What does “the end of the world” really mean? Is it an end to humanity altogether, or simply the end of humanity as we know it?
Television has a long history of exploring the apocalypse in different, but often intriguing, ways. In the past, shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Jericho, and Fringe each spun unique stories out of the end of civilization, and upcoming series like Snowpiercer and The Passage will continue that trend. And that’s just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg.
From alien invasions and zombie takeovers, to robot dogs and religious theocracies, there are several current series exploring the myriad ways things can go horribly, horribly wrong for humanity, inching us closer to a violent end. Here are some of the best shows on television right now set amid the downfall of human civilization and its aftermath.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (Hulu)
Among the most obvious choices on our list, this award-winning Hulu series confines the dire situation to Gilead, an authoritarian, theocratic empire encompassing much of what was once the United States, where women are forced into sexual servitude to bear children for oligarchical couples. Women are banned from owning property, handling money, or even reading, with harsh punishments meted out to anyone who defies the laws. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a sharp and brutal regression to an existence in which religious fanaticism reigns supreme, and humans are treated like property.
‘The Walking Dead’ (AMC)
Call them what you want — zombies, walkers, biters, eaters, or roamers — but a virus has created shambling, undead creatures in AMC’s hit series with one mission: To feed on human flesh. Following perhaps the most popularized apocalyptic scenario, the show follows a small group of survivors as they’re forced to band together and fend of evil on all fronts in an attempt to rebuild society. All too often, however, the survivors find that in such desperate times, the living are sometimes a more dangerous enemy then the dead.
‘The Rain’ (Netflix)
In this Danish series, which was just renewed for its second season, a virus distributed via raindrops has wiped out almost all of Scandinavia. Siblings who survived in a bunker search for any signs of life, and while doing so, encounter other young survivors. Interestingly, they discover that even with little sign of life, many of the same challenges and emotional experiences they would have endured in a pre-apocalyptic world still exist in this disastrous situation.
‘Mr. Robot’ (USA Network)
Surely the takedown of one multi-national conglomerate can’t mark the end of an entire society, right? In this USA Network series, a sophisticated hack of a company involved with everything from national banks to consumer credit, the manufacturing of tech devices, and various other facets of modern existence singlehandedly leads to the devastation of society. Shops close, family savings are lost, people riot and loot, and the populace all-too-suddenly resorts to violent crime in the streets as they try and cope with the downfall. While life still seemingly goes on as E Corp (or as the hacker played by series star Rami Malek calls it, “Evil Corp”) tries to persist, the dangers of not being able to rebuild threaten a collapsing world economy.
‘Black Mirror’ (Netflix)
This entire series foreshadows situations where technological development can go terribly wrong and lead to a scary new way of life. One episode in particular, however, shows a truly apocalyptic scenario whereby robotic “dogs” have taken over the world following the collapse of human society. Filmed entirely in black and white, the fourth-season episode Metalhead is an ominous look at the story of a woman’s desperate attempt to survive an attack from the four-legged artificial intelligence.
‘The Last Man on Earth’ (Fox)
The only comedic series on the list, The Last Man on Earth casts Will Forte as Philip Tandy Miller, who thinks he is literally the last man on earth after a deadly virus wipes out almost all of humanity. Spoiler: He eventually finds others, and they work together to try and repopulate society, despite constantly irritating one another. While the series was recently canceled, its fourth and final season aired earlier this year, and all episodes are also available on Hulu.
‘The 100’ (The CW)+
A nuclear war has destroyed civilization, but a group of adolescents is sent back to Earth from an orbiting space station in order to test the planet’s ability to sustain life and start civilization anew. Oh, and they’re all juvenile prisoners, so … drama ensues. Upon the survivors’ return, they quickly realize they aren’t the only humans to survive the apocalyptic events that wiped out most of humanity, and distinct groups of other survivors have formed, with some hungry for flesh and others hungry for power.
‘Colony’ (USA Network)
Set in near-future L.A., the series is set after mysterious extraterrestrials known as the Hosts have taken over the planet, tasking the human military regime known as the Transitional Authority with enforcing their will. Regions of humanity are separated by massive rectangular blocks that appeared from the sky, creating walls around buildings and dividing the cities. With the Hosts controlling who can get in and out of the walls, the series chronicles life after humanity is subjugated by alien invaders and the resistance that forms in the wake of their arrival.
This Brazilian dystopian thriller is the first Portuguese-language original series for Netflix, and it unfolds in a society divided among two distinct classes: The Offshore enjoy privilege and technological superiority, while the Inland are plagued with poverty and deprivation. Once you turn 20, you can apply to join the Offshore. The catch? Only three percent of those who do so will get in. For the other 97 percent of humanity, it’s back to a life of perpetual struggle, or death.
‘Z Nation’ (Syfy)
Another series that explores life after a zombie epidemic, Z Nation takes a slightly comedic spin on the situation. Keith Allan plays Alvin Murphy, a prison inmate who not only managed to survive the apocalypse, but did so by receiving a vaccine that made him immune to the dreaded zombie bite. That protection came at a cost, however, and he is slowly mutating into a sort of human-zombie hybrid, with shedding skin and the ability to control the undead while still maintaining his mental faculties. Joined by a group of survivors with conflicting opinions about his condition, Murphy might be humanity’s best hope for a cure.