Now we know the answer to the question “Who did Negan kill?” The season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead was just as bloody and disturbing as expected.

It’s a given that the impending apocalypse is going to be bad (zombies are the least of our problems). Add kill beloved characters in truly horrific ways and Robert Kirkland’s apocalypse becomes one that is not only terrifying, but downright pessimistic.

Like many others living in a post 9/11 world, I have a sort of morbid fascination with the end of time and quite enjoy fictional stories about how unfair and cruel life can be. But those who know me know that I always take an optimistic view. In fact, I think people are pretty darned capable, generous, and even heroic. One reason I’m such a fan of The Walking Dead is that it offers possible outcomes to our present-day situation, drawing attention to aspects of our society that need to change past the point of hopelessness, ultimately instilling a sense of optimism. And who couldn’t use a bit more of that?

Yes indeed, there is a bright side of life with zombies:

  • The good guys are always out there. You may think it’s the Governors’ and Negans’ who will thrive in a post-apocalyptic world, but let’s not forget the Daryls’ and Maggies’ – and all the characters who diligently talk through their ethical dilemmas.

Our environments have a profound effect on our actions. We all want acceptance from the group (whether this is conscious or not). Good guys want to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out. One study reported that bystanders are more likely to help strangers in distress when they recognize such strangers as belonging to a common group (even though what counts as group membership is not fixed). When people are encouraged to see greater commonalities with strangers, they will extend help to those whom they may have otherwise considered part of the “out group.”

Think about your own environment and the people you’re surrounding yourself with. Are they Merles’ or Glenns?’

  • Relationships flourish. Zombies aside, The Walking Dead is mostly about the beauty and complexity of human relationships in extreme conditions. I’m not only talking about romantic relationships. Think Michonne and Carl, Daryl and Carol, and Rick’s group in general. Their quest for survival and their common experience of suffering formed a group of individuals into a family of people who care about and sacrifice for each other. “No matter how dark it gets, and how awful the circumstances the characters might face, they’ll face it together,” Producer Scott Gimple said.

We know that building and sustaining relationships is vital to our success, but this bears repeating. Our Interpersonal relationships are key to our quality of life. The strength of our connections to others contributes to our ability to deal with challenges (physical, health, emotional) on many levels. If we’re effective in relationship management, we inspire and influence people positively, communicate well, and manage conflict proactively.

What efforts do you put into forming and maintaining healthy relationships?

  • There’s not only hope, but meaning in life. One of the biggest themes in The Walking Dead is the question of what it means to be human. There are those survivors who merely exist, attempting to avoid becoming zombies, and others who go to the extent of abandoning everything about being human. “We are the walking dead,” Rick exclaimed on the road to Alexandria – a low point when the group was nearly devoid of hope and meaning. Yet despite this and other setbacks, Rick’s group has fought valiantly through their suffering, propelled by the hope for a meaningful life.

Franz Kafka said, “The meaning of life is that it stops.” Our choices matter because they are finite. The time I spent writing this article is time I’ll never get back – and eventually, I’ll die. Even if no one reads this, it still has meaning to me because it’s time out of my life I chose to spend. I have the same amount of time every day that you do (or don’t), and we each prioritize our time according to what our lives mean (or don’t). We always have the freedom of choice – “in spite of the worst conditions” (Victor Frankl), and therefore we always have the ability to seek meaning. Meaning isn’t necessarily ideal or cliché; it’s who we talk to, who we love, who we help (or hurt) who we hurt, what we build (or destroy). Our “meaning” depends on us.

What is the meaning of your life going to be from this moment forward?

About the Author:
Edythe Richards is a career counselor, Certified Emotional Intelligence practitioner, amateur philosopher, and Walking Dead fan. She writes about Surviving Your Job Search before the apocalypse too.