It’s the season of screams echoing and the dead roaming, so what better time to talk about horror culture? We’re going to take a bite from different mediums of the zombie culture and find out just what makes them so exciting and compelling.

Zombie crawling out of a grave from the film, Creepshow.
Creepshow | Warner Bros. | 1985

From films to comics to video games, zombies have captured our love. So, strap in, load up, and don’t make a sound. Our love of zombies has brought us to take a look at zombie culture.

Zombies VS. The World

The drive for conflict in any zombie story can go in many ways. Think about what’s probably the most prominent and well-known zombie phenomenon, The Walking Dead, and glance at the conflict of Man vs. Nature. In the comic, zombies have become a natural part of the world. So much so that a quarter into the 193 issue series, the zombies are basically just background.

They have accepted zombies have become part of life and death. They become part of the natural process of life, so the fear factor there dies down a bit. Even in George A. Romero’s original trilogy of Night, Day, and Dawn of the Living Dead, we begin to see this take shape. So, are the zombies really what’s important in these stories? 

From the outbreak starting from radioactivity, to spores, bite marks, neurogenesis, whatever! The initial beginning is probably the most exciting aspect of the zombie culture. It gives us a starting point to see where the ball started rolling. After a while, every group of survivors begins to understand how these creatures work. Aside from zombie films like World War Z and 28 Days Later, and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, there are not many stories where the audience is captivated by just the zombies.

BRAINS! Well, Not So Much…

This takes us to another aspect, Man vs. Man. From every part of zombie culture, we look at a particular group of survivors and how they take on their situation. From hiding away in a mall to trying to find somewhere to sleep, there’s always one thing that hurts them: other survivors. You would think that the end of the world with countless dying and many of those dying becoming zombies, we would work together. That’s a big NO.

Promo for the video game The Last of Us
The Last of Us | Naughty Dog | 2013

The interactions between the groups that form post-outbreaks are what generally form the story. It’s undoubtedly what carried The Walking Dead on for so long. When playing a game like The Last of Us, the same format was applied. Of course, we were terrified of Clickers and Bloaters, but it was being able to get through territories of the other factions that held the game.

Facing off against the invading bikers in Dawn of the Dead, or going against Negan in The Walking Dead, these moments are the scariest parts of any zombie story. Humans are unpredictable and savage. It’s as simple as that, and we fear each other more than any creature out there. 

The Walking Dead Shaped A Modern A Zombie Culture

Maybe society is to blame. Think about Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead. He’s a leader facing off against other factions like the Society, the Whisperers, and the Commonwealth. These different aspects of society are what made this comic so great. We had a community that dealt with mob-like actions to have power with The Saviors, and the Whisperers, who resulted in animalistic instincts to stay alive.

The Whisperer's Leader, Alpha from issue #148 of TWD
The Walking Dead | #148| Skybound Entertainment

Lastly, the Commonwealth, which represented the closest thing we have to society right now. Robert Kirkman looked at past societies and made history repeat itself in this post-apocalyptic world. Rick fought and changed each of these because they somehow held him back or had a warped outlook on survival. This same thinking was used in The Last of Us, and also slightly in Geroge A. Romero’s Day of the Dead. 

Have You Heard The News That You’re Dead?

Or, maybe zombie culture has a deeper meaning. Aren’t we all trying to fight against what others say? Are we pushing ourselves to be more than the norm and escape our 9-5 jobs? Do we not think of ourselves as individuals against the swarming mass hysteria of people doing the same thing day in and day out? The film, 28 Days Later, focused on intense rage being the source of the outbreak. Is this not a slap in the face of the dangers of living in hate? 

Radioactive Zombie from The Return of the Living Dead
Return of the Living Dead | Orion Pictures | 1985

Think of a time that you’ve driven to work and not even realized how fast you got there. You know the way, it’s the same route every single day. You also don’t need to think. It’s not until you walk in and say “hi” to the first person that you come back to life. As a society, we all become zombies for a moment or two. But what if we enjoyed every moment of life and absorbed it all?

Would that stop the virus? Would that make us survivors of this world filled with different groups telling us how to live and what we can do for them so that we can live? Maybe a significant part of zombie culture sees how much of a reflection it is to real life.

What Makes Zombie Culture?

So there’s a mouthful to look at when it comes down to zombie culture. There’s a lot more to analyze and look through, but I think we’ve done some grounding here. We think of conflict when it comes to this culture, and there’s no wrong answer here. Personally, I think it’s the society that is formed and how survivors act in it.

That’s what made The Last of Us and The Walking Dead comic so gripping for audiences. Overall, it takes just the right ingredients to make a zombie story entertaining and not overly cheesy. Give us the right type of characters in the right kind of situation where the zombies are the background to the story. Or, tip the scales and make them the most terrifying things that have walked the earth and the characters almost don’t even matter. Grab a blunt object and hope for the best.