On the Specter of Loss

Books and TV series lead to other books and TV series. Read one and you’re reminded of another. New releases refer to past ones, famous and obscure. Genres cross over, involving similar concepts, tropes, devices. Writers lift, pay tribute, re-imagine, claim as their own and take it a step further in their effort to tell gripping, original stories. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.

Welcome to Connection Degree Three …

American Gods by Neil Gaiman; The Leftovers (HBO); The Walking Dead (AMC). Three exquisite genre stories that deal with infection and casualties, death, grief, and life after death, all of them linked through their troubled male protagonists’ relationships with their spouses in a world thrown off kilter by the forces of loss.

American Gods is the story of Shadow, an ex-personal trainer and smalltime crook whose release from prison coincides with the death of his wife, Laura. Shadow, plagued by visions/visitations of Laura embarks on a perilous journey across America with the aid of a God who has taken human form. They make contact with number of other Gods, all of them old and waning, forging an alliance against the new generation of ultra-violent power-hungry immature Gods of technology and materialism. The journey is long and treacherous and full of trials, like an odyssey, only Shadow finds himself moving away from home rather toward it. At one point he finds himself in Cairo, Illinois, tending over dead people with the help of people who can speak to the dead, which is reminiscent of

The Leftovers, a story that begins with the spontaneous disappearance – The Departure – of 140 million people (2% of the global population). The Departure upends the world, including the town of Mapleton, NY, where the story takes place. Kevin Garvey, chief of police in Mapleton, has an especially hard time dealing with everything. His teenage daughter is straying, and his son is somewhere in the Southwest, and Kevin loses touch with reality. Suffering from blackouts, he wakes up in places he doesn’t remember visiting, one of which happens to be Cairo, NY, where he faces something terrible – ‘I fucked up,’ he admits over the phone to his lover, Nora – and has to live with the consequences all his life. Fueling his gradual collapse is his separated wife, Laurie, who won’t speak to him, in fact, she wants to divorce him after having joined the cult Guilty Remnant, or GR. The GR have taken a vow of silence, walking around town smoking cigarettes, stalking people, constantly reminding everyone of the Departed, letting no one forget the loss, which is reminiscent of

The Walking Dead, a story about the world having succumbed to a zombie-style disease that afflicts anyone who dies. This disease hijacks the brain of the deceased, lighting up a bare minimum of synapses so that the corpse is reanimated, turning into a flesh-eating zombie. The disease spreads through bites from the infected, or via death: get bitten, or die at any point, and you come back as a Walker, and can be killed only with a lethal blow to the head. It’s hard to survive in this cruel world. Everyone reels in the aftermath of living death, some survivors having a hard time destroying Walkers, especially when the afflicted were friends or family. Big mindfuck! Plus a dangerous choice! Zombie family members are as deadly as any of them, preying indiscriminately on people, and need to be taken out at all costs. It’s a grueling process, having to destroy your walking dead loved ones, but that’s what you have to do to survive. Not many do. Among the few survivors is Rick Grimes, Sheriff’s Deputy, main protagonist, whose wife, Laurie, haunts his visions,which brings us back to

American Gods and Shadow’s visions of his wife, Laura, and the beginning of a perilous journey in the wake of personal tragedy.

And there you have it. The Walking Dead, American Gods, The Leftovers. Three compelling stories about infection and casualties, pain, death, and life after death that involves troubled male protagonists, their spouses Laurie/Laura, and a bunch of people struggling to survive in a world thrown off balance by disease/supernatural forces, paranoia, regret, and the specter of loss.

Nicolas D. Sampson is a writer-producer based in Cyprus and the UK. His work has appeared in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, The Scofield, and The Writers’ Magazine, among others. His short story Flames and Shadows was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. Film projects include Behind the Mirror (writer/producer – winner of Best Thriller in the Manhattan Film Festival 2015), Vita and Virginia and Show Me The Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall (executive producer). He loves Alfred Hitchcock films. And traveling. And the Cloud. And is currently working on a psychological horror script.

Check out our interview with Nicolas D. Sampson here.

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