If there was ever an offline culprit to blame for the rapid decline in viewers of network broadcasting, it would be cable-channel AMC. The former classic movie station has seen a boon in traffic in recent years with the success of a few shows you might have heard of: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Rubicon. Just in time for Halloween, AMC is adding another drama to its repertoire: a screen adaptation of the zombie-filled graphic novel The Walking Dead.
The story of the aftermath of a zombie infection outbreak in and around Atlanta, The Walking Dead follows Sheriff Rick Grimes, as he learns the ins and outs of a new world order. This small town sheriff was injured and sent into a coma, and upon waking up in the hospital learns that nothing is the same. As he seeks refuge by heading north to downtown Atlanta, he encounters a few survivors and sets off to find his wife and son, lost during the plague. As an Atlanta native myself, it is fun to see how the production team has stayed true to the comic’s plot while integrating familiar streets and landmarks.
Using the graphic novels as a rough guide, a dedication to visual storytelling is paramount for The Walking Dead. From the slick opening credits to the way director Frank Darabont can turn a single block in a bustling metropolis into the most desolate, depressing backdrop imaginable, image is key. A scene toward the end of the pilot where our protagonist is stuck in a tank while a swarm of brain eaters close in on the vehicle is one of the most powerful set-ups. Bonus points go out to the visual effects and makeup team, whose zombies are wholly convincing and pretty terrifying. Many even get the up close and personal treatment. While I have not read the original content yet, this attention to detail that even I can notice serves The Walking Dead well.
As far as the show’s content and story handling, a lot of progress had to be crammed into the first two episodes, as that alone is a third of the season. With only six total episodes this season, a lot must be established about what the zombies are, who’s fighting back, and who else is out there. Besides Sheriff Grimes and the gang of survivors in Atlanta, there is also a group of refugees outside the city.
Characterization is present in a good amount of the first episodes. We get a sense of who Rick is and what he’s like, as well as hints of the struggles those who survived. This balance with the fast-paced plot bodes well for future episodes, but I have come to expect nothing less from AMC. That said, while the plot may progress quickly, the show itself is very deliberate, pacing its scenes for maximum impact. For a show with a lot of chase scenes, I almost find those moments less fun than the personal moments, but the two moods work together.
A warning for the squeamish: AMC may take liberties with their cable status to throw profanity and violence into their content, but The Walking Dead ups the ante. There is more than enough gore to earn an R rating, and those close-up zombie encounters don’t help things. While I didn’t have much of a problem with it– why would you watch a show about zombies and not expect it?– it bears mentioning.
A dynamic, intriguing show that is a worthy addition to the AMC lineup and a breath of fresh air in a bad development season, The Walking Dead has a lot of potential. Best of all, the show is able to stand on its own craft and pacing to hook fans and newbies alike. While it may crawl at the pace of the undead at times, this series is anything but brainless. If you can do without trick-or-treating this year, there’s no creepier way to celebrate Halloween this year.
Review by Mark Ziemer