In a world close to ruin, brain-dead brain gob­blers still have much to teach us

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Zom­bies have al­ways been more than just zom­bies. On the sur­face they’re shuf­fling, flesh-eat­ing corpses, sure, but on the in­side they rep­re­sent some­thing else. Ge­orge A Romero, the king of the genre, knew this: that’s why Night Of The Liv­ing Dead has of­ten been seen as a para­ble for the cru­elty of the Viet­nam War, while Day Of The Dead, re­leased to­wards the end of the Cold War, was lit­er­ally set in­side a mis­sile silo.

Fast-for­ward to to­day, and The Walk­ing Dead rules the roost when it comes to zom­bie hor­ror – which is why, in the era of global warm­ing and Trump’s Amer­ica, ev­ery­thing in the show is so doom-laden and bleak.

Greg Ni­cotero, leg­endary zom­bie make-up artist and the (de­li­cious) brains be­hind much of the show, ad­mits that this is no ac­ci­dent. “Any time Amer­ica has been at war, the film in­dus­try flour­ishes,” he says. “It’s es­capism: peo­ple want to es­cape their lives and be taken on this jour­ney, and that jour­ney needs to have thrills and chills. I grew up watch­ing zom­bie movies with­out cell­phones, with­out the in­ter­net, with­out Net­flix. So for me, go­ing to a movie theatre and shar­ing that com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence was very cathar­tic. You walk out and you’re, like, ‘I’m so thank­ful I don’t have it as bad as they did in that movie.’”

As plas­tic fills the oceans, hur­ri­canes rav­age coast­lines and count­less despotic fin­gers hover over nu­clear launch but­tons, shows and films about the un­dead have be­come ever more po­tent be­cause a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world doesn’t ac­tu­ally seem that far-fetched any more.

“In The Walk­ing Dead, we’re play­ing up the idea that the world is crum­bling around them,” Ni­cotero says. “It’s like a western. In westerns, you al­ways feel that there’s an out­side threat. That the world around them is vast and dan­ger­ous.”

The good news is, zom­bies aren’t real. The bad news? Peo­ple are. And, as Ni­cotero agrees, peo­ple are much, much worse. “That’s the world we live in,” he laughs. “You’re go­ing to make as­sump­tions that these crea­tures that have noth­ing to do other than de­vour you are prob­a­bly the most hor­ri­ble thing you can ever en­counter. Then you re­alise that hu­man­ity – the peo­ple who should be bond­ing to­gether to sur­vive – is ac­tu­ally worse. That’s the ut­terly heart­break­ing as­pect of the genre.”

New episodes of The Walk­ing Dead are on ev­ery Mon­day at 10pm on FOX

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