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Proof that The Walking Dead predicted toilet paper hoarding

One of the running themes of AMC's zombie pandemic show The Walking Dead is the ways in which living through an apocalyptic event reveals the true nature of humanity. The show is in its 10th season, and since the beginning, characters have demonstrated how the fight for safety and resources has the potential to bring out greed, compassion, love, and sadism in all of us. And as anyone who's been to a grocery store during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic knows, one thing we've revealed about ourselves in the real world is that bathroom hygiene is vitally important. When the coronavirus pandemic truly began to heat up, the world responded by bulk-buying a basic necessity: toilet paper. 

A huge reason that The Walking Dead resonates so hard with people is that it feels real to them, even if the characters' circumstances are very different than their own. COVID-19 might not be the same as the zombie apocalypse, but the meat of the emotional and political issues is similar. That overlap isn't just relegated to esoteric socio-political ideas, either. A scene from the show's very first episode provides a direct toilet paper-themed link between the world of the show and our own.

When The Walking Dead anticipated toilet paper stockpiling

On the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, we are introduced to the world about one month after the beginning of the zombie-induced societal collapse. After waking up from a coma, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wanders the streets of his hometown attempting to find safety and figure out what's going on. Here, we see all the typical Hollywood signs of apocalypse: crashed cars, abandoned streets, and burning buildings. But it's not until Rick meets his first fellow survivors that we get our future-predicting moment.

When Rick makes his way back to his house, he finds that his wife and son are long gone — but at the house of his neighbor, fellow survivor Morgan (Lennie James) is holed up with his son. As astute observers on Reddit noticed when revisiting the episode, among the survivalist supplies in Morgan's house is something that will be familiar to anyone who has been stocking up at the grocery store recently: a big ol' stack of toilet paper, rolls upon rolls upon rolls.

It might seem unnervingly prophetic to see such a sight so particular to our current time on a TV episode that aired a decade ago, but toilet paper hoarding has actually been a staple of disasters for a long time, and there may even be a scientific explanation as to why.

Why are people hoarding toilet paper?

In 1973, a government memo suggesting that a shortage of toilet paper might be imminent in the U.S. caused a media firestorm that hit its peak when Johnny Carson cracked a joke about it on The Tonight Show. The bit sent the country into a toilet paper-buying frenzy that has since been repeated just about every time Americans are told to brace for inclement weather or an economic downturn.

The response to load as much toilet paper into your cart as possible in times of crisis might actually be more deeply rooted in our psychology than we realize. Psychologist Mary Alvord told Time that the impulse to stock up on the most basic of sanitation products could be a response to our fear of being rejected by those around us for lacking proper hygiene. "It's about being clean and presentable and social and not smelling bad," Alvord explained.

So, in this case, it isn't so much that The Walking Dead predicted our current toilet paper shortage, but the creators certainly proved themselves to be astute observers of culture and society. On top of that, a stack of toilet paper rolls isn't the only image from the show that has ended up being eerily prescient.

Other things The Walking Dead got right about coronavirus

On March 6th, 2020, another surreal real event involving The Walking Dead's pilot episode came to fruition. When we flash back to Rick's introduction to the post-apocalypse world, we see him waking up in Harrison Memorial Hospital in Cynthiana, Kentucky. Lots of shows use invented settings, but Harrison Memorial is a real hospital — and on March 8th, they announced that two days previous, they'd confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the state of Kentucky.

Another unsettling visual callback comes in the form of one of the show's most famous pieces of early promotional art. As reported by MovieWeba user on Twitter noticed the similarities between a season 1 poster image of Rick riding a horse down the middle of an empty mega-highway with the skyline of Atlanta in the background and a recent shot of a similarly giant highway emptied of cars as a result of people staying home to avoid spreading coronavirus.

The second photo is authentic, and was the result of the Twitter user asking a friend who lives in Atlanta to see if they could recreate the now-iconic poster. Turns out, sometimes art really does imitate life. Or life imitates art. Either way: wash your hands.