When a TV show is described as a zombie rom-com, you don't exactly expect it to delve into deep political issues. But iZombie Season 4 is going overtly political. The CW's pun-filled sci-fi series has always been about zombies living in secret in Seattle, as told through the eyes of Liv Moore (Rose McIver) as she works for the police in the morgue, eating brains of victims to solve their murders. But when the Season 3 finale outed zombies to the rest of the human population, all hell broke loose.
Season 4 picks up after a short time jump. Seattle has officially become a walled city, keeping the zombies and humans trapped inside and separated from the rest of the country. Zombie military group Fillmore-Graves promised the government that no humans would be harmed inside the perimeter and all zombies would stay inside the walled city as long as the country delivers brains from humans who die naturally outside the walls. Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and so begins the central conflict of iZombie this season.
"We still get lots of cases-of-the-week and we still get the humor and the relationship stuff and the drama, but the zombie apocalypse has happened," McIver tells Bustle along with a small group of reporters on the Vancouver-based set earlier this winter. "That reinvents the show after four years." Rahul Kohli, who plays Liv's best friend Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti, is quick to add, "We're not apocalyptic." Their new world order is "not Walking Dead, but it's exploding and bursting out the sides," he says.
Robert Buckley, who plays human-turned-zombie-turned-human-again-turned-zombie-again Major Lilywhite, calls Season 4 his "favorite season, hands down," because of the massive mythology reset now that zombies are out in the open.
"I immediately noticed within the scripts, I felt a sense of excitement from the writer's room," he says. "Something I loved right off the bat was that everyone's story had stakes. It really was like a powder keg. There's so much volatility because there's zombies having to coexist with humans and you're like, 'Wow, this is not far off from what I read on Twitter every three hours.'"
While zombies may not exist in real-life (although, hey, who knows?), the connections to real-world issues feel so incredibly prescient this season with two groups of people arguing on opposite sides of the same debate. David Anders, who plays serial killer zombie Blaine DeBeers, can't help but point out that there is a literal wall that's been built to keep people from crossing the border on the show, which is something the current POTUS keeps trying to make happen in real life.
"There's a lot of topically relevant topics that come up because of the wall," Anders says, sitting next to an autopsy table on set. "We have coyotes mewling people in to the wall that want to become zombies; they have critical conditions like Parkinson's or something like that and want to become zombies so they can kick it in the butt."
iZombie has always been so focused on the sci-fi elements and relationships between the characters that they've never really delved into these deeper issues before. While that may seem like a daunting endeavor, iZombie pulls it off because the writers never preach one side of an argument. They present both sides of the debate about many different issues and let the viewer make up his or her own mind.
"Somehow in closing off this world, it's become an enlarged world," Anders says. "All credit due to the writers, [executive producers] Rob [Thomas] and Diane [Ruggiero]. They just write fantastic stuff about living under the rule of Fillmore-Graves and being quarantined. It's a completely different season. It's like the Wild West."
Malcolm Goodwin, who plays Liv's human partner Detective Clive Babineaux, echoes Anders' sentiment about how iZombie's world has expanded with the introduction of the real-world political elements.
"There's a lot going on and I think Rob Thomas and Diane and the writers approach it in a honest way in terms of if there's a zombie virus, everyone knows about it, there's good and there's also bad," Goodwin says, leaning back in his chair in the middle of the Seattle Police Department precinct set. "You have people with terminal illnesses trying to break into Seattle in order to extend their life for themselves, for their loved ones. You also have people who are trying to get out of Seattle, humans and zombies. Clive thinks the city is gonna be nuked. We don't know what's going to happen."
There is a threat that begins to develop of if the U.S. government decides to just send a nuclear missile to take out Seattle and end the zombie problem for good, but the way that Fillmore-Graves tries to avoid that outcome is in a very grey ethical area.
"Everyone is trying to figure this thing out and some would rather die for the cause," Goodwin teases. "In the meantime, we're still trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. And that's the challenging and interesting part. There's no more secrets and I think it exposes other things that each character's dealing with and what has been happening in Seattle."
McIver adds that this whole season is taking an approach to every issue "like there's no right answer."
