When I first learned that the AMC network (American Movie Classics) was going to debut a new series called “The Walking Dead” this past Halloween, a show that would deal with a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, I inwardly groaned. It seems these days that those who walk with rotting flesh are a panacea for countless writers and filmmakers who wish to showcase their varied creative prowess in the world of horror. Before I go any further with this week’s blog, I will admit that zombies populate one of my all time favorite horror movies and, in this blogger’s opinion, one of the best films of the genre, George Romero’s 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead. That was the original mind you, by the man who brought us the iconic Night of the Living Dead, not the 2004 remake, which isn’t terrible, but it did seem to kick off a slew of zombie movies, which, this blogger believes, for the most part have added nothing new or interesting to a tired story line.
I also must confess that I did not watch a single episode of “The Walking Dead” when it originally aired. I set up my DVR to record the six installments that comprised season one of the show. Afterwards, I pretty much forgot about it. Several weeks after the season ended I sat down to watch it and was more than pleasantly surprised at what a quality production the show turned out to be. The more I watched, the more I allowed my icy skepticism of the show to metaphorically melt away.
Developed for television by director and writer Frank Darabont (The Green Mile) and based on a series of comic books created by Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman, and Tony Moore, “The Walking Dead” debuted on October 31, 2010, and became the highest rated debut show in AMC history with well over five million viewers. The numbers would continue to stay strong with the airings of the subsequent five episodes, including the season finale which garnered six million viewers. The success of the first season prompted AMC to confirm, on November 8, 2010, that the show had been renewed for a second season consisting of thirteen episodes.
The first aspect that I particularly liked when I started to watch “The Walking Dead” was the cinematic vibe I got that is not often found on television; in addition I was captivated by its realism. The zombies don’t look cheaply put together. The producers are apparently not working on a shoe-string budget; because of this, the fictional formerly living human beings give off an organic feel to the point where I can imagine them outside my door waiting to devour me from head to toe the next time I venture to my mailbox. Kudos to the extraordinarily gifted makeup artistry and supervision of Gregory Nicotero (Predators). Because Nicotero is such a genius at his craft, one can almost smell the iron odor of the blood emanating from the dead flesh of the zombies.
The second aspect is that the central theme of the show concerns itself primarily with human beings not the zombies. It paints a portrait of a world gone to a literal hell, and as it unfolds, it affords the viewer a glimpse into the mindsets of human beings who want to continue living in the hopes that brighter days are still ahead for them. The show immediately earned my fanfare by not resorting to filming a bunch of screaming, scared imbeciles who are running away from brain eating zombies without an idea among them on how they’re going to survive. Please don’t misunderstand, for those self-described gore hounds out there who are reading this, there is plenty of carnage that takes place during the show, but it is not the end all be all of the series. In this blogger’s opinion, “The Walking Dead,” to its credit, concerns itself more with human emotion and the innate instincts we posses when confronted with a tumultuous situation, and asks the following questions: What would survivors of a world plagued by zombies resort to in order to keep going? Would civility still be in place or would complete and utter chaos be the order of the day?
The start of the series begins with Georgia sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, portrayed with a steely resolve by Andrew Lincoln (Made in Dagenham) awakening from a coma in a deserted hospital. At first he is confused and disoriented as I imagine any of us would be upon waking from a prolonged sleep, and this condition is only heightened when he views the corridors of the hospital which are both devoid of people and in a shambles. He manages to scrounge up some clothing and make his way out of the hospital, only to step outside into the harsh light of day where he immediately sees that things are no better. There are bed sheet covered bodies rotting on the ground, abandoned cars, and other signs of destruction, but still no human beings to ask what is going on.
Grimes decides his first stop, which is a logical one under normal circumstances, is to head home to his family. As Lincoln’s character ventures further into the now zombie infested world, he gets his first glimpse of one of the undead as it drags itself across the grass in front of him. Grimes manages to make his way home, but instead of finding the welcoming embraces of his wife Lori, played by Sarah Wayne Callies, (Prison Break) and his son Carl, Chandler Riggs, (The Wronged Man) he is greeted by a whack to the head which renders him unconscious once again. Upon waking, his attacker, who is also a father looking out for the well being of his own young son, explains to Grimes what the world is now like, and how one can defend themselves against the hordes of the undead. Grimes returns the favor by taking the man and his son to the police station, so they can load up on weapons before the three part ways. Grimes begins to head towards Atlanta in search of his family, but before going he gives the man a walkie talkie and promises to let him know if Atlanta is a safe zone once he gets there. The plot of the show is just getting warmed up by this point and will continue to grow at a methodical pace over the remaining episodes. For some viewers, it might take too much time to get to the action sequences, but when they do crop up they’re well worth the wait.
With its well written storylines, appropriate pacing, outstanding makeup and effects, not to mention its more than competent cast, the show should enjoy continued success in season two and beyond. Check out the first season of this visceral series, which arrived on DVD and Blu-Ray, March 8th.