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Surviving High School, All of Us Are Dead Style

Photo: Netflix

Surviving high school is hard enough: the impenetrable cliques, strict teachers, scary bullies, embarrassing parents. Now throw in a city-sweeping zombie outbreak, and c’mon! Netflix’s All of Us Are Dead is the latest zombie story out of South Korea, following global hits like Train to Busan and Kingdom. Based on the digital comic “Now at Our School,” the series follows a group of students trying to survive during a zombie outbreak while already navigating the complexities of bullying, teen pregnancy, and high-pressure college admissions.

And phew, it is a lot! Sure, it’s refreshing to place a zombie story in high school since it adds a layer of nuance to the genre as the students struggle with young love, the loss of friends, and diminishing faith in authority — which can already feel like life or death to a teen — but add in the survival aspect as these teens face ravenous hordes of zombies with a school-desk shield and mop-handle sword, and it’s enough to make anyone dread the idea of high school. So for students entering or already attending high school (zombie-filled or otherwise), here are some survival tips for making it through senior year.

Major spoilers for All of Us Are Dead season one follow.

Find Your Squad (and Stick With Them)

The best defense against high-school zombies? Friendship. Photo: Netflix

When the outbreak starts, the students in what will become the main survivor group are spread across the school in the worst places to get stuck with zombies: cafeteria, outdoor walkway, hallways, and other enclosed areas. They all end up converging in one place: the classroom. In Korea, instead of students switching rooms after each class, they stay in one room while teachers change in and out, so students in the same class end up becoming very close. They bond even more throughout the show as they use their individual strengths to escape hordes of zombies and keep each other alive.

For any student stuck in high school, finding a loyal group is a better plan than going it alone. This is especially true during a zombie outbreak. While the zombies of All of Us Are Dead might not be all that hard to take on individually, it’s nearly impossible to fight off a lot of them alone. You’ll need numbers to make barricades, watch your back, and protect you from zombies and bullies.

Make Friends With People From Different Groups

Seriously, how was she not good enough to make it to nationals? Photo: Netflix

Even after you find your primary group, you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and make friends throughout the student body. Like any high school, Hyosan High is divided into cliques, but these start to melt away once the zombies start spawning. The secondary group of survivors consisting of delinquent Mi-jin, student Jun-seong, and archers Ha-ri and Min-jae could be the setup for a joke: What happens when you put a burnout, a geek, and two jocks into a room? Naturally, they all butt heads at first, but they eventually work together and manage to survive for longer than most of their peers.

It never hurts to have a jock on your side, especially if you find yourself in zombie ground zero. As someone who hated P.E. with a passion in high school, I have to admit that fighting and archery skills are clutch when dealing with bullies and zombies (Su-hyeok and Ha-ri for co-MVP). Plus, you never know whom you’re going to vibe with. The friendship between Mi-jin and Ha-ri is one of the sweeter story lines as they bond over the pressures of getting into college. (Cue the war flashbacks to first semester, senior year.)

When Someone Shows You Their True Colors, Believe Them

[Judges you in Korean.] Photo: Netflix

That being said, when a fellow student continually reveals their judgmental and sabotaging nature, it’s wise to keep a close eye on them. Take the wealthy Na-yeon (Squid Game’s Lee Yoo-mi), for example. Along with disregarding the safety of others multiple times, she’s an asshole to the underprivileged Gyeong-su, calling him dirty and a “welfie,” Korean slang for a welfare recipient. When it’s revealed Gyeong-su has a scratch, she tries to get him kicked out of the group. It should be obvious to the group that she’s a selfish and insecure snob, but her peers interpret Na-yeon’s actions as a cover for a crush on Gyeong-su after she’s forced to apologize to him while he’s isolated. Really, she rubbed Gyeong-su’s scratch with infected blood and turned him into a zombie. When she’s condemned by the group, she gets defensive and runs away. When it turns out she survived, she blows an opportunity to reunite with the crew and locks herself in the room with the snacks. So, if you rewound the moment where Nam-ra slaps her multiple times, we aren’t mad at it. (Here’s a loop for easier viewing.)

Avoid Bullies at All Costs

Libraries are gateways to knowledge and culture. Bullies have no business here. Photo: Netflix

Bullying is, unfortunately, a regular part of high school. In South Korea, it’s become a national concern, with career repercussions for public figures and stars who are accused of being bullies. It’s a common trope in Korean dramas (see Itaewon Class and The Penthouse: War in Life) that bullies are often kids from wealthy families whose parents get them out of the trouble they cause. The flashback of the disciplinary hearing where Gwi-nam and the bullies get a slap on the wrist for bullying Byeong-chan’s son is heartbreaking, as is the trauma that Eun-ji and Chul-soo grapple with. That this is the inciting incident for Byeong-chan experimenting on his son and accidentally creating the zombie virus is enough to drive the point that BULLYING IS BAD!

