Here's Why All Of Us Are Dead Feels So Real

South Korea has had a massively successful decade in the world of horror and audiences can't seem to get enough of it. In 2021, "Squid Game" became not only the most popular Netflix original series of all time but a cultural phenomenon that inspired the streaming giant to invest over half a billion dollars into South Korean content. "Train to Busan" director Yeon Sang-ho's supernatural horror series "Hellbound" followed shortly after "Squid Game," with Choi Hang-yong's space thriller, "The Silent Sea," captivating audiences thanks to a script from Park Eun-kyo, the same screenwriter behind Bong Joon-ho's "Mother."

While western audiences may be suffering from American zombie fatigue after eleven long seasons of "The Walking Dead," South Korea is having a zombie renaissance. Netflix recently acquired and released the high-octane coming-of-age zombie horror series "All Of Us Are Dead," which freshly became the platform's fifth most popular non-English series debut. Since its premiere on January 28, 2022, "All Of Us Are Dead" has so far been watched for approximately 361 million hours. 

Based on the popular webcomic "Now At Our School," "All Of Us Are Dead" follows a group of students from Hyosan High School fighting to survive after their location becomes ground zero for a zombie virus. A lot has changed since "Now At Our School" was published over a decade ago, and the Korean high school experience looks a lot different. Yet even with a newer generation of high schoolers and the whole being-attacked-by-zombies thing, "All Of Us Are Dead" still successfully manages to feel grounded and authentic.

We'll be discussing the show at length, so consider this your spoiler warning.

The Show Reflects Gen Z Anxieties

Park Solomon, who plays Lee Su-hyeok on "All Of Us Are Dead" alongside co-stars Lee Yoo-mi, Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, and Cho Yi-hyeon, recently spoke with Cosmopolitan Korea about the series and noted that the cast took their roles very seriously. "We tried really hard to act like modern Korean high school students," Solomon said. "Compared to 13 years ago when the webtoon was made, the culture of high school students is different now." Show creators Lee Jae-kyoo, Chun Sung-il, and Kim Nam-su allowed the space for the actors to modify their characters and on-screen relationships to better reflect the current Korean high school culture, as well as modify any necessary language. "We included a lot of improvisations that measure up to today's Korean high schoolers," Solomon concluded.

At one point in the series, Nam-ra, the class president with an icy attitude, turns into a half-zombie and says, "You know how students are not children but not yet adults, either? I'm like that. I'm neither human nor a monster." In an interview with NBC Asian America, Cho Yi-hyun, the actress who plays Nam-ra, highlighted this moment as an example of the dual identity that plagues much of Gen Z. "Everyone faces an identity crisis at one point in their life," she said. "As a teenager, I also felt like an adult but not yet an adult ... in those aspects, I related to Nam-ra." 

During a moment when things seem to be at their most bleak, Nam-ra echoes this sentiment by saying, "We won't be the first to be rescued. We're not that important. We're just students. Nothing more." This feeling of helplessness is unfortunately common for a lot of high schoolers not just in South Korea, but across the globe.

High School is Hard Enough Without Zombies

What sets "All Of Us Are Dead" apart from other Korean zombie fare like "Train to Busan," "Kingdom," and "#Alive," is that the show is centered almost exclusively on the young students of Hyosan High. 

School is supposed to be a safe sanctuary away from the dangers of the outside world so students can learn and thrive. But it becomes a hallway of horrors when Kim Hyun-joo is bitten by a hamster infected with a virus created by science teacher Lee Byeong-chan, who in turn locks her inside the lab's interior room for days before she escapes, fully zombified.

The reveal that a science teacher was responsible for putting the lives of his students, and the surrounding community in danger paints a bleak picture of the way teen lives are valued during times of crisis. They've been put in harm's way, abandoned by their government, and left to fend for themselves by the adults that should be protecting them. For western viewers, it's difficult not to see this as a metaphor for the ongoing epidemic of school shootings, and how little the government has done to combat it. The only thing high school students should have to worry about is schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, a healthy social life, and taking the time to find themselves. No teenager should ever have to worry about whether or not they're going to be safe when going to school, from an active shooter or a zombie.

Finding Love in a Hopeless Place

"All Of Us Are Dead" isn't just a show about surviving the zombie apocalypse, it's also a coming-of-age drama with plenty of typical teen issues. "Squid Game" star Lee Yoo-mi plays the wealthy and arrogant Na-yeon, who frequently bullies classmate Gyeong-su for living in low-income housing. It seems silly to find reasons to bully someone when faced with the end of the world, but if "Yellowjackets" taught us anything, it's that even teenagers trying to survive the impossible are still going to act like teenagers. No matter what carnage surrounds the students of Hyosan High, it doesn't change the fact that their emotional needs are the same. They fight for survival, yes, but they also crave acceptance, friendship, visibility, understanding, and compassion.

Yoon Chan-young and Park Ji-hu have both stated that their favorite moment of the show took place when their characters, Lee Cheong-san and Nam On-jo, locked themselves in an auditorium after Cheong-san watched his mother turn into a zombie. "It's a moment when the two opened their hearts and felt a true connection," Chan-young said. "Even the morning sunlight felt warm." 

There's no heartbreak quite like losing your first love, but losing them to a military bombing against a horde of zombies makes that heartbreak even worse. On-jo carries that overwhelming grief with her on her own quest for survival after Cheong-san's death, and "All Of Us Are Dead" refrains from undermining her feelings of loss, honoring them instead as a genuine tragedy that will shape the rest of her life.

Don't Forget What Makes You Human

A lot of zombie properties take themselves way too seriously, and despite the dire circumstances, "All Of Us Are Dead" isn't afraid to laugh. Sure, we know how to salvage resources, look for water, and find weapons for survival, but how do survivors use the bathroom when they're trapped in a classroom and surrounded by flesh-eating monsters? 

"All Of Us Are Dead" is unapologetically teenaged in its occasionally sardonic approach to the end of the world, which helps the show feel so relatable to younger audiences. High school can be hell, but a show like "All Of Us Are Dead" tells us that we should be proud of ourselves for getting through it and that it's okay to find moments of joy. Whether it's creating a makeshift toilet, commenting inappropriate nonsense on a YouTuber's livestream of the zombie outbreak, or just taking the time to reminisce and share stories around a fire, "All Of Us Are Dead" keeps it cheerful and reminds us to value what's really important.

"We're still friends even if we're apart, right?"