I was late to the dance when it came to The Walking Dead. I didn't start reading the comic books until this year, so I had no clue what to expect when in the hype machine began at ComicCon 2010 for the TV series. And when the show finally premiered on AMC, a channel I don't have, I had to wait for a chance to see it as a DVD collection. Well, this past summer I finally got the chance to see it, and now I can appreciate what all the hype was about.
As the first episode, "Days Gone Bye," starts with Sheriff Rick Grimes crossing paths with a little girl turned zombie and roundly blowing her brains out, Frank Darabont lets the audience know that this is not going to be run-of-the-mill popcorn fare. Within the first two minutes, it is about as bleak and violent as it can get. But, it does get more bleak--and most certainly more violent. And, while the whole waking up from a coma to a post-apocalyptic landscape is far from original, like the graphic novel, it worked in setting tone and the stage for which the story would play out. Plus, taking a bicycle from a legless zombie offered its own macabre spin.
There were only six episodes to this first season, which seems really strange in the world of American TV, but the concise nature of that first season gave it a potent vibe, forcing the creators to pack a lot of punch in those episodes and get the audience hooked, not to mention willing to wait an entire year for the second season. The show seems to spend even more time getting to know each character than the graphic novels, and there are even a couple of characters I don't recall seeing in the first few volumes of the books. The show effectively strikes its own chord and sets itself apart from not only the source material, but anything you can find on television.
In fact, there are moments through this series that feel like they slipped under the censors radar. Yeah, CSI and other forensic shows have some gruesome scenes from time to time--poking around inside cadavers isn't pretty business-but The Walking Dead has to be the first time I've ever seen characters smear their clothes with zombie guts to camouflage their scent. The gruesome appearance of some scenes with the zombies are not the focus of the show, which is important if the show is going to survive with a mainstream audience. It's the brutal nature of the relationships, and how some endure while others disintegrate over the course of events, which really acts as the heart of the show and keeps it moving forward.
The cast seems pitch-perfect. Andrew Lincoln captures the frailty and resilience of Sheriff Grimes, and disguises his English accent really well. I had no clue he wasn't American until I watched the DVD extras. Sarah Wayne Callies is superb as Frank's wife, Rachel. Jon Bernthal seems to be the guy of actor born to play the conflicted heel, as he portrays Shane, Rick's best friend, and Rachel's secret lover in the wake of the apocalypse. An added treat was seeing Michael Rooker as Merle, the hard-nosed bigot biker, since he is always fun to watch in films and television.
The second season starts very soon, but I won't be able to see it until it comes out on DVD. Ah well. But if you have a chance to watch it, I say do it. And go find the first season on DVD somewhere, and watch that. It ought to be very easy to get caught up on what has happened so far, and the cliffhanger at the end of the first season promises to give some even more brutal storylines heading into the second season. It's just a shame that Frank Darabont has walked away from the show. I don't know why that is, but I really hope The Walking Dead doesn't go the road of NBC's Heroes, which fell apart at the seams after its first season.