It’s a wide gulf between “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead,” but AMC is happily (albeit temporarily) trading swingin’ ’60s ad executives for zombies in its latest bid for Emmy supremacy.
Based on the popular Image comic by Robert Kirkman, “The Walking Dead” posits life after a zombie apocalypse. Our main character is Rick Grimes (Brit actor Andrew Lincoln), a small-town Georgia sheriff’s deputy who gets gunned down in the line of duty and wakes up in the hospital after a nice restful coma to find the world has gone to hell. Flesh-eating zombies of the George Romero variety have taken over the South (and probably the rest of the world). Unable to locate his wife and kid in the wake of mass evacuations, Grimes goes on a quest to reunite with them.
“The Walking Dead” is a quality production from the top down. Spearheading the project (and performing most of the writing-directing duties) is Frank Darabont. Darabont is best known for his work on high-profile Stephen King features The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist. He brings a level of Hollywood polish to the series that puts it right in the AMC/HBO/Showtime quality camp.
The show follows closely the framework laid out by Kirkman’s comic. Refreshingly, Darabont and team seem willing to take a few diversions, expanding on Kirkman’s universe while still sticking with the same basic characters and settings. The result is a smart, dramatic examination of humanity pushed to the brink of extinction.
Despite its quality, “The Walking Dead” is still likely to divide audiences. The first episode had certain issues with pacing. It was roughly an hour of thoughtful character introduction and a half-hour of blisteringly paced action. Honestly, the first hour is closer in spirit to what the show should ultimately look like. That means gore fans looking for lots of brain-splattering head shots are going to be somewhat disappointed. Sure, there’s some squishy-good CGI at work here (particularly in the second ep). But the series is more a tragic soap opera of survival.
It may be an odd point to make concerning a TV series about zombies, but “The Walking Dead” isn’t really a horror show. The abundance of daylight scenery and the lack of jump-out-and-go-boo moments may confuse a few viewers. No, it doesn’t look like a traditional horror story—all dark shadows and creepy music. It isn’t trying to. This is a gritty, realistic story about survival. And if you were trying to survive a zombie apocalypse, would you go blundering around at night? I sure as hell wouldn’t.
“The Walking Dead” works best when it’s pondering the big “What if?” questions. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you help? Who would you avoid? Keep watching and you’re likely to get some powerful, unexpected answers.