I've been disappointed by hype before, or at best, just a little let down. Way in the back of my mind, I feared the same would happen with AMC's new original series, The Walking Dead. It finally - after months of waiting - premiered appropriately on October 31 to the well-oiled hype machine that is AMC. That station, I tell you, is riding a serious wave of successful original series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. They, like HBO, seem to set the bar very high in terms of quality, so I knew the series was in good hands. But that nagging fear remained in the back of my head: "What if it's just so-so...or worse, what if it sucks?"
I'm happy to say that not only did the premiere live up to my expectations, it exceeded them.
Now, I may or may not review each episode. I haven't decided yet. More likely, I'll bookend the season with reviews starting with this one. Needless to say, if was borrowing a page from Roger Ebert's book, I'd be giving this a huge thumbs-up.
I love infection horror, and that's evident in my blog. Hell, I prefaced watching this premiere with my annual Halloween viewing of 1978's Dawn of the Dead. More than that, I'm a huge fan of the comic book from Image Comics, created and written by Robert Kirkman, who also co-produced the series (Kirkman also writes a superhero series called Invincible that I hope makes it to the screen as well). Knowing he had a huge say in what went down, and knowing director/screenwriter extraordinaire Frank Darabont was in charge, put me more and more at ease.
Many of you have already seen it, and I'm not going to spoil things for the rest of you. Basically, the plot follows the book for the most part: Deputy Rick Grimes wakes up after a gunshot puts him in a coma to find that the world has really changed. There aren't any living people that he sees right away, but there are plenty of dead bodies...and some of them move. Rick leaves the hospital and returns home to find his wife and son gone. He meets Morgan and Duane, a father and son living in a house once occupied by Rick's neighbors, and they get him up to speed about the disease that has reanimated the dead. In a brilliant but tragic addition to the mythos, Morgan and Duane agonize over the sight of Morgan's wife, Duane's mother, returning day after day as a zombie. Rick intends to move on to Atlanta to find his family, hoping Morgan and Duane will join him later. He finds a horse and rides into the city, but finds nothing but hungry ex-people. Trapped in a tank, Rick hears someone calling him "dumbass" on the radio (if you read the book, you know who it is) as the episode comes to a close.
I skimmed over quite a bit of it, but really, if you're able to watch it, you need to see and hear the experience. The flies buzzing? Nice touch. There are scenes that are perfectly silent, and the confusion and disorientation is enough to drive you crazy because you have no music cues to warn you, or tell you how to feel. The disease spares no one. Yes, a little girl zombie falls in the first few minutes. I know the "politically correct" will be up in arms: "what kind of image is that to show our precious children?" Please. It's horror. What would you do, give it Twizzlers and positively reinforce it not to bite you? Same with the horse. That's in the comic as well. It's hard to see, but it portrays how a zombified world would be. The living dead don't care about cuteness. They're just hungry forces of nature. Another gory, but great, touch was the completely masticated woman lying in the hospital hallway. Darabont told so much story in Rick's post-awakening scene with hardly a word. The half-woman bicycle zombie is straight from the book, but Darabont adds so much pathos and emotion to each scene, it's like an enhanced version of an already-great work. I really hope the rest of the season holds up to this fantastic premiere.
I can't enough good things about it. I've seen overwhelmingly positive reviews, and mine stands as my own. I'm sure there are some who didn't like it, but that's life. Or undead life. So many puns, so little time.
Until later, my friends, try to be awake when the zombie apocalypse comes. And be sure to catch The Walking Dead on AMC, Sundays at 10 p.m.