Downtown Louisville was swarmed over the weekend by hordes of individuals united in an imperative biological need. Now, as these individuals happen to be attendees of the 2015 Wizard World Comic Con, the horde was filled with folks hungry for fun rather than flesh. In fact, judging by all of the wonderful cosplay of Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier, there was probably no safer place to ride out a zombie apocalypse in all of Louisville than the Kentucky International Convention Center.
One of the greatest zombie resources at Wizard World was not dressed as a character from AMC’s The Walking Dead, however. Rather, Dr. Travis Langley of Henderson State University was in Jedi duds as he took the stage for his zombie apocalypse-themed panel. In “The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead,” Langley guided the audience through an examination of just what a zombie apocalypse could really mean for the human psyche.
Dr. Langley may be a professor of psychology, but “The Walking Dead Psychology” was definitely not a panel just for psych students. In his 45-minute panel, Langley struck such a fine balance between discussion of the show and discussion of the comic source material that even those who only knew one or the other could keep up just fine. Besides, anybody who can manage in-depth examination of anything as twist-y as The Walking Dead without spoiling plots rotten is more than deserving of time on stage.
The panel was formatted like a lecture rather than an interview, but Langley was lively and interactive enough that there was never a dull moment in the room. Of course, the entire panel couldn’t be comments about Carol’s cookies or protests of “Awww!” at pictures of Hershel or jokes about Gareth the pre-zombie apocalypse barista. Langley went surprisingly deep into the very real psychological issues that have been affecting the characters of The Walking Dead for years. Whether it was evaluating characters like Sasha and Rick to decide whether or not a person can be diagnosed with PTSD if they technically never reach the “post-“ stage, comparing Joe and the Claimers with Gareth and the Termites, or debating whether or not characters such as Shane and Lizzie deserve to be characterized as villains alongside the likes of the Governor, the level of academic Walking Dead fluency in the room was fascinating.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, however, was Dr. Langley’s point that the fictionalized universe of Rick Grimes and Co. on The Walking Dead makes it much more comfortable to debate issues as horrifying as those that have plagued the show and comic characters from the very beginning. Carl’s psychological journey is enjoyable to dissect from behind a television screen or book cover, but a similar analysis of a child even half as traumatized as poor Carl in real life would be far from fun.
Overall, Langley was a fantastic host who brought his knowledge as a professor of psychology as well as a fan very well-versed in Walking Dead lore to create one of the most memorable panels of the Louisville Wizard World Comic Con.
Dr. Travis Langley is the author of several books that examine the psychological status quo of famous characters from pop culture, including The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead. Langley also hosted panels on Star Wars and Batman at Wizard World Comic Con in Louisville on Nov. 7 and 8.