by Murali Balaji, Ph.D, Guest Blogger
The Walking Dead has just completed five seasons on air, and its popularity continues to grow, with the show now producing a spinoff.
Some speculate that AMC could renew the show for as long as Robert Kirkman continues to produce the graphic novel that inspired the series. Given the show's ratings and the social media fan universe it has created, it's conceivable that The Walking Dead could become one of the longest running shows in modern TV history.
But why is the show so popular? At the time Lexington Books published my edited volume Thinking Dead, the show was in its third season, and there was a sense that audiences were already experiencing zombie fatigue. After all, zombies have saturated popular culture now for over a decade, becoming mainstream in a way that George Romero likely could have never imagined when Night of the Living Dead was released nearly five decades ago.
As I note in the introduction to Thinking Dead, uncertainty and turbulence continue to fuel our fears about an apocalypse, but the deeper reason stems from what zombies represent: us. They are both our Others and ourselves, tantalizingly close to who we are (or were) yet irreconcilable. Some zombie genres, including Warm Bodies and the CW's new television show iZombie, have tried to "humanize" zombies and make them capable of having the same tendencies as the living.
But The Walking Dead has made sure the zombies stay Othered, and in this sense, both the graphic novel and television show present them almost as background to the larger conflict within and among the living. That's why both cultural texts captivate audiences and keep adding casual fans. We see ourselves as the survivors and are constantly asking what we would do in the same situations.
Still, the fascination with The Walking Dead rests primarily with its ability to entertain audiences, particularly as global economic, social, and political anxieties across the world continue to dominate our headlines. In other words, we feel sheltered by our weekly engagement with an imaginary apocalypse rather than confronting the real-life uncertainty around us. This is likely why The Walking Dead's popularity is only likely to grow.