What happens when the closing credits roll on a zombie film and the survivors are left to fend for themselves in a land infested with the undead? It’s certainly an intriguing premise that a few films have tackled, but it took Robert Kirkman to really crack it with his ongoing (for seven years now!) comic book series The Walking Dead. Kirkman didn’t just want to follow the characters for a few days or weeks, or even months, but years after the initial outbreak. So while the comic initially attracted a lot of interest from filmmakers, it seems only natural for the story to be told on TV, where many more hours can be dedicated to following what happens. And committed horror fan Frank Darabont has held on to the idea like a dog with a bone for years, keeping the flame alive through an unsuccessful attempt to get the show up and running at US network NBC before finally locking in a deal with AMC, the channel behind such shows as Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
If you’ve never cracked open a copy of the comic, the basic set-up finds small-town police officer Rick Grimes (here played by Andrew Lincoln) shot in the line of duty and waking up from a coma to discover that the world around him has descended into an eerie place where zombies roam looking for their next flesh meal. Seeking to find out if his wife and son made it through the infectious spread, Grimes heads to Atlanta, and soon hooks up with a ragtag group of fellow survivors.
And before we get into the flesh (mmm... flesh) of the review, let it be noted that there's nothing that could really be counted as a spoiler here, but I thought I'd make the point anywway.
Days Gone By, the episode that kicks off the series is, like the early pages of the comic book series, largely a one-man show. Lincoln does a commendable job, banishing thoughts of his characters from This Life or Love Actually. The one big stumble is the accent – while it doesn’t neutralise his acting abilities as happened to Michelle Ryan with her trip across the pond for Bionic Woman, it’s charitably not the best attempt at an American tone we’ve ever heard. Still, he more than compensates by dialling up the action beats. And in his defence, none of the cast (at least those we’ve heard from so far) really manages to crank out a truly believable drawl. But it’s a minor niggle in a first episode that sets the scene with dread, pain and adrenaline.
While we get brief glimpses of those other cast members, including Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori Grimes, Rick’s Wife, Jon Bernthal as Shane, his old partner and Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn as Dale, the only other major characters we meet are Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his own son Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), who are dealing with the fact that the wife and mother they knew is now one of the moaning, dribbling zombie horde. Emotions run high in the episode, with the devastating consequences for those left alive well and truly explored.
Darabont and company have maintained the basic plot of Kirkman’s story with a few hefty tweaks here and there (and there will be plenty more divergences down the road as the series continues). And like the author before him, he blends genres, mixing the sheer horror of the apocalyptic zombie devastation with several others, with the Western chief among them. Just witness Grimes riding a horse along a deserted highway towards Atlanta, and the ease with which this sheriff handles his gun.
Where The Walking Dead really succeeds is shooting the vast majority of its zombie moments in bright sunlight, which not only showcases the amazing work of Greg Nicotero and his KNB effects team, but also somehow makes everything more horrible by rarely succumbing to the typical horror set-up of darkened rooms and jump scares. There’s real creepiness and terror on display here. And if you’ve waited to see how the TV team would recreate some of the comic’s earlier iconic moments, especially the swarm of zombies taking down Grimes and his unfortunate steed in the heart of Atlanta on a small-screen budget, you’ll be impressed at the sheer cinematic scale of the scenes.
Sure, it has to battle the tide of easy recognition – George Romero’s movies and a hundred other zombie titles, plus a blend of Day of the Triffids/28 Days Later isolation for the leading man, but the show pulls it off with style and confidence. Perhaps the biggest challenge going forward will be the fact that the show doesn’t have long tell its first season story – this initial run will just be six episodes. But if it’s a success, and based on this first episode, I truly think it might be and hope it will, we’ll be watching this horror for a long time to come.
The Walking Dead shambles on to our TV screens on FX UK this November 5.
kata Posted on Monday November 1, 2010, 09:56
Hasn't it already got a second series? Sure i read somewhere it's been renewed.
Hochopepa Posted on Wednesday November 3, 2010, 17:25
Kata, it was reported that it was picked up for a second season but this was later revealed to be incorrect.
Still I wouldn't be too worried, considering it set a new viewership record for AMC and the positive reviews it has received in the states, I would expect it to get picked up for a second season soon. Darabont has already talked about some of the stuff he wants to do next season, so he is obviously confident.