Could The Walking Dead actually happen? Morgan Freeman has tackled plenty of burning questions on his Science Channel series Through the Wormhole, but perhaps never one so fueled by pop culture. But with zombies taking over television, Freeman and his team felt the time was right for Through the Wormhole to ask, "Is A Zombie Apocalypse Possible?" The episode airs Wednesday at 10/9c.
In advance of the episode, Freeman talked with TV Guide Magazine and gave his take on zombies, and two things that truly concern him: Artificial intelligence and sentient oceans.
TV Guide Magazine: I bet you never thought you'd do a zombie apocalypse episode of Through the Wormhole.
Freeman: It is a bit off the beaten path.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you discuss in the episode? There's no way there could ever be such a thing as a zombie apocalypse, right?
Freeman: Well, it depends on the definition of "zombie." People walking around with dead eyes and eating human flesh, I don't see it happening that way. But let's take a look at the scientific idea that zombies may exist. In the ant world, there is a fungus that attacks the ant brain and makes the ant do what it wants, which is to climb to the highest tree, clamp on to a leaf and then die. The ant does that. The fungus grows out of the ant's brain and rains spores onto the rest of the ant colony. That's a zombie. It actually exists.
TV Guide Magazine: What about in human terms?
Freeman: I and possibly a few other scientists look at it as the idea that some other force is controlling you. That's already happening. It's not to the apocalypse area yet, but it's heading there. And that is our technology.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you mean?
Freeman: Do you have a smart phone?
TV Guide Magazine: I'm talking to you on one right now.
Freeman: See? You're almost helpless without it. You can't remember a phone number or an address or even some names.
TV Guide Magazine: In other words, technology is turning us all into zombies.
Freeman: Yes. And if it keeps going, the apocalypse may be upon us. It sounds foolish, but we have a whole new generation of humans coming up with that total dependency.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you worry about artificial intelligence?
Freeman: I think artificial intelligence is the one thing you have to be most concerned about. If artificial intelligence becomes an absolute, an intelligence that is self-aware and can self-replicate and learn, we will become useless. We will become unnecessary. It won't need us to feed it, water it, nurture us in any way. So it won't need us at all.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you make of how popular culture depicts these scenarios, such as The Walking Dead and zombies?
Freeman: I think they're just a new subject matter for entertainment. I don't think there's anything realistic about the idea of The Walking Dead. I don't see how that could become any kind of reality.
TV Guide Magazine: You deal with a lot of interesting questions on Through the Wormhole, not just zombies. Will you ever run out of those topics?
Freeman: After the second season we thought, "Oh dear, now they want another one. What are we going to talk about?" But as time goes on, there are still tons of subjects for us to study on the show. We're not worried about running out yet.
TV Guide Magazine: What was the most interesting revelation you found this season on Through the Wormhole?
Freeman: The most fascinating thing we're dealing with this year is the idea of a sentient ocean. That the ocean, this large body of water, 70 percent of the earth, is self-aware. That it's a life force, not just a repository of life. Let's assume that's true for a minute. What if the ocean is aware of itself as a life and it sees what we're doing to it. Will it retaliate? Will it work to preserve itself?
TV Guide Magazine: There is concern about the death of the oceans.
Freeman: Dead spots. There are places in the ocean where there is no longer any life. And we are totally responsible for that. If you think about the ocean and dead spots there, it's like having sores on your body. You do something about that. You have to get to work and fix that. If we are causing the oceans' demise, it could very well retaliate.
TV Guide Magazine: On the show you ask a broad range of questions, both big and small. What should we worry about at this moment?
Freeman: One of the most pressing, of course, is climate change.
TV Guide Magazine: Let's talk for a moment about the producing part of your career. You've got the political drama Madam Secretary airing Sundays this fall on CBS.
Freeman: Proof positive that if you stick with one thing long enough you will probably succeed at it. We're very thrilled about the possibilities that are staring us into the face this year and into next year. Madam Secretary is the base line for the things that are piling up on us. We have two or three other shows that we feel fairly certain will be greenlit. Madam Secretary I think is going to be a huge hit. We have this wonderful cast, headed by Tea Leoni. So we're just walking around on air right now.
TV Guide Magazine: What are you looking for in developing TV projects?
Freeman: The whole idea for me going into producing has always been to tell the stories that I wanted to tell that have not been told. I don't want to go into areas that have been completely used up. We have in this country a really diverse population, but underused in terms of storytelling. Particularly when it comes to history. What Asian Americans did in history, what Native Americans contributed to this whole idea of Americanism. If I have a chance at that, that's the thrill of my life.
TV Guide Magazine: Any of the topics you've discussed on Through the Wormhole that might make for a good fictional series?
Freeman: The whole idea of the ocean. Think about the ocean making some moves to protect itself.
Here's an exclusive clip from the "zombie apocalypse" episode of Through the Wormhole.