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How The Walking Dead Became One Of The 2010s Biggest TV Shows

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The Walking Dead was truly unlike just about any TV show that had come before, and ultimately became one of the defining programs of the 2010s. At this point in TV's life cycle, horror-based shows can be found all over the landscape, occupying prime placement on broadcast networks, cable channels, and streaming services. What's easy to forget today, when so much horror dominates the market, is that horror shows were once much less common, and not too long ago either.

While The Walking Dead wasn't the first horror show to become a smash hit, its gargantuan success did seem to spark a trend, with every outlet trying to invent a scary or gory good time for viewers to enjoy and talk about socially. Since that spark was lit, further hits like Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and American Horror Story have reinforced just how much audiences love a small screen fright-fest, while cult successes like Hannibal and Ash vs Evil Dead have shown that R-rated violence, gore, and adult content is not only enjoyed but encouraged.

Recently, AMC made the surprise announcement that despite still regularly topping the ratings, The Walking Dead will be ending after 30 more episodes air, signing off in 2022. Fans will surely be sad to see it go, but the show leaves behind a commendable legacy as one of the 2010s' most essential pieces of TV. Here's the ingredients we think led to that rise.

The Walking Dead Brought Zombies To Television


One reason why The Walking Dead caught the attention of so many right off the bat, even those unfamiliar with its comic book source material, is that it was essentially the first show of its kind. While zombie movies had been a thing since George Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, zombies hadn't really been explored on the small screen before in a serialized format. There had been many one-off TV episodes that included zombies, and a few short attempts at doing a zombie show, but most barely managed to get off the ground, while The Walking Dead came into premiere day surrounded by buzz.

Besides the relative novelty of zombies shambling around on TV, there also had been very few long-form attempts at telling a post-apocalyptic narrative on the small screen, with Jericho probably being the most notable, but again not lasting very long. Exploring the post-apocalypse was another mostly uncharted territory for TV, leaving The Walking Dead another area in which to innovate and entice potential viewers.

The Walking Dead Had R-Rated Gore & Violence


It's easy to take it for granted now, in a time when many of the most popular shows on TV are stuffed full of gory violence and gruesome murders, but before The Walking Dead, that level of R-rated - or in this case TV-MA - gore was rarely seen outside of premium cable. Since then, shows like Hannibal have taken the violence level even higher, in Hannibal's case while also being on a big four broadcast network. The smash success of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and recently, Watchmen, have hammered home that while some might find it objectionable, the average TV consumer has zero problem with blood and guts. One can easily argue Negan smashing Glenn's head in like a pumpkin took things too far, but in creative fields, lines are made to be crossed.

The Walking Dead's Surprise Deaths Became Must-See TV


Death is a part of life, and most definitely a part of fiction, and The Walking Dead obviously didn't invent the concept of killing off TV characters. However, it could be argued that no other show, with the possible exception of Game of Thrones, has been more willing to suddenly end the lives of popular figures than The Walking Dead.

Part of the cultural ubiquity of The Walking Dead arose from the building expectation that fans never knew when they tuned in if this would be the last time they saw one of their favorite characters alive, or one of their least-favorite for that matter. Who didn't survive each new episode of The Walking Dead became the perfect source for social media chatter each and every week, only increasing the show's brand as the 2010s' version of must-see TV. After all, no one wants to be the last to know.

The Walking Dead Arrived At The Right Time


One thing The Walking Dead is also known for, usually in a positive sense, is it's almost unrelenting sense of darkness and despair. Some would argue it goes too far in that direction, but life is hard, and seeing what the characters on The Walking Dead go through can make a fan all the happier they only have to deal with real world problems. In that sense, The Walking Dead arrived at the perfect time, cresting on a wave of popular dramas focusing on anti-heroes, such as The Sopranos, Dexter, and Breaking Bad.

One should make no mistake, while Rick Grimes ended up sparing Negan and trying to live up to Carl's ideals after his son's death, for much of The Walking Dead's run, he was most definitely an antihero. Rick often killed people he didn't have to, and his willingness to have his people massacre a camp of sleeping Saviors is an indirect cause to the entire war with Negan, and thus Glenn and Abraham's bloody demises. Thankfully, viewers were in the mood for a dark, morally complex protagonist.

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