I’m writing this as a plea for those of you who haven’t watched it to get to it, so I won’t be including any spoilers. I’ll discuss the show in general.
The Walking Dead premiered on AMC on Sunday. It is based on a comic series of the same title, though they have made it clear that they will not follow the comic exactly. I had been looking forward to the series since I learned it was in development. I just watched it tonight. I loved it.
There, now that we have the background out of the way we can get talk a little about the actual show. Frank Darabont, director films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, developed the show for television, is the showrunner, and directed the pilot. He obviously knows what he is doing, and it shows in the pilot.
As I mentioned earlier, I won’t be discussing details, but I will say that the opening scene will tell you exactly what type of series this is hoping to be. It’s a shocking moment that lays out what will be the moral ambiguities of surviving a zombie apocalypse. Just writing that sentence made me feel silly, but you really feel what the characters feel. Andrew Lincoln, who plays the lead, Rick, and Lennie James, who will have a smaller role in the series but plays a large one in this episode, do an amazing job in the pilot. (James was also great in Jericho, which was about nuclear apocalypse.) You know what they’re feeling but they don’t overdo it, helping us understand how they could continue surviving in such a situation.
I also really like that there isn’t a whole bunch of clumsy exposition attempting to explain a ton of things. This series is going to be about surviving a catastrophe and how exactly that changes you; it isn’t going to be about what caused the catastrophe. When thrown into a situation like that, certain things cease to matter. Timelines and specifics are a lot less important when you are struggling to survive. The fact that these details aren’t brought out in the pilot makes it stronger because you really feel like you’re with the characters. If they just started talking about all the details of what happened you’d get that familiar feeling of sitting in a theater or on the couch. I’m not saying the series won’t eventually get into more about what happened (though I doubt it), but I like that it didn’t in the extended pilot.
I’m being vague about a lot of things, but everyone knows the show is about zombies (walkers in the shows vocabulary). These zombies are the slow, strength in numbers kind. I was discussing during a break what exactly makes zombies so frightening. They lack the special talents of vampires or werewolves, who are clearly the superior predators. For that matter, they lack the skills of any number of monster or horror types. I think we decided that what makes zombies so frightening is that they are undeniably human, but they are stripped of their humanity. This is not a new statement, but you really feel it in this show. A zombie will walk into the barrel of a gun because they so desire to tear your flesh. This means one person has nearly no shot against a hoard. Then when there is only one, you can’t reason with it to keep it from attacking, even though it will die.
I suppose I’m also missing one of the scariest possibilities the zombie often brings, which is the fact that others can be turned. It isn’t in the same way a vampire turns someone, because a vampire is just a stronger version of the person that can’t go to daytime baseball games. A zombie that is turned dies but comes back, unable to communicate or demonstrate any of the things that made the person human. This can create some horrifying situations for people. There is also the concern that somewhere in the walkers there remains some consciousness or shred of humanity. This turns the heroes, who slay walkers in huge numbers in order to survive, into possible monsters. You do what you can to survive, but is it the real you that survives?
These last two paragraphs didn’t say specifically (no spoilers), but rest assured they were about this show. The Walking Dead is going to (and already has) used much of what I just wrote to develop the characters and set the tone. There are some heartbreaking moments set up. Then there are the few moments of joy and release that can come from something as simple as a hot shower after being without gas for a month. These things are just done so well that it’s a pleasure to watch. What’s great about this pilot is that all of the moments feel earned, even though it’s the pilot.
This show is going to be graphic, it’s going to be bleak, and it’s going to be so well done that you won’t want to stop watching. I’m almost worried that I should have included a few more details to entice, but I get the feeling that if you’ve read this and don’t want to watch, you probably aren’t the type of person that will enjoy it. And most everyone probably already watched it anyway. I just loved it so much when I watched it that I felt the urge to write about it. (It also doesn’t hurt I’m reading a Christopher Moore novel with zombies called The Stupidest Angel, which is also pretty awesome, which is making me consider zombies, though it’s a comedy.) AMC is just killing it, thought it’s not exactly happy hour. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are likely the bleakest shows I have ever seen. But they are so damn good.
Enjoy the show.
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