The Anatomy of The Walking Dead

March 29, 2013
Source: AMC/Fox International Channels

Zombies are all the rage (virus?) these days. "The Walking Dead" has benefitted from our current obsession with all things zombie, and while it seems fresh, many of the ideas are hardly new. Like any other story, you can find elements of its story in previous works ranging from Victorian literature to modern horror movies.

That said, let's take a look at the anatomy of "The Walking Dead."

"Night of the Living Dead" (1968, film)

Source: The Walter Reade Organization

INSPIRED: The way the zombies move

The etymology of zombies is a bit convoluted. They haven't always been undead, and they haven't always walked forward with their arms straight out. This stereotypical take comes from George Romero's classic, which was shot on a shoestring budget but made an indelible impression on pop culture and shaped the zombie genre as we know it today.

"Things to Come" (1936, film) & "28 Days Later" (2002, film)

Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

INSPIRED: The virus

Books and films have provided various explanations for zombie outbreaks, ranging from magic spells to radiation from other space. In "The Walking Dead," the cause is a virus that has infected everyone, including those still alive. This idea can be traced all the way back to the 1936 film "Things to Come," written by H.G. Wells and adapted from one of his novels. It presented a nightmare scenario where a contagious disease caused people lose their ability to become mindless, mute scavengers who infected everyone they encountered. A variation on this theme was used to explain how humans became fast-moving, ultra-aggressive zombies in Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later."

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818, novel)

Source: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones

INSPIRED: The dead becoming violent monsters

The monster in Mary Shelley's story could technically be considered a zombie, since it consists of reanimated dead tissue. But there are a few things that separate him from a traditional zombie: he was artificially reanimated in a lab, is made up of parts from different bodies, and (at least in the original work) speaks in full sentences. Still, the concept of an undead creature not retaining any of its previous memories or experiences and becoming ultra-violent is rooted in Shelley's original story.

Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826, novel)

Source: Henry Colburn

INSPIRED: The post-apocalyptic setting

The post-apocalyptic landscape is a common trope in speculative fiction. But the first modern example we have of it is also the most influential on not just the setting of "The Walking Dead," but many of the plot points and conflicts as well. In Mary Shelley's The Last Man, the main characters are forced to go on the run after a plague wipes out most of the world's population. While trying to find a permanent place to settle, they come into conflict with other groups and factions, including one that worships its leader as a messiah figure. The idea that the more dangerous enemy could be other survivors has been revisited in other works, including and especially "The Walking Dead." And while the Governor does not explicitly say he's a messiah, he comes pretty darn close. He even seems to possess a Messiah Complex, particularly with the responsibility and credit he bestows on himself.


The finale of the third season of "The Walking Dead" is this Sunday. In the meantime, check out our extended interview with Daryl himself, Norman Reedus, from last month:

Norman Reedus Extended Interview
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