The Walking Dead (TV Series)

I often complain about Network Decay (warning, tv tropes). It seems to be a natural process in which niche TV networks abandon their roots, and change their programming in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. This is the process that turned the much loved TechTV into G4 (TV network that shows COPS reruns, Silly Japanese game shows, and sometimes airs shows targeted at the console gamers), Scifi Channel into SyFy (a wrestling oriented network which sometimes shows low budget monster movies) and made History Channel programming to be dominated with reality shows, supernatural investigation and UFO shows in lieu of real history. Up until recently I thought this was always a negative process in which networks turn to low brow, cheaply made programming in search of a quick buck. But it appears that sometimes Network Decay can go the other way.

The Title Screen

The American Movie Classics (nowadays known as AMC) used to be primarily focused on airing old movies. It was the network where you would go to see some good old John Wayne westerns, or black and white classics. But in the last decade, the Network Decay kicked in and they abandoned that premise almost entirely. But instead of spending all their money on sensationalist reality shows, they decided to actually produce good television. All of a sudden they made the critically acclaimed Mad Men, and a well received remake of The Prisoner, only to follow it up with an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel The Walking Dead.

A scene from the pilot episode

When I first heard about the “new zombie show on AMC” I was skeptical. As much as I like zombie stories, I did not think they could pull it off. The genre is tricky – zombie flicks tend to kitschy and shallow. Same goes for graphic novel adaptations – few people know how to do them well. The secret seems to be slavish faithfulness to the source. The hubris of produces and directors who decide to improve upon it with their own ideas almost always results in a complete failure. Hell, making a watchable TV series is a slowly fading art too. So making The Walking Dead would mean overcoming these 3 non-trivial challenges: making a zombie story that doesn’t suck, making a comic book adaptation that doesn’t blow, and making a series that will not get canceled after the pilot.

Doing the Shaun of the Dead zombie walk

In a rather surprising move AMC has assembled a crack team of people who actually knew what they were doing. They got Frank Darabont (known for Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile) in the dual role of a director and a producer. They got a nice group of executive producers: Gale Anne Hurd (who worked on Terminators and Aliens movies), Adam Fierro (Dexter, The Shield and 24) and Charles H. Eagle (Dexter, Dark Angel, The Shield). They got Bear McCreary to compose the music (he previously worked on Battlestar Galactica and Sarah Connor Chronicles). They also got Robert Kirkman himself to aid in writing the scripts and make sure the series is not veering off the course or breaking away from his vision. I don’t know about you, but for me this seems like a pretty good team.

It turns out that everything people have been saying about this series is true. It is very, very good! After watching the entire season in the span of two evenings I’m craving more. I honestly can’t wait for the next season!

The survivors have some good times...

I haven’t actually read Kirkman’s comic so I can’t really say how it differs from the story, but from what I’m told it is pretty close. In fact, most of the characters seem to look like their drawn counterparts. Whether or not it departs from the source I could not say.

One thing is certain though. Kirkman created a story that I have always wanted to see, but up until now no one was up to a challenge. I always thought that Zombie genre had a great dramatic potential. Think about it: the civilization has ended, the few surviving humans live in constant fear, besieged on all sides by un-thinking, un-caring beasts. They have to wake up every morning knowing full well, that a single bite or scratch can turn them into mindless beasts. Worse, they may actually witnessed their close ones bitten and transformed into monsters. There is a lot of room here for some very introspective, philosophical and character driven storytelling. It is surprising that most zombie themed movies and shows up until now have been more about shooting the living dead in the face, rather than about characters struggling with their loss.

And some not so good times...

The Walking Dead is different. It focuses primarily on the characters, their relationships and how they cope with their loss, their new life and tensions in the small community of survivors. It tells a story about the rifts and tensions within the group when the dire circumstances cause racism, sexism and jealousy rear their ugly heads. Kirkman populates his world with interesting side characters such as the viscous street gang which [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER] takes over an old retirement house to take care of surviving elderly, or a failed scientist who realizes that he is not smart enough to actually find a cure to the plague. It is a series about people. Living people, since the dead ones are just a background. But a very well done background.

Gang violence?

The zombie costumes and effects are actually done exceptionally well. I really did not expect AMC to pull it off this well, but zombies are just awesome in their full gut spilling, brain splattering glory. It’s actually kinda silly – no one in the series ever utters a curse word, but when it is zombie killing time blood, guts and puss spill by the gallon. The special effect guys never miss a chance to show you a close-up of a well executed head shot or a nice panning shot of a feeding horde ripping their victim to shreds. Kinda funny if you think about it, but I don’t think a zombie show would actually work without the gratuitous amount of gore. Don’t you think?

Excellent show! It definitely gets my seal of approval. Thanks for recommending it.

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5 Responses to The Walking Dead (TV Series)

  1. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Personally, I didn’t like it. While the premise is in fact interesting, including exploring the characters over exploding zombie heads, it requires excellent dialog and good actors, which I find are lacking in this series.

    On the other hand, I found that same thing about Lost, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

    I should look out for more series, but it’s though here in Portugal. TV networks don’t air all of them and even when they do, they often only air the first season. And Hulu/Netflix are also not available, nor is any similar service.
    And I’m not buying full season DVDs with my meager “entertainment money” if I’m not sure I like it.

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  2. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m glad you liked the first season. I hope the future seasons don’t drop off like so many other shows – The Office, Lost, Heroes, etc. First season is good, second is ok, third is weak, and nothing thereafter is worth watching.

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  3. Kim Johnsson SWEDEN Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Just saw every episode last night (literally, stayed up til 6am). It was pretty awesome, thanks!

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  4. JKjoker ARGENTINA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I agree this series had excellent production, good actors, it even managed to pull off a pretty good start, i dont know why ppl think of Lost when talking about this really, it reminds me a lot more of Jericho


    i really liked the first two chapters but then… not so much, a little later it hit me, these ppl have no objective, nothing to live for, yeah the main dude might have something to do but the rest are just there waiting, they just emo all day, dont come off like they want to live at all, in Jericho everyone was trying to put the town together and there was always something to do, not so much here, once they are done with the city they sort of move on because “oh well, we *might* be better at the CDC” … thats so weak

    the worst was the final chapter, i wasnt expecting much of an explanation (in fact i rather the zombie apocalypse thing remind at least partially in mystery) but i was expecting some new info, something they can bet their lifes on to keep going for the second season, a hope, an important discovery, anything… nope, instead they get “we are toast, we are dead, give up, our time on earth is gone, say goodbye, lets die together, boom”, thats… maybe realistic …but its BOORING…

    i might try the second season but theyll have to come up with something more, these “side stories” and “wandering around” plot is not going to cut it

    also, wtf is up with the adultery, they invest waaaaaaaay too much time in that stupid side story, i think zombies are on screen less time than the stupid adultery thing, it feels so out of place, i refuse to believe in that situation a mother would leave her kid out of her sight to go screw in the bushes and giggle like an idiot, they are not in any fortress, they have as much defense as your average park (proven when they get attacked effortlessly later), wtf does she feel safe enough to do that ? specially when they know zombies sometimes wander in the forest because the city is running out of food.. wtf!?

    ***end spoiler ***

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  5. copperfish Opera Linux Terminalist says:

    I loved the series. I even started on the comics. I’m about halfway through the comic series and while the show followed the comics faithfully (almost shot for shot) initially, it quickly deviated. I’ve no idea if the disease control centre bits are even in the comics. Will have to keep reading :)

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