We've all been thrilled by the glimpses of The Walking Dead's bleak, intense vistas. But I've been more thrilled than most — because it's about time my home state of Georgia had a zombie outbreak.
Confession: I've never read The Walking Dead. But one thing I do know is that my home state of Georgia is the best place you could ever possibly set a zombie TV show. Here are seven reasons why.
Plenty of Guns
Think fast! Say there's a zombie outbreak right this minute. What's the first thing you need? A weapon. Where are you going to get one? If you live somewhere urban, there's a good chance you'll be stuck with a Louisville slugger from the nearest sporting goods store — if you can make it that far. This poses a problem for the zombie dramatist. How are you going to keep your characters alive for an entire season if they can't get their hands on a gun? Two hours you might could manage, but 10+ episodes is going to be tough. But if your zombie outbreak hits somewhere like Kennesaw (an unassuming North Georgia town that infamously made gun ownership mandatory in 1982), the protagonists are going to be a lot better armed, and they've got a much better shot at surviving to season two.
The fact is, Georgia is still rural enough that people are comfortable with owning and using guns. And the survivors are in much better shape when they can count on that cousin with the closet full of shotguns and deer rifles.
A Cinematic Landscape
Georgia is blessed with a wide enough variety of landscapes to keep the show visually interesting. Much of the countryside has been swallowed up by Home Depot and Super Target and Chick-Fil-a, but there's been many a great suburban set piece in the zombie canon. There's also plenty of twisting backroads and empty fields and scrubby pine forests and swamps, all of which are going to make for great chase scenes. (In fact, the Walking Dead trailer uses what looks like Highway 87 — AKA the road to Athens, AKA my parents' driveway — to great effect.) Finally, when you need the insanity of a major metro area packed with undead, there's always Atlanta.
So Many Characters
A quick survey of the canon suggests memorably bizarre characters are an indispensable element of any zombie narrative. There's a wide spectrum of crazy, from entertaining (Woody Harrelson in Zombieland) to malign (Christopher Eccleston in 28 Days Later), but a sizable helping is essential. Once you get into a longer-form story like television, you're going to need even more weirdos to keep things interesting.
And if there's one thing Georgia has plenty of, it's strangely compelling characters. A brief, crazy sampling: The Goat Man, snake-handlers, Flannery O'Connor, politicians with names like "Newt" and "Saxby" and "Zell," the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors and Jerry Reed.
A Bad-Ass Soundtrack
You could limit the soundtrack to musicians who've recorded in the state, and it would still be awesome. The Allman Brothers have some lesser-known instrumental pieces that would suit nicely, and the B-52s' more frenetic work is perfect for a chase scene. Save Otis Redding for the inevitable yearning montages—nothing quite matches the pathos of "I've Got Dreams (To Remember)." And there is simply no excuse for leaving out the Drive-By Truckers. In fact, the producers of Walking Dead should probably just go ahead and hire them to write an opener.
Burning Atlanta to the Ground Looks Awesome
It's been done once, and while Gone with the Wind has its faults, the scene is a cinematic classic. There's just something about those red flames against that red dirt.
There are few scenarios more apocalyptic than a widespread zombie outbreak. And Georgians know their apocalypse. The very idea is woven into the state's cosmological fabric. If you were raised on that old-time, fundamentalist religion, it's hard to shake the sense that, at any moment, God might call the faithful home and consign the sinners to the lake of fire. In the words of the Book of Revelations (KJV, of course): "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." At least one Suburban in my school parking lot used to warn that "In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned."
Georgia therefore offers up a fair number of protagonists who'll deal with the end of the world in intriguing ways, emotionally and psychologically. The waiting is over; what are you supposed to do now?
The Survivor Groups
How often do you see lone zombie fighters? Never, because that would be horrifically bleak. A central theme of these narratives is that communities form even in the worst circumstances, even in the wake of apocalyptic disaster. It doesn't even matter if the protagonist wants company. And so survivor groups, with all their complicated dynamics, are typically a central element of the drama in a zombie movie. How will these disparate individuals find a way to work together, to trust each other? Think of their grocery shopping in 28 Days Later, or the mall montage in Dawn of the Dead; when the social group coalesces, it's a great moment. When the fragile community fractures under the strain, it means serious shit is about to go down.
And it's this area where Georgia really shines as a setting. The state offers rich, untapped dramatic potential, thanks to the complicated changes wrought by the 20th century. There are a lot of fault lines that could erupt under the strain of the end of the world. There's New South and Old South, rural and urban, rich and poor, black and white. There are the Baptists versus the Presbyterians, and the one local Presbyterian church compared to the marginally less conservative Presbyterian church. Transplants from "up North" and the locals still living on the family farm that Sherman almost burned. Georgia Bulldogs and those bullheaded transplants still cheering for the Florida Gators.
Most of these divisions don't cause problems in times of peace. But in the event of apocalypse, all bets are off.