That mortal fantasy is the crux of the show’s genius and the singular reason why it’s so successful. Without a complex and sophisticated playbook of narrative rules governing the program’s engine, the action would be little more than splashing around in a shallow pool. Instead, The Walking Dead taps into a deep sea of anxieties and simultaneous wish fulfillment and social means testing.
That experimental space of narrative invention is simultaneously the great dividing line between fiction and journalism, as well as the bridge between the two camps. Where journalism trades in carefully considered observations, backed up by sources and evidence, fiction makes sense of how received information fits into a larger cultural context. Where journalism digs up hard-to-reach raw minerals, fiction polishes them into jewels.