Goodness, am I excited for The Walking Dead, AMC’s upcoming tale of zombies and the humans who survive their depopulation of much of the United States. First off, Andrew Lincoln was really quite appealing as one of just a few people in Love, Actually who didn’t get a happy ending, and who struggled with a love that wasn’t going to be realized. Laura Linney overshadowed him, because her character’s role was sadder, but Lincoln added some life and pathos to a much more common story. Now, he gets to strap up and be a hero:

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But the project’s also part of a trend I’m seeing that I think is serious and significant, and that deserves further thought: American pop culture is increasingly giving us stories of depopulating cataclysms that leave only a few survivors alive. I think part of that tendency comes from the need for an American frontier. With the country filled up, the only way to explore ideas of manifest destiny, exploration, and the unsettled wild in an American context is to destroy the country’s population and to force characters to survive, and start over. I think there’s also a strain of thinking that our present course of life is unsustainable, and that disaster is inevitable. I tend to believe that alien invasion movies are a manifestation of this strain of dread, rather than a separate category of it, except that alien invasions have the possibility of being repelled, while cataclysm movies and shows rely on the worst coming to pass. More to come on this. And if you’ve got examples, send ’em along.