"There's just very nuanced shades of grey as to how people are supposed to interact with this new zombie population, and I think that Liv takes definite issue with some of the hard and fast opinions that Fillmore-Graves and their followers have," McIver says. "She doesn't believe that zombies and humans have to be antagonists, and she also has a lot of dear friends who are human still. What we look at in this season is there's all sorts of people sitting on all sides of the fence."
For his part, Kohli loves seeing Thomas and Ruggiero get political because of the discourse it's going to inspire in viewers. "It's going to be interesting," he says, sitting in the morgue set. "It's fun to see and read Rob Thomas' take on certain things, and the writers, and certain predictions. Then when we air, it's going to be interesting to see where we are in the real world, compared to what Rob and Diane and everyone feels."
Since all of Season 4 of iZombie was written and shot months ago, some of the timeliness of the issues being tackled is eerie. The topic of gun control, for one, and the idea of arming young kids to create a militarized society will feel incredibly relevant given the recent Parkland shooting and the conversations being had as a result. iZombie has a storyline where Major brings young teens into his Fillmore-Graves unit and arms them with assault rifles. Accidents ensue, and another timely political conversation is inspired.
"I think it's important," Kohli says. "I know we're on The CW, and we're a light-hearted comic book show, but that shouldn't steer away from drawing attention to certain things, and getting people to ask questions about how they feel about those things, because again, they're not black and white either. There is some gray, and we deal with the gray in the show."
According to Kohli, iZombie is also tackling capital punishment as scratching humans to make them into zombies becomes a crime punishable by the death penalty.
"Making someone a zombie if that person's life is in danger, you would think of that as compassionate," he says. "You know, someone's terminally ill, a child is terminally ill, and if you were to scratch them you would obviously save their life. But at the same time, there are rations. Where do you get the food from? How do you support this population? One thing takes away another. Those are the things that are really interesting in that eco-system that Rob's created with this season."
But what resonates the most with Aly Michalka, who plays Liv's human BFF and roommate Peyton Charles, is that iZombie is shining a spotlight on "discrimination and hate and these levels of hierarchy that we have to somehow answer to."
"[In reality] we feel hopeless, like we have no voice," she says. "But ultimately, we really still do. I think we forget as a society that we have a lot of power and numbers, and we sometimes get inundated with negative news and these horrendous stories that you see all over the place, and you start thinking, 'Okay, there is nothing I can do about gun control. Okay, I guess there is nothing I can do about protecting the LGBTQ community. I guess there is nothing we can do about helping refugees and letting them come into our country and seek safety here.' But really, we can."
That's why iZombie is the political show we need now more than ever, because it's framing all these important issues in a way that inspires not only conversation but action.
"That is a huge part of this new season, is all these characters realizing that we actually can do something," Michalka says. "We actually do have a voice, and if we stick together, we can actually get work done. Now it goes far beyond just solving murders. It all starts to involve these people who are trying to get into Seattle, trying to be cured basically from terminal illnesses, and these coyotes that are scratching them illegally to turn them into a zombies so they can be forever cured."
Tying an illegal immigration storyline into a show about zombies may seem like a stretch, but Goodwin loves how it turned out. "We just thought it was definitely timely and relevant to what was happening in the world right now," he says. "I think they did it ... in a very honest way."
One very smart storyline iZombie explores this season is how two friends handle being on opposite sides of a political debate. Liv sympathizes with the coyotes smuggling people across the border, which goes directly against the laws put in place and enforced by Fillmore-Graves, Major's employer.
"She's definitely not as by the book as Major, but it's always with really good intentions," McIver says. "I have some very fundamental disagreements politically [with Major]. So while she loves him, and they've been dear friends despite everything, I think it's like it would be in real life where if something is happening in the government, and it's not too hard to imagine in your own world, and you disagree with your partner, it's very divisive and very isolating."
So while McIver promises that "Liv and Major still have a deep fondness for each other ... politics definitely get in the way for them this year." And Buckley adds that "it creates some conflict" for the star-crossed zombie lovers. Because in a world where a cold war with humans vs. zombies is about to break out, why should a relationship be easy? At least we can all trade the horror and uncertainty of the real world for a little while for the horror and uncertainty of iZombie this season.