The Walking Dead Synopsis
• Sheriff's deputy, Rick Grimes, awakens from a months-long coma to
confront a new, apocalyptic world overrun by flesh-eating zombies.
• Grimes reunites with his family and becomes the leader of a group he
forms with some of the many other survivors whom he encounters in
his quest for a safe haven.
• Together they are forced to survive and adapt in a world filled with
the zombies (aka walkers) and certain humans who are even more
dangerous than the zombies themselves.
• The first season takes place in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and the
second through fourth seasons are set in the surrounding countryside
of northern Georgia.
The Walking Dead Season Five (2015):
The special 90-minute season five finale (March 29, 2015) of “The
Walking Dead” was the highest-rated finale in series history, delivering
15.8 million viewers and 10.4 million adults 18-49. The episode capped
the show’s strong fifth season with all 16 episodes ranking in the top
20 entertainment telecasts across all of television this broadcast
season among adults 18-49.
The Walking Dead Season Four: Popularity
• Season 4, had extremely high television ratings with over 16 million
people watching the premier.
• The Walking Dead had a rating of 8.2 from people from the age of 18-
49 which makes it the most popular show for that demographic.
Concept of Zombie and Haitian Vodou
• Zombies are rooted in Haitian Vodou
• Many different spellings (Vodou, Voodoo, Vodoun, and Hoodoo)
• Meaning of Vodou
• No scriptures or set of orthodoxy
• "Goal" of Vodou
• Haiti said to be 85% Catholic, 15% Protestant, and 100% Vodou.
• In Haiti, there are three lines of African influence
• Vodou is a syncratic religion
• Most songs, sayings, and religious terms are from the Creole language
• Haiti located on Hispaniola
• Was originally a Spanish colony
• San Domingue (now Haiti) was given to the
French in 1697
• French imported an unprecedented number of
• On August 11 1791, "Bois Caiman" occurred
• Important ceremony for Vodou as it launched the
African slaves revolution on the plantation houses.
• The French were driven out in 1803.
• Haiti was the second New World country to gain
independence and the first run by former slaves.
Adam McGee, Haitian Vodou and Voodoo:
Imagined Religion and Popular Culture
When black Africans and their New World descendants liberated
themselves from the French, they sent a shockwave throughout the
Western hemisphere. In their struggle for independence, revolutionary
blacks in St Domingue committed considerable violence against white
colonists. This was the darkest nightmare of all slaveholders, sprung to
life: violent delights come to violent ends. Those fleeing from the
Haitian Revolution were treated as though they carried a dangerous
disease. Many places, including New Orleans, attempted to control the
influx of blacks from Haiti, who, like pathogenic agents, might spread
the spirit of rebellion. It is not surprising, then, that Vodou would
become a fixation in the white imagination, a site for expressions of
both fear and denigration.
• In 1846, Faustin Soulouque crowned himself emperor
• Soulouque was a practitioner of Vodou
• Vodou became entrenched in Haitian culture
• Vodou was so subtly syncretized with Catholicism
• Around 1915, Haiti had a negative reputation around the Western World.
• From 1920 National Geographic article commented upon the U.S.
occupation: "Here [meaning Haiti], in the elemental wilderness, the natives
rapidly forgot their thin veneer of Christian civilization and reverted to
utter, unthinking animalism, swayed only by fear of local bandit chiefs and
the black magic of voodoo witch doctors.“
• The U.S. seized control stating they were protecting it from the Germans.
• In 1941, the U.S. Marines took control and attempted to stamp out Vodou
• After US left Vodou flourished
• In 1957, Dr. Francois Duvalier (aka Papa Doc),
another Vodouist was elected
• Duvalier dies in 1971 - his son Jean-Cluade (Baby
Doc) took control
• In 1990, a former Catholic Priest, Pere Jean-
Bertrand, was elected - ruled the country
according to its Constitution which states religious
• Currently (2015), President Michel Martelly was
• Since January 2015, most Parliamentarians terms
have expired and, without the possibility of quorum,
parliament is no longer functioning.
• President Martelly is left to rule the country by decree
with an interim Government.
• August 2015 Haiti is set for another election.
2010: Earthquake and Cholera Outbreak
• McGee explains following the earthquake of 12 January 2010, Haitian culture and
religion fell, once again, under the focus of the international media and opinion makers.
• Recycling of stereotypes about Haitian Vodou.
• David Brooks’s New York Times opined that Haitian Vodou was the cause of many of
• “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress
resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads
the message that life is capricious and planning futile. . . . We’re all supposed to politely
respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others,
and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.”
