What's the Appeal of Zombies, Really?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 11:48am

How many people do you know watch the Walking Dead?

The successful TV series is currently on its third season and still going strong, with hordes of fans tuning in every episode and more viewers becoming increasingly attached to the characters and the conflicts - and the zombies - from every part of the globe where a channel airs it. But what's the appeal of zombies, really?

Almost every culture has its own version of zombies, with African or South American voodoo witch doctors' zombies being the epitome of the undead. Later on, Japanese video games Biohazard and Resident Evil turned transformed zombies into a very effective tool for gaming fun – albeit macabre, heart-pounding fun. In recent years mainstream Hollywood and even novelists turned their attention to the walking corpses and the world has been mesmerized ever since.

A Walking Nightmare
The first facet that makes zombies gruesomely alluring is their nature. They're monsters. Like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the legions of other monster characters in books and movies and series that followed these iconic ghouls, zombies represent the terrifying unknown beyond the grave. They're the stuff of nightmares that people of all ages and cultures can relate to. They represent a combination of the unknown horrors that may await us after death, which in and of itself is already an enthralling mystery.

And then there's what zombies do:
haunt and eat the living. The zombies of witch doctors don't necessarily eat brains, but after the video games and mainstream depiction of flesh-eating undead, zombies with an appetite for flesh became an instant hit. They not only embody the unknowable, but now they also represent a gnawing threat (pun intended) that is disturbingly hair-raising and frightening. And a good scare makes a good horror show.

Beyond Horror
If you watch the Walking Dead, however, it isn't just a horror series. In fact the ghosts, ghouls, and other things that go bump in the night are not even present in the show. It's a drama series -- a drama that displays the fall of man in the unimaginable event of a zombie apocalypse. This is another main facet of the show, and of zombies.

Human conflict always sells. In zombie games, survival is the main goal, and every hindrance that prevents the characters from achieving it is made more guttural, more savage, and more intense by the fact that they are being hunted down by dead people who want to eat them.
Watch the Walking Dead and you'll notice the conflicts between people and groups of people trying to survive is often more prominent than the undead themselves.

This aspect of the human struggle is the hallmark of drama. It presents multiple opportunities for both positive and negative developments for an individual or group of characters that viewers are emotionally invested in because they're seemingly the only ones left in a world overrun by Walkers. And who do you thank for the situation?

Horror, drama, and zombies -- they represent the horrific unknown and the macabre fascination that we inevitably hold towards it. They embody the fall of humankind and the demise of society. They’re perfect catalysts for intense intra- and inter-personal conflicts. What's there not to like?

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