vicious people would be the most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse.) Thus the zombies move to the background in The Walking Dead, as the protagonists wrestle with other survivor communities to rebuild society. Aristotle was right, we are political animals, and to survive an apocalypse means to build new communities with other survivors.

Which category is the Biblical book of Revelation? Neither. Revelation is more epic, dream-like, even programmatic – it describes the sequence of events, but not protagonists who are defeated or survive to re-build society. It is more like Dante’s *Divine Comedy, where a narrator relates a series of events that happen to other people. In Revelation, there is no survival or living through the apocalypse, as it really is a radical breaking and re-creation of the world.

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AuthorKevin Taylor