Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
On Sunday, The Walking Dead (9 p.m. ET on AMC) returns to TV for its fourth season. If it delivers its usual ratings numbers, well over 10 million people will be settling in to watch this scary, violent zombie drama that's based on a comic book. Clearly, the show has transcended its genre; all of those people can't possibly be sci-fi/horror geeks.
So what do millions of people see in this post-apocalyptic thriller? Much more than zombies. The human characters have survived a devastating, widespread plague, only to find themselves having to elude and/or fight off hordes of roving dead people, hungry for human flesh. Gone are the laws and social mores that used to govern behavior. And in that bleak and frazzled atmosphere, the humans are fighting one another, too.
In the midst of these extraordinary circumstances, the humans are still human. They're still falling in and out of love, proposing marriage, fighting depression, grappling with jealousy and struggling for power. There's great storytelling and character development here, and it's all amplified by the outrageous changes in the world around the characters.
As we move into Season 4, Michonne (Danai Gurira) is mourning the loss of a beloved friend, Andrea (Laurie Holden), just as countless other TV characters have done. In her case, though, her grief will play out as she continues to defend herself and her human allies from "walkers" and human bad guys.
The show's flawed hero, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), has some seriously difficult parenting issues to handle in the weeks to come. He's a single dad to Carl (Chandler Riggs), a kid who's grieving the death of his mother and trying to assert his own power in a violent and lawless world. It's a relatable situation -- even if you're not living in an abandoned prison with zombies clawing at the fence. The zombies sure do ramp up the drama, though!
Season 3 ended with a tender marriage proposal between two people, Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who'd just escaped a kidnapping ordeal that left them both traumatized. She cries when he pops the question, and viewers know that those tears are expressing a much wider range of emotions than your average bride-to-be.
The Walking Dead offers viewers all the basics they crave in a TV drama: a well-told story, relatable characters and occasional narrative twists. But this story can never get boring, because at any given moment, a grunting, partially deteriorating dead person could be arriving for dinner. And the characters are, potentially, the main course.
Watch a sneak peek of Season 4 here:
Jennifer Graham Kizer is an iVillage contributing writer. Follow her on Google+.