On Aug. 1, one of the wackiest, heaviest shows on television delivered a swan song, wrapping up five seasons of genre blending and world building. The CW’s iZombie, a dramedy created by Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars), redefined the zombie show in the wake of The Walking Dead.
The show’s zombies could think and act like normal humans as long as they got a steady supply of human brains, and got visions of memories of the dead people whose brains they ate. That was the simple setup of season 1, when Dr. Olivia “Liv” Moore (Rose McIver) first got scratched at the first outbreak of the zombie virus and went to work at a police morgue. Ultimately, the show went on to expand beyond a quirky case-of-the-week series to being a show with a message.
The turning point? The world’s discovery of zombies, a revelation that evolved and challenged the audience, and truly culminated in the final hour of the series.
[Ed. note: major spoilers for all of iZombie below.]
Previously, in the season 3 finale, the zombie virus mass distributed to Seattle’s residents by way of a “flu vaccine” exposed the existence of the undead. Fillmore-Graves, a zombie paramilitary group, took control of the city and Seattle, rechristened New Seattle, then put up walls around the territory, isolating it from the rest of the country and trapping everyone inside. The city became a police state, creating ripe conditions for political allegories. Since a zombie scratch can save a person’s life if they’re dying or have a terminal illness, more than a few people find themselves trying to get into Seattle in the hopes of receiving a life-saving wound.
A smuggling operation is soon set up to fulfill the demand, and who should soon become head of that altruistic illegal organization but our very own heroine, Liv. Do we help the people who need it even if it’s a drain on our own resources? The show solidly answers yes.
When Major Lilywhite (Robert Buckley) becomes the new leader of Fillmore-Graves in the season 4 finale, and legalizes the smuggling operation (though the US government is still not cool with it), the immigration plot-line ended, but the show’s political streak would not. Thomas still had things to say, and a fictional world with which to say it. What’s beautiful about the way iZombie makes its political statements is that everything is so baked into the show’s mythology, that it never feels ham-handed (as many TV shows with political messages do), but naturally fits into the world of the show.
This has been true in the show’s fifth and final season this year. In a city run by a zombie paramilitary group, the law becomes very clear: one cannot discriminate against zombies, but the divide between humans and zombies runs deep, and in practice, this law is often not followed. In episode 3, a school is found to be using lice checks to single out zombie children (zombie hair is naturally white but most of them dye it to blend in), and segregate them into their own class. In episode 4, Liv, who has always refused to cover up the physical attributes of being a zombie, meets a suspect who is part of the anti-zombie hate group called Dead Enders, and refuses to be interrogated by her. This same guy (Bill Dow) has plans to publicly ID all of Seattle’s zombies via an algorithm on a traffic app, but he’s thwarted. In episode 5, Dead Enders gather outside of brain dispensaries to ID zombies and release those identities online.
Discrimination is only a small part of the final season’s messaging, as radical hate groups on both side of the divide grow. The Dead Enders and CHICS (Concerned Humans Imposing Common Sense) groups dedicate themselves to eradicating zombie kind, while a new secret group of radical zombies has its own nefarious ends. While anti-human zombies don’t want to wipe out humans (they need their brains to survive), they believe that zombies are the superior species, and humans should be subjugated under them. In season 4, this point of view is represented by Brother Love’s (Robert Knepper) religious zombie cult, but in season 5 a man who styles himself as the New Boss — but turns out to be Liv’s long lost biological father Martin Roberts — builds his own secret group out of Fillmore-Graves soldiers who think Major is taking too soft of a stand against humans.
The show’s stance is clear: both of these breeds of hate groups are wrong, and the world’s heroes are those who dedicate themselves to humans and zombies living together, working side by side in peace. While the show has had many great and evil individual big bads, it’s the haters who think that it’s impossible for humans and zombies to get along who become the ultimate villains. The show posits that humanizing the other is what’s required for peace and compassion.
To increase positive zombie PR outside of Seattle, acting mayor Peyton (Aly Michalka) commissions a sitcom about a zombie family and a human family that live next door to each other. It seems like a small thing to make a difference (especially since Peyton puts her job in jeopardy to make it happen), but it winds up saving the lives of every person, human and zombie, in Seattle. All season long, the city lives in fear that the US government will nuke them. The night before a big vote on whether to do just that, the chairwoman of the council making this decision finds her son watching the show. She sits and watches with him, and learns that zombies are very different from how she imagined, and that wiping them out would be genocide. Her swing vote saves the city.
The show might be overstating the power of television, but its discussion about how hate divides, and how compassion for all people is possible, is striking in today’s sociopolitical moment. In the final episode, our band of heroes races to stop a civil war erupting between zombies and humans, and though they succeed, the leaders of the hate groups are holdouts who will never lay their hatred down.
The goal, however, is for those people to be the outliers, and to always keep fighting for peace and love even if it costs you everything. The heroes of the show — Liv, Major, Ravi (Rahul Kohli), Peyton, and Clive — risked their lives every episode to make this happen. They don’t start out on the show as big and powerful, but as normal citizens. Through their struggle for what’s right, however, they rise to the top and make all the difference in the world. Their vision of a world where zombies and humans can live side by side is realized (with a little help from a zombie cure for those who want it). Real life isn’t a TV show where everything can end happily, but it does contain ordinary citizens who can do more than they probably realize, and can take the show’s message of compassion and fighting for what’s right to heart.
Linda Maleh is a New York City based entertainment writer. She is a staff writer for The Game of Nerds where she writes about all things television and film related. She has her own blog TV to Talk About, and has written for the NY Blueprint. You can follow her on Twitter as @ljmaleh and on Facebook as TV2TalkAbout.