So far, AMC’s The Walking Dead moves like a zombie. Languidly, laggardly, laboriously and, for the purposes of alliteration, lethargically. Though a needed reversion to the slow, stumbling classic vision of the dead, the show itself could benefit from some of the Red Bull enthusiasm almost ubiquitous in recent zombie features.
Based on the Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore comic book series, the first two episodes of The Walking Dead have run almost as a realist portrayal of a zombie apocalypse. Like the protagonist in 28 Days Later, Rick (Andrew Lincoln)—a sheriff in a small town probably in Georgia—awakens from a gunshot-induced coma to find a world ruled by the slow-moving dead. He bonds with a father and son, loots the sheriff’s station for weapons and steals a horse on his way to Atlanta to find his wife and son. He also mercy-kills a woman’s reanimated upper body that is painfully dragging its entrails through a once tranquil park, telling the Squidbilly-looking specimen, “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
Rick arrives in the war-torn Georgia capital to find it in such a state of distress that the citizens would welcome infamous child killer Wayne Williams back with open arms. He meets some interesting people—Glenn, an Asian wunderkind adept at navigating through the sewer system, and Merle, a white supremacist (Michael Rooker, probably the only recognizable face to appear thus far)—and teaches them a macabre way to walk among the dead with the same desperation that possessed Luke Skywalker to sleep inside a Tauntaun. Throughout the prolonged, painstakingly detailed narrative, scenes of the survivors’ camp outside the city are interspersed, leaving no doubts that Rick’s wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and son, Carl (Chandler Riggs) are alive, waiting to be found.
It doesn’t sound like enough to sustain around two hours of screen time, and it’s not. The show is off to a slow, .500 start. For hockey fans, it’s like the beginning of this Penguins season. The Walking Dead did not explode with the power of fellow Sunday-night programming based on serialized written works Dexter and True Blood. Indeed, whereas the other two shows opened with the main threads of all their respective seasons’ multiple, complex sub-plots, The Walking Dead was content to spend the 90-minute premiere following Rick almost exclusively. The tone changes in the second episode, giving a rather discordant feeling to the show, as it takes an abrupt turn from a fatalistic look at practically an Omega Man roaming the countryside to vociferous scenes of urban zombie warriors. Seven new characters are introduced, and the third episode preview promises more (including Merle’s brother, played by Norman Reedus).
And this premise, the protracted build-up to a massive, bloody climax, is where the series falters. The Walking Dead may suffer from its fierce loyalty to the graphic novels. Where Sin City benefited from an absurdly strict allegiance to the source material and enabled Robert Rodriguez to craft a stunning, chiaroscuro neo-noir landscape, The Walking Dead’s adherence exclusively what Kirkman wrote in the comic book pages seems detrimental. The landscape is muted, naturalistic with even the blood organic and almost washed out. The whole thing reeks of series creator Frank Darabont, known for adapting fatalistic Stephen King stories. Darabont’s films almost always have an overtone of doom. If you’re wrongfully imprisoned, no DNA evidence or Emile Zolas will overturn the conviction. The innocent will pay for the sins of the guilty. And sometimes there are monsters in the mist that will kill us all. In a stand-alone film, the “resistance is futile” attitude is forgivable, but here’s to hoping that the characters to whom we will build attachments over the course of the season will not all be wiped out to help Darabont’s revival of predestination.
The show is oddly detailed, with every movement depicted—possibly a mechanism to draw out the simple plot to sustain it for a full season. The show takes two hours to get to where the comic book arrives in fifteen minutes. When Rick is attempting to flee Atlanta, the script covers every option, so the audience will know that there is no other way out. Every hole is filled. These will not be the standard horror movie characters that tend to venture into basements alone and find their phone lines inexplicably disconnected. There will be no suspension of disbelief. But so far, we have no answers as to how the dead started to walk in the first place.
There is nothing new here, no specific social commentary a la George Romero, no new mythology, none of those fantastic Nazi zombies from 2008’s Finnish masterpiece Dead Snow and, most tragically, no sense of humor. Other than a misogynistic joke delivered by Rick’s partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) at the sheriff’s department, the series is thus far completely devoid of anything that can make you laugh in the face of the dead. Zombies are serious shit. Well written, acted and directed, The Walking Dead thus far is relatively standard ghoulish fare. There could be some love in the time of zombies here, but it won’t be Shaun of the Dead. There may be apocalyptic overtones, but it won’t be World War Z. It won’t reinvent anything. It’s just the marriage of two recent Hollywood trends: zombies and adapting everything out of its intended medium.
But it’s here. There are corpses walking the Earth and eating the living on Sunday night. Might as well see what happens.
Review by Blow The Scene Staff Writer, Lucy Leitner
More Info: AMC