Dead Grapes of Walking Wrath: How The Walking Dead is a Post-Apocalyptic Retelling of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
How The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic retelling of the Grapes of Wrath.!
And how John Steinbeck’s great American novel tells us how the epic zombie tale will end.!
by Fred Smith
October 19, 2014
The zombie outbreak is the Great Depression.
Hungry men fight for work at a depression era job bureau. Hungry zombies wander aimlessly in search of living flesh.
One minute, everything is fine. Then, for reasons not understood
by the victims, an epidemic changes life as we know it. People are
forced from the world they once understood and must now survive
amidst panic, uncertainty, and mounting desperation.
Two families travel an increasingly dangerous road in search of hope.
The Joads: !
Tenant farmers from Oklahoma must leave their land during
the Dust Bowl. They head for California in search of a better life.
The Group: !
A patchwork of families and hardened survivors seeks hope and
sanctuary from the surrounding chaos.
Time-honored family values lie at the core of both groups. Their faith in humanity is
perpetually tested, and in many cases broken, with each hardship endured.
New members arrive and must earn their keep. Some prove their valor. Others
pillage in the name of their own survival.
The Unwitting Leaders: Tom Joad and Rick Grimes
Tom Joad ! Rick Grimes !
Neither asked to be in charge, yet each becomes the de-facto leader of his group and must make the tough
decisions that will decide a family’s fate.
Both men have a history with the law that weighs heavily on their psyches. Tom was a convicted felon and
realizes his leaving the state violates his parole and jeopardizes his family as they travel a hard road. Rick
was a sheriff who had sworn to uphold the law. Now he must set aside his notions of right or wrong to ensure
his family’s survival. Both are inherently good men whose pasts may lead to their undoing.
Two men discover the world they knew has forever changed….
The Dust Bowl!
Released from prison, Tom Joad walks to his
family’s farm and discovers a desolate world.
Rick Grimes leaves a hospital and also finds a world
that’s drastically changed while he was away!
Both stories begin with men walking out of incarceration and slowly discovering that the world they once
knew has irrevocably changed.
Tom Joad and Rick Grimes walk lonely paths en route to finding their families and restoring whatever
normalcy can be salvaged from the devastating reality.
The Reluctant Elders: Grampa Joad and Herschel
Grampa Joad ! Hershel !
Both are tied to the land they feel is a piece of them and their family. Both are in denial of the day’s
hardships. Both are dragged from their farms and forced to endure life as a wanderer. Both will die without
ever finding peace in the new world. Both leave behind families who will press on without them.
Innocents Lost: Rose of Sharon and Beth
Rose of Sharon! Beth!
Forced to abandon their childhoods, Rose of Sharon and Beth rush to motherhood by assuming duties
traditionally reserved for the women of the family.
After delivering a stillborn baby, Rose of Sharon finds a use for her mother’s milk in an act of Roman Charity
to fend off strangers’ starvation. We’ve yet to see such an act from Beth. However, Rick’s line while placing his
lawman’s hat atop Beth’s head in the culmination of Season 4 may be the ultimate indicator of Beth’s future and
the importance it holds: There’s a new sheriff in town.
Unsung Matriarchs: Ma Joad and Carol
Ma Joad! Carol!
Ma Joad and Carol are the silent glue that holds their families together. Both make the hardest of decisions
without haste. They do so while taking careful attention to keep the egos of the men around them intact. Each
witnesses her husband’s spirit break and realizes that a broken man, one who can neither work nor fight, is a
liability in the new and treacherous world.
Carol’s turn from battered wife at the show’s outset, to a badass with a rocket launcher by the fifth season is
profound. Given that Ma Joad had lived most of her life in an America that did not grant women the right to vote,
her becoming the rock on which her family can can depend during hard times is perhaps the more radical
Temporary Sanctuary courtesy of the US Government
Set up by the US government to accommodate rising numbers
of impoverished victims of the Depression, the camp provides a
fleeting security for the road-weary Joads. !
After enduring an arduous struggle on the road, the Joads and the Group find a temporary haven in a
government institution. With its clean sheets and warm showers, The Weedpatch Camp provides every bit of
needed relief for the Joads that the prison’s high fences and defensible towers provide the Group as they fend
off walkers and governing mad men.
