A Zombie Epiphany

Over the past year I’ve dived deeper into zombie visual culture. It started out with my overwhelming fear of zombies which lead me to try and face my fears by watching The Walking Dead. After I’d completed up until season 6 (at the time) I branched out and started to watch more zombie movies since I was fascinated to see how these undead monsters were portrayed in different films.

At the time I was still in University so I started writing many academic papers about different zombie films or television shows. I’ve written papers focusing on White Zombie (one of the first feature zombie films in the 1930’s) and George Romero’s Living Dead film series, Warm Bodies, World War Z, 28 Days Later, and television shows like The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. This obsession is what inspired me to write my senior dissertation on why people choose to watch horror visual culture, using AMC’s The Walking Dead as my main case study.

In my dissertation I examined by people would choose to watch such violent and disturbing images. I narrowed it down to three main factors: the empathetic bond viewers developed with the fictional characters, the ethical dilemmas presented in the show force the viewer to ask themselves “What would I do in this situation?,” and lastly the fear received from watching horror actually releases adrenaline causing pleasure. Since I’ve finished my dissertation I’ve continued to enjoy zombie films and shows, until recently I hadn’t found my new zombie show since I’ve decided to take a break from The Walking Dead after a character death that was hard to handle (I’m sure I’ll return, but not just yet). That’s when I stumbled upon SyFy’s original series, Z-Nation! I started watching this show merely out of boredom and pure need to see zombie’s get their skulls bashed in…what I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the series.

I will not sit here and try and compare Z-Nation to The Walking Dead because they are two different shows with different storylines and different zombie apocalypse survival techniques. However, what I will say is Z-Nation is a hell of a lot more fun to watch than The Walking Dead. I’m going to list some reasons below as to why I think Z-Nation is a trailblazing piece of zombie visual culture like no other!

The Top Five Reasons You Should Give Z-Nation A Fighting Chance!

1. The show is extremely funny.

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The characters do not take themselves too seriously in this show, most of them have a comedic side. This show is enjoyable to watch since humor is included while dealing with the collapse of society and zombies constantly trying to eat people. It truly is a different take on zombie visual culture, usually the emphasis is on finding food and shelter, but that is not at all the focus of this show. Instead, the mission is clear: Get Murphy to California and try to save the human race. Doc has got to be my favorite character in the show, but in all honestly I love every main character. Doc has got the best comical one-liners and his constant smoking of “z-weed” makes him a hilarious post-apocalyptic stoner!

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P.s. his nickname comes from the fact that he calls himself a doctor when all his medical knowledge is from watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House. 

2. Its cheesy scenes and poor special effects are endearing.

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This gif looks like something straight out of a poorly designed zombie video game…but nope this is a real scene from one of Z-Nation‘s episodes. However, to be fair SyFy is a channel known for their poor special effects, so viewers should expect it in most of the network’s programming. But I do not think that the sometimes laughable special effects takes away from the enjoyment of the program. The show is very self-aware and they know their strong point is comedy, therefore it makes sense that they would not make the computer generated scenes seem too realistic because the show isn’t like that anyway.

I’ve noticed that the basic human survival of Warren’s group is usually overlooked and forgotten. The characters only briefly will mention the lack of food or bullets, however, in the next scene they will be unloading a full clip into one zombie and not even think twice about it…even though not five minutes before they claimed they only had 3 bullets in their gun. But again, survival is not the point of the show, it isn’t as serious as other survival horror shows such as The Walking Dead, this show is based around Murphy whose blood holds the cure.

So as a viewer, I’m alright with the group randomly finding additional ammo and food in unusual situations since the core element of the show is its humor, not showing human survival tactics.

3. Every character is love-able and viewers become very emotionally invested.

Z-Nation‘s cast does an amazing job of hooking viewers with their charismatic personalities and their family-like group dynamic. I have never liked every single main character of a show before, I always found at least one annoying, but not with this group! Murphy, Doc, Addy, Warren, and 10K are the ultimate core group of characters who each bring something to offer and not to mention they are all serious bad-asses!

One of Murphy’s best scenes is when he goes to a thrift shop and uses the zombies in the store as his own personal shopping assistants. He piles clothes and accessories onto them and it shows just how funny Murphy can be, as well as selfish since he had run away from the rest of the group.

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4. Zombie’s are killed in every episode…epic slashing!

It’s all about killing the puppies and kittens as Warren calls them. Zombies get their brains splattered every episode. I didn’t want to include any gifs that were too graphic because some of the kills are pretty grisly. But zombies are an important aspect of this show and they make an appearance in every episode. It isn’t like The Walking Dead when sometimes walkers won’t be seen for an episode or two since it is mainly about the human condition. Also I love how there are different types of zombies, there are fast ones and radioactive ones, even zombies with weed growing out of their heads.

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My favorite zombie killing weapon has got to be Addy’s electrified spiked bat, it’s most likely a salute to Negan’s ‘Lucille’ from The Walking Dead. 

Check out this zombie mash up:

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5. Viewers feel like they are on Warren’s mission too.

Even though the journey may be tough, we are in it for the long haul. Warren’s group of survivors includes the viewers; we are on their mission as well. We want to see them succeed at getting Murphy wherever he needs to be in order for doctors to hopefully create a cure and save humanity.

We are sort of like Citizen Z, the person rooting for our team behind walls of safety. Of course he is in the Arctic and we are merely viewers at home, but the point still stands, we both are rooting for ‘Operation Bite Mark’ to succeed and we are staying up to date on the progress from behind a computer/television screen.

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Final thoughts:

This show has changed by perspective on zombie culture. It does not always have to be extremely serious all the time. This show is focused more on the concepts of humor and hope for humanity instead of pure instinctual survival. So I encourage every zombie fan to take a bite out of this show and see just how much it can change your viewpoint.

Of course, I still love The Walking Dead, Romero’s classic films and much more zombie culture, but if you watch Z-Nation then you’ll understand the numerous references made to the popular zombie culture that came before this show. The program pays its respects to classic zombie tropes and standards while also maintaining their individuality. If you can watch this show with an open mind then I guarantee that you’ll either love it, or at the very least, see my point of how it’s completely unique.

*All credit for these photos and gifs should go to their proper copyright holders. All rights go to SyFy and the producers of Z-Nation.*

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