The Fascination With The Post Apocalypse Genre

The post-apocalypse genre, normally told in zombie sci-fiction, has become something of a new fantasy genre. However, since the rise of 'The Walking Dead' and all peripheral corresponding media, it's become something of an overused trope. So why are modern audiences so drawn in to this particular branch of dark fantasy?

The world, in general, is tired of the way things are run, thinking the world is too overpopulated and superfluous to requirements. A macabre-culling fantasy of the human race means that other species have a new shot at life without fear of extermination through deforestation or climate change.

A simplifying cull means a reversal of detrimental human effects and politics, so a world of lush vegetation and climate repair can thrive. They are the positive trade-offs for shuffling zombies roaming around.

The post-apocalypse is of course the perfect setting for many horror movies. The likes of '28 Days Later', 'Alien', 'The Hills Have Eyes', 'A Quiet Place', and countless others all benefit from having a deconstructed empty world to amplify their horror scenes.

Man and Boy in 'The Road'
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in 'The Road'  Source: MediaStinger

Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' is the perfect novel (and movie) for hitting the reset button on the world with an untold cataclysm. In this particular case, the world is scorched by a solar flare, obliterating most life.

It may not have the annoying zombie pestilence, but it remains a fantastic exploration of the ugliness of human behaviour when the chips are down.

'The Road' (and post-apocalypse dramas in general) gives a blank slate where no research is needed to divine external motives and forces, and only serves to drive McCarthy's own narrative forward.

Nothing matters in this fantasy world but his characters, their motivations, and whatever he chose for them to meet along the way.

The novel gets to be entirely about the unnamed Man and Boy father-son relationship against the entire, brutal world. The stripped-back formula makes for some truly impactful scenes.

Joel and Ellie in The Last Of Us
Joel and Ellie in 'The Last of Us'  Source: SlashGear

The video game 'The Last of Us' explores this same concept, where a small loving relationship in a huge hostile world threatens its' fragility, but only serves to make that relationship deeper and more meaningful through shared experience.

The relationship between the main protagonists Ellie and Joel begins as a fraught enforced guardian and moody teenager vibe, to something more akin to father and daughter.

The external forces that threaten their happiness and safety are where the player is drawn in to combat them away to nurture this relationship and serves only to make the game more immersive by raising the stakes.

The message is that something beautiful and unseen can grow even in the harshest environments.

Lee and Clementine
Lee protecting Clementine in 'The Walking Dead' game cover art  Source: Screen Rant

The same theme recurs in Telltale's 'The Walking Dead' video game. Here again is a paternal relationship between Lee and Clementine, where the player is forced to make heartbreaking choices that push the narrative.

The game is filled with memorable moments that leave an effect on the player, all because of the post-apocalypse theme amplifying their love.

The post-apocalypse means that you can nullify literally everything in the world, which makes the desperation and intensity of one-on-one relationships so raw and heightened.

Nothing else matters but the preservation of life, and your protagonists' survival. This makes it such an easy setting to build your characters in, and such an evergreen theme.

Politics, unnecessary jobs, and people with no survival instincts are all gone when it comes to this theme, as it's the gauntlet of man, where only the strong survive.

New, simple laws of common sense are made with no red tape. Farmers, fishermen, doctors, and soldiers are more valuable than celebrities, as they should be.

Rick Grimes in 'The Walking Dead'
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in 'The Walking Dead'  Source: Twitter

'The Walking Dead' show and comics are of course the most recognised drama with the PA theme.

Here we follow the life of Rick Grimes, a cop who wakes up from a coma bewildered to find that the world has ended and zombies roam the earth.

For as horrific as it seems, some people yearn for such a 'reset button' where the only thing that matters is survival.

'The Walking Dead' reached such popular heights because again, viewers and readers cared about the outcome of the characters. This is because the show is ultimately about the strength of relationships, with obligatory blood and gore to please the macabre.

Snowpiercer poster
War of the classes between the last of humanity in Netflix's 'Snowpiercer'  Source: TBI Vision

Netflix's 'Snowpiercer' series follows the last of humanity recurrently driving around the world on a train as the world has frozen over and become uninhabitable through below-freezing temperatures.

It sounds ridiculous, but the premise isn't so much important as what it does for the narrative.

The point is that if you funnel or bottleneck humanity into an enclosed setting, that same human ugliness found in all PA dramas will always occur.

In 'Snowpiercer's' case this is found in its class system. The poorer or less skilled of us get put to the back of the train and live on rations, while the rich and powerful dine and live well in first-class.

The train is an interesting, simplified metaphor for the class divide of humanity; and the poor, grossly uneven distribution of wealth.

The world outside the train is gone, but the vacuum of humanity still retains every element of our inhumanity.

There is bitterness, tension, and resentment from the 'tailies', whose jobs maintain the functionality of the world they don't get to enjoy.

Meanwhile, there is indifference and lack of appreciation from the first class towards those who keep them in their lofty positions.

In every instance or example of post-apocalypse dramas, no matter how overused the theme has become, the main interest is always the power of relationships.

You set the whole world against your protagonists to test the boundaries of their capabilities.

There is the secondary appeal of resourcefulness being rewarded: where in our privileged world, only the rich and beautiful are revered regardless of their talents.

We the viewer, reader, or player begin to fantasise about how we would fare in such a hostile environment. The phrase "if I was them, I'd do this" draws us in to see if the character does in fact do as we'd predict.

Post Apocalypse world
An eerily beautiful cataclysm awaits  Source: Literary Hub

The post-apocalypse remains an evergreen bountiful source for media inspiration.

Many believe that some sort of apocalypse will occur in our near future, so it will always be popular for horrors in particular, as it has its' finger on the pulse of humanity's legitimized fears.

There will always be great tales to be told of heartbreak, loss, meaningful victories, and triumph over adversity. T

he world and scope have the juxtaposing imagery of ugly human industrial devastation and beautiful nature reclamation.

As tired as the trope may be, there will always be some refreshing way to end the world and test the power of humanity.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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