The long-awaited premier of “The Walking Dead” drama on Halloween eve showed two things: a) the first proper TV zombie incarnation looks likely to live up to its promise; b) the walking corpses are here to stay.
Zombies have survived through a 40-year-long onscreen history (if we consider 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” as a starting point), which is quite a long time for brainless, inarticulate, flesh-thirsty creatures, who really don’t have anywhere to grow. You can improvise a lot with vampires or werewolves, but all zombies look and behave kind of the same. In fact you can’t ever use them as lead characters – they can you can only use them as the catalyst of the story – and a hellishly good one at that. Apparently zombie-nation provides for the most entertaining apocalypse scenario, which somehow works better than alien invasions, environmental disasters and the nuclear war. With zombies, mankind puts an end to itself in the matter of days – simply by spreading the disease from one to another, and leave the few survivors to roam around, scavenging remaining supplies and trying to not be killed by former fellow humans.
Having gone through a number of various film adaptations, zombies have finally arrived on TV – at the hands of Frank Darabont as producer, writer and director. A zombie series could have easily turned out horrific (not in good sense) in the wrong hands. But Darabont – the writer of Kenneth Branagh’s “Frankentstein,” a couple of “Tales from the Crypt” episodes and writer-director of some of the best Stephen King’s wide screen adaptations – “Shawshank Redemption,” “Green Mile,” and, most recently, “The Mist” – was the right man for the job. If the tone set in the first episode continues to rule in the show – we’re in for lots of pure classic zombie fun.
The set up used to plunge us into the story is not strikingly original. I saw it at least twice before, first in “The Day of the Triffids” (the novel), secondly in Danny Boyle’s zombie flick “28 Days Later”: a man wakes up in the hospital to find out that the world outside its walls has dramatically changed. In this case the man is a deputy sheriff Rick Grimes, recovering from a gunshot wound. Waking up all snug in his hospital bed, he stumbles through the corridors showing traces of carnage, sees some half-disintegrated, yet alive and moving people, walks on home. Eventually he stumbles into a guy with a little son who briefs him on the situation (the walking dead are all over the place, no clue so far as to why). The “walkers” look slow and weak but are dangerous when in packs, and are attracted by loud noises and light. Believing that his wife and little boy aren’t dead but have escaped, he goes looking for them.
As a zombiepocalypse TV-series, “The Walking Dead” feels like one of Stephen King’s really long novels – the kind that are usually turned into short TV-dramas, because they refuse to rush the action – they stop and listen, study the characters and try to put you in their shoes. That’s exactly what “The Walking Dead” does. While most zombie flicks quickly plunge you into action – the zombies have arrived, deal with it, meaning run, hide and shoot, here they take it slow. You can almost imagine what it feels like to be a man who wakes up in “hell” – everything you love and know is gone, replaced with monsters – which still look a lot like your fellow folks. Your house is empty and you have no idea what happened to your wife and son. The picture is filled with confusion, fear and horror. Overall, the plot sounds be shaping up quite well – for one thing, it’s already been made clear that once Grimes gets to the survivors camp where his wife and son are – an inside conflict is inevitable. Also he narrowly avoids being torn apart by a horde of zombies in the very first episode – an impressive start for the series, wouldn’t you say?
The cast is also looking good: a talented TV actor Andrew Lincoln as Grimes, Sarah Wayne Callies (“Prison Break”) as his wife, supernatural flicks regular Laurie Holden (“The X-Files,” “Silent Hill,” “Mist”) and Jeffrey DeMunn – a Darabont favorite, who played in all three of his King adaptations plus a few other worthy actors. And, finally, “The Walking Dead” will also fully satisfy the gory fans. There are enough disintegrating corpses, with half the scull showing through, and some crawling with their guts trailing behind them – as the lower half of the body is gone. It should be noted, those responsible for zombies in the movie did a great job – some of them have very striking individual features. And since we’re going to see those guys en mass in every single episode – a little (or lots) of variety is in order.
Let’s hope that George A. Romero – the creator of the zombie movie genre as we know it now is proud to be the inspiration behind “The Walking Dead.” Both the creatures and the general idea – the study of human behavior and interaction in a struggle to survive in the world overrun by zombies – fully and rightfully belong to him. And becoming a basis for the major TV drama, ensures even the longer life for the living dead. In the meantime, the second episode of the series is expected to air on AMC on Sunday night, November 7.