The characters in AMC's zombie apocalypse drama, based on the comic book series of the same name, have had to figure things out on their own. The show premiered in 2010 and tells the story of former sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes who, following a shootout, awakens from a coma in a hospital that has been turned upside down by the reanimation of the dead. As has been common in zombie dramas since at least the time of George Romero's 1968 movie "Night of the Living Dead," the walking corpses shamble around looking for opportunities to feast on human flesh. A zombie bite infects the living, condemning them to the same fate. Only a bullet (or a spear or a crowbar) through the head prevents the dead from walking the earth.
UC Irvine's free online course, "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's 'The Walking Dead,'" is being produced with support from AMC and will be hosted on the Canvas Network. It will be taught by a multidisciplinary team: Zuzana Bic (Program in Public Health), Joanne Christopherson (School of Social Sciences), Michael Dennin (School of Physical Sciences) and Sarah Eichhorn (Department of Mathematics). The first class is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 14, the day after the premiere of Season 4, and the course will run for eight consecutive Mondays through Dec. 2.
Lessons have been prepared based on the last three seasons. Instructors have not been given an advance look at the new episodes; they will watch and comment on them along with the class. AMC is providing access to past episodes to enrolled students for the duration of the course so they can study their zombie lore.
"In my week of the course, we'll be looking at the mathematical modeling of an epidemic and how it spreads," Eichhorn said in an interview. The mathematical model she will use includes differential equations, a topic typically covered post-calculus. Eichhorn can't assume students will fully understand it, nor will she have time to teach it in depth. However, at a minimum the course offers an opportunity to reach a large audience from the general public and show them how mathematics can be useful in the real world, she said.
"We're looking forward to all the faculty coming together the night the new season launches, which will be the night before the course goes live," said Melissa Loble, associate dean of distance learning at UC Irvine.
Over the past three seasons, the story has advanced from that of a lone survivor to a community banding together for mutual defense, with individuals trying to preserve their humanity despite the brutality of their circumstances. By the end of season 3, the survivors were trying to create a defensible position in a former prison while competing for resources with a neighboring community headed a charismatic but crazy leader known as the Governor. When Grimes confronts his young son about shooting an unarmed man, the boy in turn rebukes his father for being too slow to act and too quick to show mercy in ways that tend to backfire. By the end of the episode, Grimes and his comrades have achieved at least a temporary victory over the Governor and convinced many members of the other community to join them -- setting the stage for more conflict to come in season 4.