• McGee states “the implication was that, in a country rife with superstition, our well-
meaning efforts would succeed only in wasting dollars, as Haiti would inevitably
backslide into its heathen ways.”
• NY Times Opinion Pages:
Vodou as Religion
• A priest is called a Houngan and a Priestess is called a Mambo
• Primary responsibilities
• Temple called a Houmfor
• Creator god named Maori
• Bondye (Mawu-Lisa) created the universe, the Loa, humanity, etc.
• Vodou theology eventually mingled this thought with Catholicism.
• Loa: basically, the Vodou spirits or gods.
• Loas are numerous and most exhibit various personalities and characteristics.
• They are an archetype of moral principles that he or she represents. Like people,
however, they have strengths and weaknesses.
Vodou’s “Other Side”
• Bocor, a witch doctor, practices black magic
• Baka, A demon in an animal's body
• Zobops, Grotesque monsters conjured up by sorcerers
• All priests and priestesses countered black magic
• Bocors operate in secret
Bocors and Zombies
• The most popular concept is the Zombie
• Embodied the fear of slavery and forced servitude
• Created from bocor magic
• Bocor reanimates a corpse and makes them a mindless slave
• Critics claim these "zombies" appear to display various symptoms of
mental deficiency or illness
Wade Davis: Ethnobotonist
• Anthropologist Wade Davis discovered a numbing poison that can
induce a death-like state.
• Davis claims that in order for someone to be subject to zombification,
they must first be found to have broken some specific social norm,
such as stealing someone's spouse, and thus it exerts a positive social
• In Haiti, Zombies are not feared, but are rather objects of pity.
Vodou in North America
• Largest Vodou diasporas in North America are located in New Orleans
and New York.
• Marie Laveau, also known as the Vodou Queen of New Orleans and
Zora Neale Hurston
• Created a safe haven for Vodou
• The sites of Laveau's ceremonies are sacred
• After her death, Vodou went underground due to the federal, state,
city government officials, and American Protestant leaders attempts
to destroy African-diasporic folk religion in Louisiana
McGee: Vodou and Popular Culture
• Voodoo Kitsch, “its historic roots in mass production”
• “They appeal because they evoke voodoo.”
• Response can be one of curiosity, awe, fear, shock, good-natured
humor or derision.
• Spice Girls’ song ‘‘Voodoo’’
• Portland’s Voodoo Donuts
Voodoo is Imagined Religion
• McGee states, “I would argue that there is a distinct religion called by
the nearly identical name of ‘‘voodoo’’—which is made no less real
for the fact that it has no actual practitioners and, for all intents and
purposes, does not exist except in the imaginations of millions of
people who have been exposed to American popular culture.”
• Inspired loosely by actual encounters with African-derived religious practices
but does not attempt to realistically represent them.
• Voodoo exists as a receptacle for centuries of anxieties caused by Colonialism
Voodoo and Zombies in Film
• Voodoo is adds flavor and induces a particular mood to horror films
• Voodoo’s depictions of horror first depicted in travel journals
• Human sacrifice
Thematic Analysis of Voodoo and Zombies in
• Touch upon some films starting in 1930’s to present
• Not a comprehensive analysis, but certainly a selective one
• Sexualizing Women and Control
• Voodoo and Satanism
• Colonialism and Voodoo
• Zombie-less Voodoo
• Voodoo and Blackness
• Disease Anxieties
• Zombie Apocalypse
• Zombie Post-Apocalyse
Sexualizing Women and Control
• White Zombie (1932)
Voodoo = Satanism
• I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
• Angel Heart (1987)
Colonialism and Voodoo
• The Serpent and the Rainbow
• The Skeleton Key (2005)
Voodoo and Blackness
• The Princess and the Frog (2009)
• World War Z (2013)
• 28 Days Later (2002)
• I am Legend (2007)
Themes in The Walking Dead
• Based upon the selection of films:
• Are zombies in TWD connected to voodoo?
• Are the zombies connected to Satanism?
• Are the zombies connected to black magic?
• Do you think that TWD sexualizes women?
• How is blackness represented?
• Is colonialism present in TWD?
• Is there a disease anxiety?
• Is the show apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic?
Socio-Cultural Context to The Walking Dead
• Does The Walking Dead reflect societies past or current anxieties?
• How do religious themes, motifs, tropes, etc … in The Walking Dead
create discourse to conceptualize the socio-cultural context?
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