The Walking Dead Establishes Itself as a Perfect Reincarnation of the Zombie Genre

Jack Rose, Staff Writer

BRAAAAAINS! Whether you’re an avid fan of the horror genre or you’re afraid to sleep without a night light, almost everyone has heard this famous cry out for a midnight snack from a zombie. Starting with what is believed to be the earliest zombie movie, White Zombie (1932), and gaining popularity with Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombies have become an icon of the horror franchise. Living in a pandemic that has been frequently compared to an apocalypse, AMC’s The Walking Dead has grown significantly in popularity. With the final season of The Walking Dead approaching, it’s nice to look back on how the show has influenced the way we view zombies.

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Beginning in 2003, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore released The Walking Dead, a short comic depicting Officer Rick Grimes and his struggle through the zombie wastelands. Seven years later, almost a month to the day, AMC released episode one of a new show with the same name. The show has aired for 10 seasons across 11 years and has changed the way we as a society view zombies. The classic film Return of the Living Dead (1985) had us picturing beasts that crave your noggin, while different takes on zombies such as iZombie (2015) have shown us a more intelligent being, eating brains to survive rather than for pleasure. However, with The Walking Dead, zombies have all but been cemented as mindless reincarnated bodies with a taste for flesh and a weakness in their heads.

For a show that has stayed on the small screen for over a decade, one would think that some things were changed with zombies. However, true to zombie form, Walkers (the in-universe name for zombies) are pretty basic. They groan and stumble around. They crave living flesh and don’t go for anything they think is dead. Despite the way that humans decompose, the Walkers still, well, walk. The real changes that the program makes are in the way that humans are treated. In addition, the only media depiction (according to IMDb) that features zombies eating brains is the Return of the Living Dead film series.

Humans, just like in The Walking Dead, exist in real life. Don’t be alarmed. In zombie media, such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), the military comes and saves the main characters, after hours to days. In movies like Return of the Living Dead (1985), the military takes a… different approach, but still within a reasonable amount of time. 

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Within The Walking Dead’s universe, we see humans surviving in the apocalypse for years on end. One of the things The Walking Dead does fantastically is show how humans adapt when everything is stripped from them, and they have to survive. The first few seasons show humans forming groups and acting animalistic, but in later seasons, we watch as people form new societies and function as humans once did. 

We also see humans attempting a recreation of life, before the undead numbered them 5000 to 1, by celebrating holidays such as Halloween. In doing so, The Walking Dead has arguably rewritten human survival in the event of the end of the world.

As mentioned before, the idea of decomposition in the show suggests that Walkers shouldn’t have flesh on their bones if the bodies of the previously living humans have been left to the elements. While it is highly likely that the virus causing the zombie apocalypse in The Walking Dead universe allows for some cinematic scientific reasoning behind this, the prolonged zombification has led to some fantastic cosmetics. The first season of TWD didn’t have an enormous budget, leading to zombies that looked like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wormtongue. However, as the series has progressed, it also increased in popularity and therefore budget. Now, with the new show The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020) taking place 10 years after the start of the apocalypse, we see Walkers that have been overtaken by nature, having grown foliage and being used as wasp nests. 

With zombie stories having existed for centuries, we are seeing the makeup artists at AMC revolutionize the way we (literally) see zombies. Again bringing up iZombie, its zombies look just like pale humans, and in Return of the Living Dead, one particular zombie is reminiscent of a man who has been tarred and is waiting to be feathered. However, with The Walking Dead, the art of zombie makeup has been arguably perfected.

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So whether you love the classic horror and cheap thrills of 80s zombies, the wild twists of more modern zombies, or the comfortable thought that none of your favorite Walking Dead characters are guaranteed to survive, remember that this pandemic would’ve been 100 times cooler if there were zombies.