[The following post is dedicated to my good friend, Roger Butner. He has been hounding me for not having a non-worship-related post for months. So here you are, amigo. This one’s for you.
Last Sunday, on Halloween Night, AMC premiered their new TV series, The Walking Dead. If you haven’t heard anything about it, it is (to my knowledge) the first TV series to be based on the “zombie” sub-genre of horror films. I am a huge fan of zombie films–my favorite being Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which was a fairly new take on the classic zombie mythos made famous by George A. Romero’s “[Such and such] of the Dead” series. So needless to say, I was very interested in seeing how the zombie narrative translated to a television series. Well, in short: so far so good.
In the 90 minute pilot, we mostly follow the story of Sheriff Deputy Rick Grimes who gets shot and ends up slipping into a coma. When he wakes up, he finds in himself alone in the hospital where it is obvious all is not well. As the viewer, we immediately know he is now in a post-zombie apocalypse scenario and have to watch him sort of stumble around for awhile until he finds his first zombie. I understand why they writers went this route. It is much more dramatic (and cheaper) to have a character thrust into the crazy zombie world with fresh eyes than have to show them experiencing the whole apocalypse. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly a new idea. This was lifted straight from Danny Boyle’s film, where his protagonist, Jim, a bike messenger that hit his head and went comatose, wakes up 28 days after the zombie apocalypse–hence the title 28 Days Later. I was a little bugged that they so blatantly ripped off that part, but they went a pretty different way with it, and Rick Grimes is a very different kind of character than Jim. He has a wife and son, and it seems to me that the primary motivation of the writers to put him in a coma was to separate him from those characters so that they might reunite at a later point in the story (which is certainly where the show is headed as they are revealed to be alive).
Rick soon encounters a man named Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his son Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), two survivors who take him in (he still is still recovering from his injuries that had him hospitalized). They fill in Rick in on the recent turn of events and show him how to survive the zombie apocalypse. These characters could very much have just been there to show Rick (and the viewer) the rules of the game, but the writers do a great job of making Morgan and, to a lesser extent, Duane three-demnsional characters that you actually care about. Morgan informs Rick that Atlanta was the rallying point for survivors, and that if Rick wants to find his wife and son, that would be the place to look. Rick decides to head for Atlanta, unaware that the city has been overrun with the undead. When Rick arrives in the (at first) eerily quiet metropolis, only hordes of the “walking dead” are there to greet him.
Over the course of the show, we see Rick have go through pretty creepy moments with the undead (called “walkers” in this universe). Almost every scene featuring the walkers was not only well done but pretty darn suspenseful. The walkers are pretty traditional Romero-style zombies meaning they are actually reanimated corpses, not just infected people from some strange zombie like disease ala 28 Days Later or The Crazies. These zombies follow traditional rules. They are dead. They can only really be killed by a gunshot to the head or otherwise inflicted brain trauma. They deteriorate the longer they are dead–some of them even look like they have been decaying for months. And probably most notable: they are slow, which goes against the grain of the last few zombie films. 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and even the zombie comedy Zombie Land featured running zombies.
People love to debate the whole fast vs. slow zombie deal, but honestly, I really enjoy both. Each is scary and fun in different ways. If I had to pick one to do based on a TV show, I probably would have picked slow too. Slow gives your characters more of a fighting chance, and since this is a TV show, our characters are in this for the long hall and are gonna need every advantage they can get. I think if they had been fast zombies it would be harder to conceive winnable scenarios for the cast. So I am with the show creators on the use of the slow. Plus, if they had gone with fast, the show would’ve had to have been called “The Running Dead,” which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though “The Quick And The Dead” would have worked!
All in all, it really was a fine pilot. It was nothing terribly unique, but it gives us some great tracks to run on for a potentially killer series. The ending really was a nice cliffhanger and has me wanting to see what is gonna happen. Only time will tell if zombies are actually something that I can keep tuning in for week in and week out. If they keep it to the level that the pilot is at and mix it with good flashbacks showing characters pre-apocalypse, I think it can go for awhile before it gets tired. It has definitely earned its spot on the DVR for awhile.
I give The Walking Dead 4.5 out of 5 rapidly devoured stallions (you’ll have to watch it).