4 Ways The Walking Dead Has Breathed Life Back Into The Zombie Genre

With season 7 out now on Blu-ray, Digital and DVD, we discuss some of the ways the show has reinvigorated the zombie genre.

Michael Carrby Michael Carr

It may be hard for some of us to remember, but there was once a time when the words “zombies” and “groundbreaking television” had never been heard together. That was before The Walking Dead, the AMC television adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s revolutionary comic. Not only one of the most popular shows on television today, The Walking Dead has lifted zombies from the sticky, carpeted confines of movie houses straight into the mainstream.

Lauded for its high production values and gritty and grisly look at life after a zombie outbreak, the show’s great success rests in how it managed to reinvigorate the zombie genre. Where classic zombie flicks like George A Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead and its sequels used zombies as metaphors for social anxieties around everything from the rise of communism to the rise of consumerism, The Walking Dead focuses on the human characters and their struggle to survive in a post-zombie world.

The result is a show that can grapple with complex personal issues as well as comment on society. While it’s not the only work in recent memory to do so – 2014’s amazing ‘Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead’ directed by Aussie Kiah Roache-Turner similarly attempted to recast the genre – The Walking Dead has nevertheless had the biggest impact, spawning not only its own spin-off – Fear The Walking Dead – but also its own talk show – Talking Dead. Not to mention the countless memes.

And so with the show’s 7th season out now on Blu-ray, Digital and DVD, join us while we list just a few ways The Walking Dead has breathed life back into the zombie genre. 

Torturing Rick

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Honestly, you could re-title the entire show Torturing The Survivors Of The Walking Dead, but no one cops it more than good old Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). And I love it. Am I the only one that was disappointed when Negan stopped Rick from cutting Carl’s arm off? My own hatred of Carl aside, having his own father almost turn him into an amputee is a brilliant example of how the show takes the trope of the all-conquering hero, embodied by Rick, and turns it on its head.

Instead of being the man with all the answers, Rick is just as clueless and morally unprepared as any of us would be when facing The Walkers – albeit slight better prepared than most of the other survivors – and he makes just as many mistakes as we might, often only succeeding with the help of others. Because of this, the show tends to dwell on characters working together through difficult moral choices instead of just finding excuses to show lots of blood and guts. Although the former does usually lead to the latter in the end.

Championing Tough Women On Screen

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The depiction of women on screen has come a long way in the past 50 years, and The Walking Dead is certainly proof of that. The women in the show are depicted as everything from dangerous warriors and capable leaders to caring mothers and passionate lovers, and sometimes all of the above.

This might not sound like much – it is 2017 after all, just having well written and realistic female characters shouldn’t deserve applause – however in a genre that was dominated for so long by the violent adolescent fantasies of male fans, to have so many strong female characters front and centre sends a strong message that, when it comes to surviving the zombie apocalypse, women can kick ass just as good as men. With the addition of characters like Michonne and the development of characters like Maggie, the show has only gotten better in its depiction of women from season to season and let’s hope the trend holds when season 8 arrives later this year.

Not Being Afraid Of Talking About Itself

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This may be a bit out of left field, but one of the most amazing things the show has done for the zombie genre didn’t actually happen on the show. It happens after. I’m talking of course about Talking Dead, AMC’s aftershow for The Walking Dead and spin-off Fear The Walking Dead, hosted by Chris Hardwick.

By not only engaging with fan reaction but also encouraging it to the point where you can have a curated celebrity talk show about the show itself, The Walking Dead suddenly took talking about zombies from being the Saturday night activity of choice of frustrated DnDer’s who couldn’t get an adventuring party together, to commonplace dinner party fare. No small feat.

Introducing Negan

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The Walking Dead has always been more about the non-zombie characters than the zombies themselves – they don’t exactly make very relatable characters after all – with the conflict between preserving one’s humanity and the brutality needed to survive being the core moral focus across the whole series. It isn’t until we meet Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) however – the barbed wire wrapped, baseball bat-wielding leader of the post-apocalyptic stand-over men The Saviors – that the series forces the audiences to confront this conflict in themselves.

While he is undoubtedly a monster, he isn’t without his own code or humanity. The parallels between him and Rick make their conflict all the more interesting and despite Negan being set up as the half-crazed and brutal another side of what Rick could become, we, or at least I, can’t help but find the character likeable and charismatic.

Sure, you might tell yourself you love to hate him, but, at the end of the day, you want to see him on screen, and the more unpredictable he is the better. Doesn’t that make you just as complicit as The Saviors themselves? Whatever the answer, it’s damn good TV.

The Walking Dead Season 7 is available to buy now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital.