The Walking Dead: the Humanity

As both a horror writer and horror fan, I’ve come to the firm belief that the hallmark of all good horror is how well it is able to apply the thematic parallels to the horrors of the real world.  We create monsters to elicit fear of the fantastic, the unknown, and the macabre, but without the meaningful values that lie beneath their ghastly features, their evil can only run skin deep.

Given the recent boom of zombie themed horror over the past couple of years, I was hesitant to give The Walking Dead a chance.  Thematically, there is an incredible overlap within the genre, which makes originality a difficult task.  There are visuals of gnashing teeth, viscera, and decomposition.  There are survivalist heroes and overburdened antiheroes.  There is an apocalyptic collapse of society and clusters of people desperate to hold together and rebuild.  The Walking Dead not only pieces these elements in just the right way, but also incorporates the most important necessary themes in zombie horror: it uses the living and the dead alike to pose the questions, “What does it mean to be human?” and “What truly defines the monster?”

The Walking Dead tackles the heart of the human condition by examining life and death on an interpersonal level—human connection, empathy, compassion, and sacrifice—while taking a close look at the human animal versus the human monster.  By offering the contrast of striking inhuman visuals and characters ever changing by their plight, the talent behind the show are able to create a complex web of human behavior.  Through the extremes presented, they show the extremes the average person might be capable of given the perfect storm of events.  In doing so, they offer commentary on allegiance, sacrifice, trust, and emotionally charged subjects such as suicide and betrayal.  This is not a story about zombies; it is a story about humanity.

The changes in sets between the first two Seasons plays into humanistic themes of community, safety, and welfare.  The destruction of the Atlanta CDC building at the end of Season One sets the stage for uncertainty and chaos.  With the “safe zone” gone, the promise of civilization—at least anytime in the foreseeable future—is dissolved.  This is exemplified by other indications of social collapse all around the characters.  The love triangle between Lori, Shane, and Rick, the various characters’ crumbling mental states, the murders, Carl’s difficult, coming-of-age shot at the newly risen Shane, and the visuals of a society all but abandoned demonstrate the deeper aspects of a post-apocalyptic world.  The false safety regarded on Hershel’s farm, with its own fiery and descriptive end, cements all that was laid by the previous season: safety and security are only as strong as the society upholding them.

Finally, with the cliff-hanging suggestion that everyone is “infected,” there is an insinuation that a potential monster lies within every member of the cast—dead or alive.  This implies that the most terrifying monsters at play are actually the survivors themselves—and what each of them might be capable of if pushed to their furthest limits.

leigh lane

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Leigh M. Lane lives in the beautiful mountains of Montana, where she writes speculative fiction that spans from sci-fi to horror. All of her writing contains a gritty realism that hallmarks her unique voice, which also often has social or political undertones. Her recent full-length releases are Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods. Leigh’s influences include H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Stephen King. For more about Leigh M. Lane and her works, visit her website at


  1. Clayton Bye says:

    The very best of horror is when what is, or what seems to be, the ordinary becomes so disturbing as to elicit a response (fear, for example). In The Walking Dead, the real horror is not the zombies, it is what happens between the humans as they deal with their ever changing situation. If you doubt that, rewatch the season finale of 2011 The Walking Dead on the AMC network. The killing that takes place (and the lead-up to it) is as disturbing as any that you’ll see on television.

    Note: My definition of horror = disturbing. If you are not disturbed on some fundamental level by what you read or watch, then you have not experienced true horror.

    Clayton Bye
    Author, Editor, Publisher

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