When AMC premiered its TV adaptation of the graphic novel The Walking Dead in 2010 it only commissioned six episodes of the show because the network was not at all confident about how the show would be received.
On Halloween night 2010 the first episode of The Walking Dead hit the air. The show was an almost instant hit with both critics and audiences. As the high ratings rolled in AMC jumped to order more episodes of the show before fans lost interest but they didn’t have to worry about fans losing interest.
The first season of the show essentially set the scene for the story of Rick Grimes, former Sheriff’s Deputy, as he awoke from a coma to find the world had changed. He managed to get himself out of the abandoned hospital as it was being overrun by “walkers” as the zombies in the series are called and he started searching for his family. In the first six episodes audiences follow Rick as he comes to terms with the post apocalyptic world outside the hospital and learns how to survive in a US that has been overrun by zombies. He finds another survivor, who is able to tell him what happened and how to kill the walkers. Rick then sets out to find his wife and son, who he thinks have probably struck out to find a purported safe zone in Atlanta. Rick has a series of narrow escapes as he makes his way on horseback to Atlanta but he finds a small group of survivors including his wife and son and his best friend and former partner Shane, who has been looking out for Rick’s family since the zombie apocalypse occurred. Season 1 ended with Rick and Shane taking control of the group.
Season 2, which debuted on October 16, 2011 was one of the most highly anticipated TV series returns of the year. Record numbers of people tuned in to AMC to watch and even more watched online or on DVR. The Nieson ratings for Season 2 of The Walking Dead broke several records for basic cable and critics and audiences were hooked by the drama unfolding throughout the season. The season ended with a record 9 million viewers watching the cliffhanger finale, the highest rating ever for a basic cable TV show. Season 3 of The Walking Dead is set to premier in October of 2012 and already fans are counting the days until the show returns.
No one is quite sure why this basic cable series about life after a zombie apocalypse became one of the biggest television hits of all time but there are a lot of factors that contribute to The Walking Dead’s success. The show is set in the present day and the eerie images of cities abandoned resonate with a population who have seen similar images showing the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The excellent casting and the great performances also play a role. Regardless of the reasons why audiences love the show people who have never had any interest in graphic novels can’t get enough of The Walking Dead and it will go down in history as a completely unexpected record breaking hit show.
Ever since Night of the Living Dead was released in the late 1960s zombies have held a revered place in horror culture. George Romero’s film set the standard for zombie tales, where living creatures that were dead except for an insatiable drive for human brains, attacked the living to eat their brains. Night of the Living Dead has been remade countless times and the characteristics of zombies have been too. The earliest tales of zombies actually come from religion. In the Voodoo religion it is said that Voodoo practitioners use magic and herbs that turns people into zombies. In reality there is a practice that can put people into a trancelike state and make them very open to suggestion. They are not dead, but would appear dead to someone who didn’t know what signs of life to look for. This Voodoo practice is thought to be the origin of the idea of the zombie. The zombie has become one of the most recognizable creatures in popular culture and has gone from a cult horror villain to an accepted part of cultural lore. Zombies even made the national news recently when several people who were ingesting a substance known as “bath salts” attacked other people and ate portions of their flesh which led the news to dub the attackers as zombies.
Music, film and TV have all embraced the zombie with modern zombie adaptations like the movie Zombieland and TV shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead, which is an adaptation of a graphic novel. The Walking Dead won a slew of awards in its first season and the season finale for the second season was the most watched basic cable show history with more than 9 million viewers. Season 3 is in production and fans are anxiously awaiting the return of what is arguably the most successful popular culture portrayal of a post-zombie apocalypse world. One of the reasons why zombies have gone from cult classics to mainstream smash may be due to the power of the Internet.
The Internet is full of zombie fan sites and fan fiction which has helped push the popularity of zombies into pockets of culture that it never was accepted in before. Even the government is using zombie lore. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an emergency preparedness guide in a graphic novel format called Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse which sought to teach a younger generation about the importance of being prepared for disaster. The CDC’s creative campaign was a huge success and has won the CDC a permanent place in zombie lore. Another wildly successful Internet campaign centered on zombies is the US Army Zombie Combat Command, which started as a simple FB page and now, with more than 20,000 Facebook fans, has grown into a website and a web series that bills itself as “part Mythbusters, part Deadliest Warrior, with Zombies”. The web series is entering its third season and features shows that discuss and seek to prove or disprove myths about zombies and teach people the best ways to fight zombies.