I’m a huge, huge fan of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic so I’ve been looking forward to AMC and Frank Darabont’s take on it for months. As part of my other-other job, I managed to get a screener of the first two episodes. I sat down and watched them this weekend. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it fairly spoiler free (if you’re trying to keep yourself fresh to death, know that the show is really good, not great, getting off to a bit of a slow start)—I’m saving the in-depth discussion for after each episode airs. Be sure to look for my Walking Dead posts over on ScreenJunkies starting November 1st.
The show starts (after a very nice teaser opening) with Rick Grimes and his partner Shane out on patrol. Rick’s marital woes and his relationship with Shane are quickly laid out (a little too handy if you ask me) before the two respond to a high-speed chase. Rick is wounded and ends up in a coma. Cut to him waking up in an abandoned hospital where things go from confusing to “holy shit” pretty quickly.
I’m not going to rehash the whole story of the first two episodes, so I’ll just say the majority of the first episode focuses on Rick as he goes from the hospital, back home, gets help from a survivor and his son that are squatting in a neighbor’s house, and finally heads south to an abandoned Atlanta. The second episode is Rick meeting some new friends and escaping Atlanta.
So what’s good?
Zombies. The zombies look great. The creators made the almost-inexcusable choice to use CGI blood instead of squibs (I assume this is so they’re in control of the amount of blood for ratings reasons) but luckily, the blood spatter still looks pretty decent, unlike Rambo and The Expendables. All the practical make-up effects (from Greg Nicotero, who’s obscenely familiar with this genre) are really good.
The gore level is very, very good for a TV show, and I think that’s an important point. It adds to the realism. You should be uncomfortable watching this show because it’s an uncomfortable world to live in. You need to feel the horror of these characters as [spoiler-highlight to read] they chop up a zombie corpse with an axe and then rub zombie guts all over themselves. And yes, that does happen, and yes, it is awesome.
The acting is decent. It’s not great, but it’s never bad and everyone is acting pretty much realistically (considering that the world has been overrun by dead loved ones).
The casting is dead-on, physically. Everyone looks eerily similar to their comic book-counterparts. Darabont even used some of his favorite actors and they STILL look pretty perfect. It helps that everyone dresses just like they do in the comic.
The story is great.
It looks like a movie. It doesn’t look horribly cheesy like The Fucking Event on NBC.
If you’re a fan of the comic, you might be a little thrown off with some of the changes. It’s not bad, just kind of confusing if you haven’t read in a while. For instance, when Rick goes to Atlanta, it’s Glenn that gets him out, and pretty quickly. In the show, it’s Glenn plus a small group of survivors, and they get stuck in the city for a bit. It’s all really enjoyable, it just threw me off a bit. This is actually probably more of a plus, since it means they’re sticking to the comic but not so closely that readers will know every twist and turn.
There are a couple of missed opportunities. There’s a scene where Rick leaves the hospital and he has to go down a pitch-black stairwell and all he has are some matches to light the way. I would have killed for some really great sound effects in the darkness to really amp up the scare level. When Rick’s staying in a neighbor’s house for a night with the squatters, I would have liked to see the house besieged by zombies, but I think they want to avoid as many genre clichés as possible, especially this early on.
I felt like the pacing was a little slow in the first episode. But it has the burden of setting everything up, and in that case it did well.
They changed one of the characters pretty drastically from the comic book. I’ll go into this more on SJ after episode 2 airs, and maybe it’s something they’ll correct somewhat, but for now it really bothers me.
For anyone NOT familiar with the comic, but familiar with movies, this is going to seem really similar to 28 Days Later. Don’t worry, it’s much deeper than that, and it won’t feel that way for long.
That’s it for the bad stuff. It’s a solid addition to an outstanding AMC lineup. If you’re not traditionally into zombie movies, give this show a shot. The Walking Dead is about living in a post-apocalyptic America that just happens to have zombies in it. Zombies aren’t really the point, but they are a very welcome addition (aren’t they always?). Providing they keep the skeleton of the comic series, viewers are in for a real treat. Kirkman pulls no punches. Ever. No character is safe in his world. Shit gets very bleak, and very depressing, but his characters are so strong and he changes the setting just often enough to keep you engrossed. Given the source material, I have very high hopes for this series.
The first episode (super-sized 90 minutes) airs Halloween night, so turn off all your lights so the little beggars don’t come knocking and enjoy The Walking Dead. Be sure to check my posts on ScreenJunkies each week too.