THE WALKING DEAD Series Premiere Review

The Walking Dead

Photo Credit : AMC

“The Walking Dead” promises to be a thought-provoking, stark look at human survival, using some of the same themes explored in “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” but set against this zombie infested landscape.


For some time now, my sister and father have been strategizing for the “inevitable” zombie apocalypse.  They call each other, sometimes with the express purpose to discuss the best way to transport our theoretical survival team or weigh the pros and cons of certain zombie “dispatch” techniques.  Several of our friends are in on the game and make their case to be included in our plans, should the world end in shuddering, shambling zombies.  There’s actually a waiting list to get on the survival team.

Of course, when we talk zombie apocalypse it is always with a sense of relief that a real one is fairly unlikely (some other kind of apocalypse…well, who knows?)  The zombie oeuvre has taken hold of our imaginations before, but seems to really have some juice in this first decade of the 21st century.  Even before the recession, but after the horrors of 9/11, films, books and comics trickled into the cultural zeitgeist, into what is now a flood of zombie tales.  One of the earlier entries into this stream was Robert Kirkman’s comic series “The Walking Dead.”

Cinematic on the page, but with a laser focus on the characters, “The Walking Dead” always felt like prime material to adapt to screen.  Creator Kirkman was reticent, waiting until the right people and the right opportunity presented itself, so that his vision could be realized fully, and without many of the missteps which have befallen other comic properties adapted for film and television.  The right people for Kirkman included Gale Ann Hurd, producer of the first three Terminator films and “Aliens” and Frank Darabont, writer and director of “The Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” and “The Mist.”  With alchemy that strong, it’s no wonder Kirkman finally relented for his popular and well-regarded comic series to be made into a television series.  It also doesn’t hurt the pedigree that AMC, home of  “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad,” is producing and airing the show.

The Walking Dead

Photo Credit : AMC

“The Walking Dead” is more than just another zombie story.  It’s a story very much about the living, the survivors, as many zombie-filled futures are.  What separates this show from most of the others is its focus too on the dead.  Other films, like “Zombieland” and “Dawn of the Dead” while great entertainment, use the zombies almost exclusively as target practice.  The pornographic elements consist of the myriad creative ways to finish off an undead human.  Here, the death, and the “putting down” of the Walkers, is treated with gravitas.  The dead are not just targets; they are our neighbors, our friends, and our family.  When one contemplates what it would really be like to deal with a mysterious outbreak which kills and then resurrects the dead to walk with no consciousness save for where their next meal may be, it’s a frightening scenario.  Even harder would be the task of putting down someone who was once your husband, mother, or child.  How can you look into their eyes to put a bullet between them, even if the soul seems long gone?

Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes, the hero of this morose tale, finds himself in the aftermath of this apocalypse.  In a “lucky” break, Rick is shot in the line of duty, and awakens weeks later from a coma into the hell on Earth.  As he takes in the changed world around him, confusion and fear flood his senses.  Andrew Lincoln (“Love Actually”) brings Rick to life – a man who through circumstance and his own will to survive becomes a hero.  We spend a lot of time with Rick, particularly in the first episode, which is easily about him for 75% of the screen time.  It’s his journey, and we’re on it with him as he picks up pieces from the shattered world and tries to make sense of it.  He fixates on a clear goal – finding his wife and son, and that is what allows him to carry on.

The look of the show is grainy and dirty, even in high definition – it was shot on film in Super 16 – which helps evoke a foreboding mood.  It feels very much like the gritty end of days.  Bear McCreary, who is the mind behind the music of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Caprica” provides the  scoring – it’s sparse but affecting, moody and compelling.  As for the fright factor, Darabont is fearless when it comes to showing the ramifications of shooting or bludgeoning a Walker – the camera doesn’t pull away as head shots are fired.  The series is rated TV-14 for mature language and violence, and while you don’t have a “True Blood” style bloodbath, there’s ample gore for the horror fans.  Greg Nicotero, a special effects master, has crafted some amazingly realistic zombies, which will make the more squeamish in the audience shudder.

The trajectory of the first six episodes closely follows the source material, with a few new characters added to the tale and some slight modifications in the storytelling.  Rabid fans will notice the differences, but what changes do take place make sense for this new canvas; telling the story on TV allows Darabont and Kirkman to put a little more meat on the bones of the comic book story skeleton, allowing certain moments to breathe and play out a little more fully.  At times the narrative may feel slow, but in truth, it’s moving at a speed which makes sense.  Most of these stories move at warp speed, as survivors race through zombies to get to safety.  Here, we care about the characters, their problems beyond whether a flesh-eating monster is around the corner.  When Rick encounters Morgan Jones (Lennie James, in a wonderful, affecting performance) and his son Duane, he sees firsthand the impact of the chaos he missed.  Morgan and his son have been through a lot, and their experiences are but a taste of what Rick will encounter on his journey.

Other actors make the most of their limited screen time, tempting us with juicy bits of character and laying groundwork for some of the stories which lay ahead.  Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callis) and his partner, Deputy Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), lead a group of survivors, camped on the outskirts of Atlanta, fighting to avoid zombies and stay alive.

“The Walking Dead” promises to be a thought-provoking, stark look at human survival, using some of the same themes explored in “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” but set against this zombie infested landscape.  AMC is confidently moving forward with a second season.  Based on the first two episodes, that confidence is well placed.

“The Walking Dead” premieres on Sunday, October 31 at 10 PM Eastern/Pacific on AMC.

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