More than gore for gore’s sake, the best zombie stories are about a force in society becoming normalized into a mob mentality. Night of the Living Dead was about an African American man in the 1960’s fighting for empowerment among a white population. Dawn of the Dead, set in one of the first mega-malls in the country, was about the growth of consumer spaces and how they were affecting culture. Of course, the gore is close to magic in these films. Someone recently informed me that the guts in the first were made with ham, but the depth of these works is in their overarching ideas.
Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead follows Rick, a former law enforcement officer, who wakes up in the hospital to find himself in a zombie apocalypse. As his character emerges, we get the sense that he was a true believer in the old societal order and wants to rebuild the world in an image of security that never really existed.
The failure of his utopian ideal is amplified through his encounter with the city. As he reaches Atlanta on horseback in his sheriff’s clothes, we see the city is lost. The café he passes has been spray painted, windows are broken, and a zombie lays propped up against a wall in a pile of trash like a wino. Not much has changed, except mob rule has displaced law and spread to the county-side. It doesn’t take long for Rick to be attacked by the infected citizens and run back to the safety of the rural. The suburbs he and his group attempt to occupy are similarly overridden by these forces and are lost. It is not until he arrives at a maximum security prison that he finally says, “It’s perfect, we’re home.”