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Why Do We Love The Walking Dead? The Psychology of Human Drama
From t-shirts to action figures, The Walking Dead is everywhere. It's one of the hottest shows on television, if not the hottest. But why? Why do people love The Walking Dead so much? In this article, we will explain the psychology behind everybody's favorite zombie apocalypse show.
It's Not Just Zombies
People love zombies. We feel revulsion and even sadness for them. They inspire terror because, though they look so human and used to be human, they break every cardinal rule: they are rotting but still mobile, they are dead but alive, they are cannibals, they are mindless and all of their essential humanity is gone. We are fascinated by zombies because they are almost - but not quite - human. So are zombies the reason TWD is so popular? They are part of it, but it's not just zombies.
Why Do You Like The Walking Dead?
It's Not Just Violence & Gore
For a network TV show, TWD has a lot of violence and a lot of gore. It's not like it's on HBO. This is a cable television show and by those standards, it's pretty violent and quite gory. Violence provides many people with an outlet. The human condition in general is violent and primitive. Violence on television taps into this well-known but seldom-discussed part of ourselves. Along with violence comes gore and horror. People love horror and gore; we like to be scared and we are all more than a little curious about our own internal workings. It's more than just morbid curiosity though; gore and death on TV and in movies forces people to come to terms with their own mortality. Our own mortality fascinates us more than anything and it's a big reason shows like The Walking Dead are so popular. It isn't the only reason, though.
The Key Element
While TWD is essentially the perfect storm of compelling factors, the key element to it's popularity is the element of human drama. Without characters to care about, there's no show. You see this at work in the horror genre all the time. Movies without captivating characters are just violence and gore for their own sake. With The Walking Dead, we have characters we can relate to, characters who grow and evolve, who have flaws and problems... characters we can care about, identify with and root for. This is very important and it makes or breaks a television show. If people don't care, they won't watch no matter how great the story line is. If they do care, they will watch even if the show is not that great in any other aspect. We see this with everything from The Walking Dead to reality TV shows. It's all about the human drama unfolding in front of our eyes and how well we can identify with it.
Another very important element to any form of entertainment is what author Stephen King refers to as The Gotta. The Gotta is the need to know what happens next.
"I gotta know if Rick is going to get them out of this one!"
"I gotta know if they will make it!"
Things like this are sometimes known as cliffhangers and they are often the most engaging forms of entertainment, because they create anticipation in the audience. You increase viewership and audience loyalty tremendously if they must keep coming back to find out what happens next. Series programming accomplishes this very nicely.
When you combine human drama with morbid curiosity, fascination about death and facing our own mortality into a cliffhanger that is written very well and acted even better, you are going to create a very successful form of media. That is why we love The Walking Dead.
This video showcases how The Walking Dead captures every one of these elements so well, creating one of the most compelling television programs to date.