For a time, both the Joads and the group ponder a life in their chosen institute. In the end, neither government-funded
facility can withstand the demanding numbers of the looming epidemic, and the families must move on
and brave the uncertainty of the world.
Originally designed to the keep the outside world safe
from the evil locked within, the group uses the prison to
shelter themselves from the terror that besets them
from all sides. The zombie apocalypse is not without a
sense of irony.!
“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
Travels with Charley: In Search of America
“A sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ.”
Herschel to Rick
“Internment” Season 4 Ep. 5
In “Internment” Herschel speaks of a conversation he had with a now dead man in the prison about (Grapes of
Wrath author) John Steinbeck. He quotes to Rick the above line and explains that he believes the outbreak is
happening for a reason and that this is a test of humanity. Soon after the prison is overrun from the dead within.
The Joads also felt that their journey was a test. Consider Ma Joad’s final lines of the film:
“We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on
forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people.”
More Steinbeck references in The Walking Dead
Carol’s killing of young Lizzie is very similar to George’s killing of the
mentally handicapped Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Consider Carol’s killing of Lizzie in “The Grove”. One of the more insightful trending topics among Dead fans on
the web the night the episode aired involved the similarities between the episode’s telling scene and that of
John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men. ComicBook.com offered a fine deconstruction of the two
scenes in a blog entry that you can see HERE.
The similarities were also acknowledged on The Talking Dead. Yet, no one made the grand connection between
the TV series’ arch and that of Steinbeck’s master work, The Grapes of Wrath.
I would suggest this lack of enlightenment is by design on the part of the TV show’s development team.
George and Lennie!
in Of Mice and Men!
Carol and Lizzie!
in “The Grove”
Rodents were not safe in Lizzie’s hands, either.
A tip of the hand from the show’s developer…
The Walking Dead’s TV creator lists Night of the
Living Dead and The Grapes of Wrath among
his favorite films of all time. !
When asked, in 2009 (one year before The Walking Dead would make its TV debut) by Empire magazine to
provide a list of his personal favorite movies of all-time, the show’s creator and lead developer Frank Darabont
offered his top 10 choices by genre. Atop his list for horror films? George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Among his his all-time favorite dramas in film history?
You guessed it…The 1940 classic directed by John Ford. The Grapes of Wrath.
So what does it all mean?
Using the Grapes of Wrath as a primer, we can make reasonable predictions!
as to the directions The Walking Dead will take and how the TV series will end.!
WARNING: clairvoyant spoilers ahead.
Analyzing the Grapes of Wrath helps us predict The Walking Dead
Let’s look at what happens in
The Grapes of Wrath
And predict what may
happen in The Walking Dead.
Now for the fun part.
The predictions we’re about to make are for the AMC TV series,
not the graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman.
Analyzing the Grapes of Wrath helps us predict The Walking Dead
The Joads reach California and realize that it
is over-populated with desperate workers like
Realizing that corporate farmers are in a
collusion that suppresses the worker, they
join the labor movement.
One of their friends (Casey) becomes
a recruiter for a union and is fatally
beaten in a strike that turns violent.
Tom witnesses Casey’s death, and kills his
Now a fugitive, Tom informs Ma that he must
leave the family as he is wanted for murder.
Tom vows to fight for the oppressed worker
and to see him to better times.
The Group will find its “California”, and realize
that life there is tainted in favor of the oppressive.
A brutal entity will rule with an iron hand.
The Group will discover (or perhaps form) a small
band of rebels and join them in a fight
Someone (not Rick) in the Group will step up to
an official position of leadership in the newly
This person will be killed and Rick will avenge the
death with a brutal killing of his own.
Rick will make the choice to leave the family and
Carol will bless his decision.
The show will end with Rick venturing off to fight for
the over-matched, decent man. If any are left.
What do you think?
The Internet is chock-full of theories about The Walking Dead.!
However, none have yet tied the apocalyptic saga to the great American novel about the!
survival of the human spirit in the most trying of times.!
The evidence in the preceding pages demonstrates a clear connection. !
What do you think?