2. Accessibility. The Walking Dead isn't just for horror fans. The show highlights the tension between humans when confronted with survival in a hostile environment. These characters are facing the reality of death every single day, so viewers are presented with multiple (often conflicting) opinions on how to react in life-or-death situations. This focus on humanity instead of death broadens its appeal to a wider, less horror-centric audience.
3. Balance. It's lots of fun to see creepy, scary, gory zombies attack people. However, it takes contrast to create tension; otherwise, we'd just be stuck with inevitable death. It's a lot more terrifying to see the characters create camps outside of Atlanta or at the farmhouse, be lulled into a false sense of comfort, then get attacked than it would be to just have the character be constantly bombarded by zombies. Rationing the zombie moments also makes them far more effective. For example, the bicycle girl of season 1 was so compelling because she was a small, legless zombie in a quiet, empty field. She would not have been so haunting if she had been, say, crawling across a parking lot filled with zombies in an episode with 20 different zombie attacks.
This is not to say that The Walking Dead has been perfect in its balance. The first half of season 2 suffered from a shocking lack of zombies. Instead, the show focused on the personal struggle between group leader Rick and bad boy Shane trying to win the alpha male position in the group. After more than 10 episodes of this, I came seriously close to quitting the show forever, but the second half of the season completely redeemed the show. This section restored movement, tension, and dynamic interactions into what was becoming a stagnant, lifeless season.
4. Different strokes for different folks. The limitation of a zombie movie is that there is a very small amount of time to squeeze in character development. Obviously, it's so much easier to develop 3-4 main characters in 2 hours than it is to include 10+ main characters. Television allows The Walking Dead the luxuries of developing personalities over time and introducing new characters to keep things fresh. This allows for a much broader representation of gender and race without feeling forced.
5. Zombie evolution. (CAUTION: POTENTIAL SPOILER!) What could be more terrifying than not knowing how to fight a plague? At first, people are only zombified via flesh wound, but the disease evolves to turn every dead person into a walker. This implies that the virus could further mutate and cause living people to become zombies without any injury. Such developments spark more questions, which makes the show even more compelling.
So what's your take on The Walking Dead? Is it a fresh take on horror, or is it just the same content in a different medium?
* I'm aware the show is based on the comic series. For this discussion, I'll be discussing why these particular elements are important for television/film.