What Do Zombies and Actor Steven Yeun Have in Common? Organ Donation!
by Claire de Louraille and Emily Avera
If you have not heard of AMC network’s The Walking Dead I’ll be fairly impressed since it’s the most watched basic cable drama in television history. With an 8.1 million viewers for the Season 2 premiere, it’s not a television show to dismiss.
For the uninitiated, The Walking Dead (developed and produced for television by Frank Darabont) is based on the 2003 comic book series of the same name, written by Robert Kirkman, and illustrated by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard. Set in a post-apocalyptic zombie-ridden America, Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes wakes up from a gunshot wound-induced coma to find his sleepy Georgia town littered with (living) dead bodies. After being rescued by a father and son, who stayed behind to sit out the threat, and becoming acquainted with the history of the infection and the dangers of zombies, Grimes goes to find his missing wife and son. He hears that Atlanta, the nearest city, is a possible “safe base” only to discover upon arrival that bigger cities mean more zombies.
You might be wondering what a post on The Walking Dead is doing on TransplantInformers, which is about transplantation issues. But there is a connection between organ donation, zombies, and a character in the show played by Steven Yeun. The Korean-born American actor portrays Glenn, a former pizza delivery man whose deep knowledge of Atlanta streets, neighborhoods and shortcuts make him the ideal choice for quick guerrilla-scavenging missions for supplies. Glenn saves Deputy Rick Grimes in the show’s second episode, and soon after, Grimes saves Glenn (and the rest of the scavenging crew) by proposing an inventive, albeit crazy and dangerous solution.
To enable their escape from a zombie onslaught, they need a truck. But the keys are at a nearby construction site, which would require somehow navigating through a sea of potential body-eaters. In a stroke of genius, Deputy Rick Grimes and Glenn cover themselves in thick protective coats and then, wait for it…in zombie innards! This plan is based on the premise that zombies can differentiate between humans and zombies based strongly on smell. Before the crew starts bashing, opening, cracking and hacking open the zombie body for its guts, Grimes opens up the zombie’s wallet and gives a kind of speech describing who Wayne Dunlap might have been: “Georgia license. Born 1979. He had twenty-eight dollars in his pocket when he died. And a picture of a pretty girl … He used to be like us, worrying about bills or the rent or the Superbowl. If I ever find my family I’m going to tell them about Wayne.”
But the best part about this whole scene happens right before Rick Grimes is about to hack into the zombie body with an emergency axe. Glenn points out, “And one more thing. He was an organ donor.” (For our international readers, the United States shows consent of organ donation by a sticker on the driver’s license.)
The way he says this line is not meant to be funny, but the ridiculousness of their situation makes Glenn’s line an extremely comical moment. It’s a funny thought for such a dire and extreme situation, and Glenn’s remark is met with astounded, semi-confused stares from his crew mates. Despite the stares from his crew, this line gives insight into Glenn’s character. Throughout the show he exhibits an intense concern for the dead and how they should be treated. He seeks to keep the integrity of the dead bodies by insisting upon proper burial rites for fallen crew mates, and invokes the punishment of a crew mate who mishandled a dead body. Just like Glenn, thinking about donor consent and how we deal with death are important for us at TransplantInformers.
One reason why The Walking Dead makes for such an addicting series is the exploration of ethical issues and beliefs in an extreme post-apocalyptic framework. Whatever debates may surround it, brain death is used to medically and legally enact deceased donation of organs. Likewise, zombies are largely defined as brain dead. The gray area between life and death is both reflected in the relationship between humans and zombies and the issues of brain death. That ambiguity is used to explore the countless fears and concerns of humans. Zombies have been suggested to represent everything from consumerism or waves of immigration, to terrorists threats or a military draft.
Zombie-fever (pun intended) has popped up all over the United States and spread to other nations. Zombie walks, where people dress up and walk like zombies for an extended period of time, are popular events for game conventions like E3 and Comic-Con. Cities have even begun zombie survival awareness programs, like the Zombie First Responder Course in Portland, Oregon. Even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has an entire Zombie Awareness program on it’s Public Health Matters Blog. (Here’s a CDC blog post that talks about The Walking Dead!). Be the Match, the national bone marrow donor registry in the U.S. has jumped on the bandwagon with MySocial Strand, which calculates your chance of surviving zombiepocalyse.
The quintessential zombie act of consuming flesh also provides commentary for perceptions of organ donation as dangerously bordering on cannibalistic, and how transplantation changes our ideas of personal property, privacy and space. The Walking Dead explores those issues and complicates them by putting its characters in dire situations, with extreme amounts of stress, and adds elements such as racism, group mentality, contraception, suicide and “merciful murder.” Besides Steven Yeun expertly delivering one of the greatest organ donation zingers ever to grace television, and the exploration of social issues, The Walking Dead is a fantastic horror-thriller series that keeps me on the edge of my seat.