Probably (and arguably) the most popular of our postapocalyptic guilty pleasures, if box-office totals and ratings are any indication, and one that has, in particular, gained ground in the last decade is:
The Zombie Apocalypse. Okay. So. Full disclosure: I didn’t have a whole lot of respect for this subset of the genre until recently. I mean: I’m a vampire girl. I cut my teeth on The Vampire Lestat and The Lost Boys. Zombies, on the whole, just don’t make for that fascinating or cunning of a monster. They’re dead, and pretty gross, so it’s hard to feel much empathy or compassion for them. And honestly, if it’s only one or two, they’re pretty easy to take out, especially if they’ve been undead for awhile and are in an advanced state of decay.
I mean, not that I didn’t enjoy The Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead (and all their exponentially campy sequels and remakes), but the reasons I had a good time had less to do with the quality of the movies and more to do with the people I watched them with. There also was a bit of philosophy going around that zombie fiction tended to be hotter during Republican presidencies (mindless hordes) while vampire fiction tended to be hotter during Democratic presidencies (compassionate bloodsucker), which was always kind of interesting. And of course, now we are in the unprecedented time of the demigorgon, but I digress – that is a tale for another time, and may, indeed, predicate an ACTUAL apocalypse.
The zombie movies I traditionally liked best were the ones that tried to do something slightly different, like 28 Days Later and its rapid-moving rage zombies & Shaun of the Dead, high comedic parody about a group of extremely self-absorbed friends who are more interested in their interpersonal drama than they are aware of the world falling apart around them.
Also: zombies straddle genres: if you look at horror as a subset of Speculative Fiction, and Post-Apocalypse as a subset of Horror, zombies can either squarely fall under Horror, in the further subset of Monster, or Outbreak. For my purposes, I am discussing the Outbreak variety, since that seems to be more likely to result in some sort of global collapse, though below, I will give share my favorite zombie Monster fiction as well.
At any rate, I still didn’t find them to be that interesting a monster, and all around me, zombie culture was exploding: zombie walks, zombie survival courses, zombie video games, zombie birthday parties, you name it. The Walking Dead became the highest-rated cable show, and they were even having Walking Dead parties on Good Morning America. I wasn’t interested.
Then, I read some friends a short, postapocalyptic play of mine (plague-related apocalypse – think more The Stand than anything zombified), that featured a mother talking about her deceased daughter, Sophia. Both friends immediately asked me if I watched TWD. I sighed, rolled my eyes, impatiently said no, and told them why I just wasn’t interested. They pushed me further, saying TWD was more about the post-apocalyptic world that just happened to have been brought about by zombies.
I still was hesitant, but then found myself with some free time the next week…binged the first 5 seasons over two weekends (felt like I’d been sucked into the Zombie Apocalypse myself!), and was, of course, rabidly hooked. The walkers (love that they are NOT called zombies here) were still not that interesting in and of themselves, but some of the things the show has done with them are pretty innovative, from the different ways to kill them, to people keeping their undead loved ones alive or being faced with having to kill them, to weaponizing them in some truly unique ways, did capture my interest, and of course, a television series has more opportunity for long-ranging character development, so I became attached to the dwindling core of main survivors and intrigued, as my friends had said I would be, by the world presented in the series, and the opportunity to examine how human beings cope with not only global, societal collapse, but also with repeated trauma and ensuing PTSD.
My takeaway is this: Zombie apocalypse, while difficult for survivors, would be a great season of rest to heal the planet, and start to reverse climate change. If one manages to survive the undead and the opportunistic living, tempers the waves of repeated PTSD and ends up in a relatively peace-loving and somewhat democratic community, once the zombies finally start dying off (I mean, they have to rot into liquid and bone at some point, right?), the world left behind is likely quite beautiful, from a nature perspective, and maybe an opportunity for humanity to rebuild anew. Thus, as something to live through, I’d prefer it to the nuclear variety.
Other examples of Zombie fiction: