Zombies in entertainment date all the way back to 1932, until they were made famous by George A. Romero in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Romero essentially invented our modern conceptualization of what makes a zombie, from their status as undead corpses to disposing of them with a clean headshot. Since then, other directors have created their own versions. Movies like 28 Days Later treated it as a virus that turned people into rabid, turbo-powered monsters. Meanwhile, TV shows like The Walking Dead helped bring zombies into the mainstream, and suddenly we had ourselves a full-blown phenomenon.
It’s a common practice within horror to revamp your movie and TV monsters in order to keep them fresh, especially in a day and age when reusing old ideas is the order of the day. Vampires used to look like the decidedly unattractive Nosferatu, so modern studios made a concerted effort to change the perception to make them sexual objects living glamorous immortal lives, often playing fast and loose with their powers and weaknesses. While all this was happening, though, the evolution of their zombie contemporaries was decidedly stagnant.
In general, the rules for them have been the same: Undead people rise from the grave to mindlessly crave human flesh. If you’re bitten by one of these people, you join their ranks. Typically, the best way to kill them is to sever the head or destroy the brain. It’s pretty simple stuff, and it’s a tried and true formula that hasn’t been dramatically tampered with for decades. At least that was, until iZombie came around. With the graphic novel that started it all (and then through the TV show), we see one of the first real, genuine attempts at changing the rules for the zombie game in a big way (sorry, 28 Days Later, making them faster doesn’t qualify).
So here are the new rules as we know them from iZombie: “Ground Zero,” so to speak occurred on a boat party, where people began zombie-raging out after ingesting a new street drug called “utopium.” Our main character was scratched and woke up on a beach decidedly paler and unequivocally undead. But different from her shuffling, groaning contemporaries, she manages to be a perfectly functioning (and covert) zombie coroner for the Seattle Police Department. She still craves human brains, and when she eats them (usually with a healthy dose of hot sauce), she absorbs the thoughts, memories, and abilities of the person she consumes.
All the abilities and memories she acquires from a brain are replaced when she eats a new one, making it a perfect device for a story-of-the-week structure. The one caveat, of course, comes along when she’s denied brains for too long, running the risk of devolving into one of the ambling Romero zombies we’re all familiar with. When she’s happy and full, she also has the ability to “Hulk out,” giving her temporarily enhanced powers like super strength and speed (but also an increased craving for human flesh). What this all represents is a completely new mythos for a creature that hasn’t been dramatically revamped since Night of the Living Dead.
The show has gotten by so far on its unique concept, rich source material, and the clever writing of Veronica Mars alum Rob Thomas. Each episode is better than the last, showing great promise for a show that’s not afraid to remake what’s been a completely successful formula. It’s nothing if not bold to try rewriting a decades-old guidebook, and we’d be surprised if the rules didn’t keep on evolving in the coming season.
The second season of iZombie kicks off Tuesday, October 6 on The CW at 9 p.m. EST.
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