Late to the Party: AMC’s The Walking Dead

I know, I know. I haven’t posted anything in forever. I’m a terrible person.

Typically, I’m not much of a zombie fan. They’re slow, gormless, disgusting and … well, just plain creepy. I’m also not one for graphic novels, which I know frustrates and confounds several friends of mine. Because of these two facts, I was loath to watch AMC’s The Walking Dead. A TV show based on a graphic novel series about zombies? Pass, thanks.

When I was visiting a friend a few weeks ago, however, we were idly browsing Netflix and came across the first season of The Walking Dead. Neither of us had seen it, but we had time to kill, so we put on the first episode. I was impressed by the production value (why, I don’t know — it’s AMC) and had no trouble at all getting into the story. Naturally I spent a couple of minutes picking apart the “only man left alive and untouched in the hospital for no reason” thing, but after that, I didn’t have anything to complain about. (Now that I’ve finished the first season, I can’t even pick that apart anymore.)

Note: As I haven’t so much as laid eyes on the graphic novels, and considering that there are some differences in the storylines, everything I say here is in regard to the show only. Also, spoilers. That should be obvious.

Plot

After being badly wounded in a gunfight, sheriff deputy Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma to find that the hospital (and the world, as it turns out) has fallen prey to scores of zombies, and that his wife and son have left town. In his effort to find and protect his family, he learns what it takes to survive when the dead outnumber the living.

Thoughts

Dead Inside

Methinks they can stay where they are, thanks.

Something I respected was the loyalty to realism — as much as is possible in a zombie apocalypse setting, anyway. For example, watching Morgan try and fail to work up the nerve to shoot his dead wife so that she would no longer be a ‘Walker’ was brutal. I know I would have a ridiculously hard time shooting someone that I used to know and still love, even if they were a zombie. Humans are sentimental to a fault in this sort of scenario, and it was great to see that they didn’t just turn him cold and let him kill her easily.

There is one thing, though, that I objected to right off the bat in the first episode: Rick’s partner from the police force, Shane, getting together with Rick’s wife. Really? Does this cliché have to happen in every single show or movie when a cop is killed or presumed dead? Does the [apparent] widow always have to get together with her husband’s former partner? Come on. I guess in a zombieocalypse scenario, there are very few people to choose from in terms of who you want to bang, but still. Completely unoriginal. In a sadistic way, I was surprised at the end of the first season when Shane drunkenly sexually assaults Lori, unable to accept that their short-lived affair was over. It seemed an interesting comeuppance and recompense for the cliché.

Zombie close-up

"My, you look tasty ..."

Speaking of clichés (kind of), let’s get to the zombies. I love, love, love these zombies. Normally I’m stuck between thinking that zombies are either way too slow or stupid to be dangerous or, in the case of movies like 28 Days Later, that they’re too fast and there’s no way you could possibly escape them. The Walking Dead found the perfect balance for me. These zombies are still the slow, meandering type that seem unthreatening on their own, but once they start to group up, they become one of the most menacing things you could ever encounter. It was also a new thing, to me, anyway, to see characters attempt to go incognito by covering themselves in zombie remains. I hadn’t considered the idea that zombies would differentiate between the living and the (un)dead by using their sense of smell. That makes this alternate universe seem much more real to me. (The superb zombie make-up certainly helps in that regard too.)

This series doesn’t stop with  making zombies a part of real life, though. As many similar shows and movies do, The Walking Dead manages to bring everyday social issues to light. Among the most notable, to me, were racism and the treatment of women. In any apocalyptic scenario, you wouldn’t have any control over who survives and what type of people they are. You could be stuck with the most obnoxious, morally disgusting people and as much as you want to leave them behind, they could be your only chance at survival. The Dixon brothers could definitely be considered such characters. They’re the stereotypical southern rednecks who love beer, hunting and probably Nascar. They have no problem bucking authority and showing their distaste for the black survivors in their group; consequently, one of them is left handcuffed on the roof of a building surrounded by zombies. Another example would be Ed, a misogynistic and violent husband who abuses his wife. The group won’t cast them out (intentionally, anyway) because morally they would be feeding them to the Walkers, and it’s interesting to see what people will tolerate when their lives, not their reputations, are at stake.

Not sure if I'd want the gun or the crossbow. Just give me a baseball bat.

Sometimes you can’t be sure who the ‘good’ people are, either. When Ed gets too confrontational with the women defending his wife, Shane takes him down and begins to pummel him. At first you’re glad to see this jerk get a knuckle sandwich. After a few seconds, though, when Shane doesn’t let up, you get that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach. “Shane’s a good guy,” you say to yourself. “He’s a cop. He’s had to deal with stuff like this before. This feels wrong. He’s going too far.” People with moral codes have their breaking points, especially under such harsh and pressing conditions. Shows and movies like this never let you forget that and The Walking Dead does a great job of reminding you of it.

From the perfect zombies to a brilliant sense of struggle in fight-or-flight situations to the excellent blend of likable and detestable  characters, this is one show I find myself wishing I was current with.

Recommendation

As I’ve only seen the first of two complete seasons (the third is currently airing) [CORRECTION: the third season is set to air this fall], I hope that everything I’ve mentioned holds true for the episodes I’ve yet to see. With the literally-explosive finale of the first season, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the second season so that I can work on catching up.

If you like zombies or general apocalypse shows, definitely give The Walking Dead a shot! The first season is only six episodes, so it won’t take you long to find out whether or not you like it.

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One Comment

  1. Ben
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I was also late to the party with The Walking Dead, and I have yet to see the second season, but I think it’s one of the better zombie apocalypse series out there – and let’s face it, that theme has been done to death. What carries the show is, as you pointed out, the real-life social issues that creep in. The racist brothers and the abusive husband are characters you’d love to see eaten alive, but the characters in the story need the manpower and struggle with the moral decision to leave them to die. When Shane started beating the crap out of Ed, that was a powerful scene because you could feel the weight of the stress and hopelessness of their situation coming out in Shane.

    I look forward to hearing your impressions on Season 2 when you get around to watching it. Great article as well – good to see you back on the Geekin-Out beat 🙂

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