The reason why this tip isn’t “Stand up to bullies!” is only because of their potential to turn into super-zombies. It feels like a breath of fresh air when Cheong-san stands up to Gwi-nam by taping him killing the principal and outmaneuvering Gwi-nam in the stressful library scene. When the zombies pounce on Gwi-nam, it seems like the bully isn’t a problem anymore — except he becomes the first half-zombie (or “hambie,” as Dae-su calls them). Unlike the other undead, Gwi-nam still acts human but with zombie super-strength, a taste for blood, and invincibility. He continues being the big bad of the story and stalks Cheong-san and the group until the penultimate episode, way past the murder video having any importance.

Use Lessons Taught by Your Parents

Face it, parents have more wisdom and experience than we’d like to admit. Some of the things they teach us might come in handy when we least expect it. Say, for instance, when your school is overrun by zombies.

This is definitely the case with On-jo’s firefighter father, Nam So-ju, who spends the series trying to save his daughter. The survivalist training he’s passed on to On-jo pays off throughout the season, and she helps her friends many times, most memorably with the makeshift toilet (there wasn’t a trash can in that classroom?). The training would have been beneficial even if he didn’t survive to make it to the school, but of course, he survives, outlasting a firing squad, several zombie attacks, and an on-foot trip across several towns.

Beware of Adults Who Aren’t Your Parents or Teachers

That isn’t to say all adults are trustworthy. Adults can be just as cowardly, selfish, and cold as teenagers. This is undoubtedly the case in All of Us Are Dead when we get a look at the chaos happening all over Hyosan, including the military’s attempts to keep the zombie virus from spreading all over South Korea. As the students survive, they hold hope that someone is on their way to save them. When the military sends a helicopter (the second one!) to the school to retrieve Byeong-chan’s research, the soldiers are ordered to leave the teen survivors behind. This is after Eun-ji activates zombie mode in the quarantine zone, and the military realizes that some of the infected are asymptomatic (hambies) and cannot be reliably tested for the virus. Not only do these adults literally leave behind children, but the military decides to bomb Hyosan to prevent the virus from spreading. Despite being abandoned, the students escape the main building, avoid getting bombed with the school, and still make it to the quarantine camp. When On-jo said that she’d never ask adults for anything again, so they can’t ask anything of her, I felt that.

Accept That Relationships, Like Zombies, Can Evolve

The best time to tell someone you love them is as soon as you feel it. The next best time is whenever there aren’t any zombies around. Photo: Netflix

It’s normal for relationships to change over time. As we grow and mature, the dynamics of a friendship are bound to evolve, whether it’s two people drifting apart or a childhood friendship turning into something romantic, as is the case with On-jo and Cheong-san. Though they were neighbors and friends since kindergarten, Cheong-san admits that he has a crush on On-jo. This is upsetting news to On-jo; she feels like she’s losing her best friend … for a second time! Her friendship with former best friend I-sak also suddenly changed, though that was because I-sak became infected and was thrown from a window — another reminder that relationships change for all sorts of reasons.

Not only can relationships evolve, but so can viruses (umm, sound familiar?), which turns out to be the case for the zombie virus in All of Us Are Dead. Eventually, the virus evolves so that a few who get infected don’t show the traditional symptoms. These half-zombies’ heightened senses and super-strength consist of Gwi-nam, Nam-ra, and Eun-ji. There’s no explanation for who becomes a hambie, but Nam-ra manages to fight her urge to eat her friends until her hunger becomes unbearable, and she runs away in the finale. Later, when the group reunites on the roof of the school building, she reveals that there are others like her.

Don’t Be Afraid of Changing Your Future Plans

None of this was in the college-prep course. Photo: Netflix

In a normal high-school story, the final boss is college admission. It’s a pressure that weighs heavily on seniors Ha-ri and Mi-jin, and even on junior Nam-ra, who studies so much she doesn’t have many friends. Of course, once zombies get involved, everything changes. The rapid evolution of characters over the season is an extreme example of how the best-laid plans for the future can change in the blink of an eye (remember Ha-ri’s original plan to make it to nationals in archery?). So if you’re a high-school student, learn how to go with the flow and take life as it comes at you. And seriously, Mi-jin, it’s not that big a deal that you didn’t get into college. If the show gets a second season, you’ll be busy running away from God knows what.

Surviving High School, All of Us Are Dead Style