A couple of years ago, if you were to ask an author or avid reader of popular fiction about the current trend, the answer would invariably be “vampires.” Today, it has become nearly cliché to say, “zombies are the new vampires.” Some might attest it was the humanized, tormented and soul-plagued monster, while others might argue it was the sun-induced sparkles that hammered in the last nail to the vampire’s homeland-soil-filled coffin, but I say the transition was inevitable.
First off, apocalyptic horror reminds us all that we are but one massive catastrophe away from watching our beloved society crumble into shambles. While most of us are able to reason the actual odds of an infrastructure collapse, the prospect is still indeed scary. When we add the undead element into the mix, we must suspend reality a bit more—but the added element creates a terrifying payoff.
Zombies fall into a class of their own. While other fictitious monsters have thrilled us with their infectious bite, none can compare to the horror of imagining a society in which they might actually exist. Brain-dead, thoroughly incapable of reason—or even remembering their loved ones—zombies are the epitome of the lowest of the low. Slowly rotting away, lumbering on despite broken limbs or disemboweled guts, they represent a fate far worse than death.
What takes The Walking Dead’s rendition of this horror classic to such a profound level is its constant cycling of new characters introduced amidst old characters—characters we have become emotionally invested in—falling and rising as a new generation of undead enemies. Who didn’t gasp in surprise, breathless for at least a few painful moments, when Sophia staggered out of Hershel’s barn? Who didn’t cheer Rick on when he hacked off Hershel’s bitten leg, and then wait anxiously with the cast while they watched for signs of infection, fearful that the amputation had not spared him? Who hasn’t cringed each time a recurring character has suffered a fatal bite?
Most zombie novels and films have a set group of protagonists, whom we follow to the end and cheer on as they prevail. We learn that this common formula has created in us a false sense of security, one that is quickly shattered by the time we have finished watching the first season of The Walking Dead. No one is safe in this series. We cannot take for granted that any one main character will survive to the end, and this instills in us a nearly unparalleled level of suspense and horror each time we watch a new episode.
What do you think about the current popularity of zombie fiction? Do you think The Walking Dead stands alone amidst the massive trend? Do you think the zombie bubble is getting ready to burst or is it too timeless, to gritty and fundamentally evil, to fall the way of the vampire?
Leigh M. Lane is a speculative fiction author whose works span from sci-fi to horror. Her most recent full-length works are The Hidden Valley Horror, Finding Poe, World-Mart, and Myths of Gods. For more about her work, go to her website at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.