Maybe the "doornail" genre will be the next big thing in Hollywood, seeing as how it loves all things dead, undead, and things that look dead, like Roger Ebert. (I am one-billionth the writer Ebert is.) Zombies are the latest craze to trickle from the big to the little screen, but The Walking Dead isn't your ordinary adaptation. Mega-players Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd have brought the long-lasting, acclaimed comic series to critics' darling AMC. The resulting six-episode first season could be more even, but would have been bloody putty in anyone else's hands. This is legitimate zom-dram.
Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic series has been running strong for over seven years now, slowly becoming as iconic as the arts that inspired it. Gunshot survivor Rick Grimes has skulked an epic path across the mostly deserted southeastern United States, leading the central ragtag survivors from one dangerous situation to another. With a basis in Kirkman's excellent story arcs and a location change from rural Kentucky to big-city Atlanta, the transition from the page has far fewer pitfalls than I could have dreamed. Because yeah, maybe I dreamed about it.
Policemen Shane Walsh (Joe Bernthal) and the aforementioned Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) are involved in an incident that leaves Rick coma-ridden in a hospital bed. Rick later wakes up to a world overrun by bloodthirsty, reanimated beings. Desperate to find his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), Rick takes to the streets barefoot and weaponless before being accidentally attacked and nursed back to health by Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his, son Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), who are squatting in a neighbor's abandoned house. They fill Rick in on what details they've gleaned from the population's zombification.
Meanwhile, in the forest-laden city outskirts, Shane, Lori, and Carl are all together, having joined a larger group for a semblance of safety. Since Rick is believed to be zombie lunch by now, Shane and Lori succumb to temptations. But first, meet the group. Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is a kind-hearted older gentleman whose antiquated RV serves as shelter and transport. Jim is the oddball who lost most of his marbles. Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Amy (Emma Bell) are sisters with contrasting personalities. Ed Peletier (Adam Minarovich) is the abusive husband and father of Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride) and Sophia (Madison Lintz). Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) is the sassy, Southern black lady. Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja) and his family don't do much beyond fill out the racial roundup. As the always angry Daryl Dixon, Norman Reedus adds just the right amount of shit-stomping Redneck to the group.
Rick eventually runs into a supply-gathering sub-set of the group. More characters? Damn straight. Glenn (Steven Yeun) is young and scrappy. T-Dog (IronE Singleton) is a hair away from being the token buff, black guy. Actually, Andrea and Morales were a part of this group, too, but they sounded better above. The last of this crowd, Daryl's brother, Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), is by far the most troublesome, wasting bullets and spouting racial slurs before he's been on the screen for more than a minute. He gets left behind on a roof top, but somehow makes it off when no one is around, and hopefully will take on some kind of antagonistic role next season.
And so the story is set into motion, even though this all takes three episodes to become fully realized. Pacing is definitely the trickiest part of The Walking Dead, always straddling the line between quality character development and trite dialogue. Of course, those scenes are juxtaposed with knuckle-cracking action and some of the grittiest visuals that any form of television has to offer. Darabont always associates with top-notch effects teams, and Walking Dead uses all forms. There are hundreds of effectively funk-nasty extras covered with grungy make-up, brutally violent attack-and-defend sequences utilizing practical effects, and those extra bits of CGI, such as a hole in someone's body, that complement without overpowering. If you find yourself thinking things are slow, it just means something awesome is around the corner.
The overall story does not have the bite that the smaller stories do. In six episodes, there should be close to zero fluff. Yet there are two storylines that were created just for TV without a comic precedent, and they're the two stories that fall flattest. One sidetracks to an outsider group of quasi-violent Hispanics, in an episode entitled "Vatos," and the other involves Lost-like ado over the pros and cons of going to the Center for Disease Control, and the results of that trip. To be clear, many of the story elements are extremely on point and add the needed depth. The degradation of both medical and elderly communities during a zombie apocalypse are worthy of episode-length discussion. Yet the access we get of these viewpoints are more hollow than whole, and cheapen the sense of solitary abandonment that Kirkman originally put to page. That said, the roles of Guillermo (Neil Brown Jr.) and the CDC's Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) are pitch perfect for the tale.
As a huge fan of the series, I don't really give a shit that those storylines don't jive with me. Seeing Rick face Guillermo as a cockstrong gunfighter got my blood boiling, and the sheer number of bodies laid outside the CDC is fricking chilling. The Shane-Lori issue takes a completely different turn from the comics, adding unsettling weirdness as things go on. No one is safe from anything anymore, least of all their own psychologies. As much as I love zombies, you could replace them with any number of deadly foreign elements, and the show's multi-tiered drama would still be worthy of brainssss...braaaiiinnnsss...arglebargle... None of the zombies on The Walking Dead pull any of that clown bullshit. They'll eat whatever is next to their mouth.
It will be forever until the new season starts, and that's a truly awful thing. I'm bloodthirsty. The 349 or so forms of zombie media that are released between now and then aren't going to do it for me. This is what I've been waiting for. I wholeheartedly embrace The Walking Dead, knowing that no one has bathed in quite some time.
Just stop reading and go buy this thing already. Even without commentaries, this is about as stocked a set as one could hope for. The video and audio transfers aren’t drool-worthy, but that’s because the shows looked so good in HD to begin with. For a horror-tinged show, there aren’t many sequences taking place at night, so clarity and contrast are rarely an issue.
To be expected, there’s a half-hour “Making of The Walking Dead" feature that covers all the generic bases, but the enthusiasm everyone exhibits is catching. No creative stones were left unturned, as seemingly every member of the cast and crew were involved in the interviews. Lots of Darabont and Kirkman, which suits me just fine. The second-most informative extra is the "Convention Panel with Producers," which is a Q&A session with all the major players involved.
I'm not certain, but I think these "featurettes" either come from the AMC website, or have already aired on AMC itself. That isn't to say they aren't enjoyable, just that they're not exclusive. Each episode gets an "Inside The Walking Dead" feature, all lasting around five minutes. These are amusing, spoiler-friendly bits from the cast and crew on-set. Lots of Andrew Lincoln's British accent put to use here. Just as short and lighthearted, "A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman" is almost everyone besides Kirkman talking about how intrigued they are by the project as a whole. "Behind the Scenes Zombie Make-Up Tips" gives a Halloween-inspired lesson on sort of making yourself look like a zombie in around seven minutes.
Keeping with the good-mood vibe, the section "Extra Footage" has a handful of also-seen-before time-fillers. "Zombie School" offers footage from the training process that the extras experienced in order to walk and groan like a zombie. "Bicycle Girl" is about Frank Darabont's dedication to properly portraying the ghoulish first girl that Rick Grimes sees upon escaping the hospital. "On the Set With Robert Kirkman" has Kirkman wandering around the set from a scene in the pilot episode, marveling at his creative efforts brought to such a grand scale. "Hanging With Stephen Yeun" really brings out Yeun's youth as he jokes through nearly every moment. "Inside Dale's RV" has DeMunn walking the camera-man through the mess that is this movable set. "On Set With Andrew Lincoln" has even more of his passionate praise than we've already seen.
I can offer no sage advice for not picking this Blu-ray set up, unless your experience with the series has already proven negative. I don't think The Walking Dead is a truly great show yet, but its potential is gargantuan. AMC seems fully capable of letting narratives thrive, so we should be following this group for years.