“The Walking Dead” is a cable TV series which began in 2010 and is currently running in its seventh season. It is so successful that next is already slated to run. The loyal fans of the brutal zombie story are guaranteed more bloody delight on their screens continuing into 2018.
The series has also spawned quite an industry around it, including a program that airs each week as a commentary about “The Walking Dead,” appropriately called, “The Talking Dead.” There is even a spin-off currently in its third season; “Fear The Walking Dead.”
Does such popularity of a story about the terrifying aftermath of the destruction of civilization explain anything about humanity? Perhaps “The Walking Dead” is a human horror story after all. The focus of the “The Walking Dead” is on a particular group of survivors of a worldwide zombie apocalypse.
The leader, portrayed by Andrew Lincoln, is also the main protagonist, Rick Grimes. Each week he leads the group as they deal with the zombies and other humans they meet while seeking some safe sanctuary.
In “The Walking Dead,” the survivors never use the name zombies to describe these, grotesque living-dead creatures. They call them walkers and a few other names.
Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic book series “The Walking Dead,” upon which the TV show is based, has said that his post-apocalyptic world is one in which “zombie fiction doesn’t exist.”
There is another unique feature in “The Walking Dead.” For the first two seasons, the audience is not told what causes one to become a walker. Rick learns the answer from a CDC official at the end of season one but keeps it to himself. The audience and the rest of his group do not find out until the end of season two. It is then that Rick reveals that the condition is the result of a virus, which all humanity has contracted.
It is a virus which is inert until either the person is bitten by a walker, or dies, even from natural causes. This means every one of the characters in Rick’s group will eventually become a walker doomed to stalk the survivors that remain. Unless, of course, a cure for the virus is found.
So far, an antidote has been discovered or is forthcoming. The only way out of becoming one of “The Walking Dead” is if the cause of death includes total destruction of the brain, which is also the only way to kill the walkers.
This leads to bloody and gruesome encounters between walkers and the living as the standard fare in “The Walking Dead.” Rick’s group uses beheading, smashing of skulls, and any number of other methods to dispatch the walkers that threaten them.
This way of presenting the threat of the walkers to the living gives the impression that “The Walking Dead” is mainly about staving off the threat so Rick’s group can survive. However, as the series has developed, there has been an increasing emphasis upon the human element More and more the group is fighting against other people while trying to maintain their own humanity. So is this about fighting zombies, or perhaps that “The Walking Dead” is a human horror story?
In recent seasons of “The Walking Dead,” the brutal killings of those in Rick’s group increased and not by walkers, but by other people. Groups who prey on other human beings. The zombies are not the villains here. They are just doing what the virus makes them do. It is the humans who take on the mantle of the malefactor. Viewers see this displayed in Rick and his people fighting for their lives against other groups of survivors.
This was exhibited in glaring detail the past two seasons with the introduction of the evil character, Negan. He is the leader of a large group called, The Saviors. The battles between Rick’s group and The Saviors resulted in the gruesome deaths of two long-time characters of “The Walking Dead.”
Additionally, the group is forced to pay tribute to Negan’s people. This was the only way to avoid everyone in the group being slaughtered. That happened in the first episode of season seven.
It is beyond knowing what will happen to Rick and the others next season. However, the blood, gore, and death will be a prominent feature. So will the exploration of how much horror human beings, in desperate times, will resort to for survival. Ultimately, this makes “The Walking Dead” a human horror story, more than a horror story about fighting zombies.
By Daniel T. Osborn
Edited by Cathy Milne
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Featured and Top Images Courtesy of Azur Cosplay Photography’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License