On October 26, 2015, long-running humour and article website Cracked released The Stumbling Dead, a four-part post-apocayptic narrative comedy web series.
The Stumbling Dead offers a fresh and surprisingly endearing take on the zombie genre, portraying its undead as naive, childlike beings, just as motivated by friendship and unassailable optimism as they are by hunger for human flesh. They even euphemistically refer to other zombies as ‘friends’, and living humans as ‘foods’.
Starring actor Espie Randolph and Cracked staff writers Katy Stoll, Michael Swaim and Cody Johnston, the series follows a group of zombies wandering through the wilderness, searching for ‘food’ and gradually learning more about themselves and the world around them.
The series is funny and charming, deriving plenty of gags and humorous observations from its stylised characters and their upbeat cluelessness, but the writing can be poignant and even insightful.
The narrative is interspersed with grey-tinted flashbacks, as the zombies dredge up important memories from their former lives, and some are genuinely sombre, depicting the hard personal loss experienced by one woman, and the desperate, drunken confusion of another before her zombification.
In Episode 2, Arrow (Randolph - this zombie is named ‘Arrow’ in the credits because of the arrow embedded in his chest) eagerly experiments with alternative forms of food, including dirt, grass, rocks and mushrooms. Cynical Suit’s (Johnston) irritated reluctance is reminiscent of the backlash against veganism, and his rebuke of Arrow for having ‘changed the natural definition of food’ is a subtle satire of conservative arguments against same-sex marriage.
In Episode 3, the group makes the shocking revelation that they were once ‘food’ (human), after a bitten food (Hunter - Tess Paras) becomes a friend before their very eyes. When they inform the Horde of their discovery, the Horde’s narrow-minded dismissal of the evidence parodies confirmation bias and the still-ongoing rejection of evolution among certain religious communities. One Horde zombie (played by Cracked senior editor Tom Reimann) even invokes the ‘transitional form’ chestnut.
A zealous zombie orator (Zlarma - Haley Mancini) appeals to the sentiment of ‘simpler times for simpler friends’, and the outrage she cultivates at the notion of their leader (Katie Wilert) once having been food harkens back to the ridicule Charles Darwin received for proposing that humans evolved from apes.
The Stumbling Dead is a morbidly-funny, well-produced and very clever series, but it resonated with me on an additional level.
The rough zombie ‘society’ in The Stumbling Dead almost represents a sort of macabre aromantic idyll.
I learned recently that I’m aromantic. I can and do experience romantic attraction from time to time, but not very often; I’ve never had a long-term girlfriend, and romantic relationships don’t really interest me. Conversely, I love my friends very dearly; I tell my close friends that I love them, and I admire and care for them very deeply. For many years, I’ve wondered if my sense of ‘love’ is too intense and too general for me to develop romantic relationships, and a few weeks ago, with the help of some kind Twitter users, I found that the term ‘aromantic’ fits this state of being.
In The Stumbling Dead, there appear to be no romantic or sexual relationships within the Horde, but the friendships every zombie forms are incredibly strong and devoted. This is a community in which respect is absolute and anyone can openly and earnestly tell someone else that they love them, and be reciprocated without ridicule.
In Episode 3, as Tami (Katy Stoll), the perceptive ostensible leader of their group, rejoins the group after being caught in a car door, my heart melted when Suit greeted her with: “Hey! I love you.”
The Stumbling Dead is a great piece of clever, morbid satire, but it’s also a strangely sweet depiction of aromantic attitudes.
The Stumbling Dead is available to view for free on YouTube and on the Cracked website.
Seth Lukas Hynes is a writer and film critic from Australia. He runs a weekly film review column for the Mountain Views Mail newspaper, wrote and self-published Trans-Sentient, a volume of cyberpunk short fiction, and has a Bachelor of Arts, Honours degree in Writing from Deakin University. He has had articles published by mX, Ramona Mag, the COSMOS website, Wordly magazine and Data Extract. He is a cis-male, mostly-heterosexual individual, but an aromantic and a committed ally of the broader LGBTQIA+ community.