Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s popular IMAGE Comics title, THE WALKING DEAD, has been transformed into an ambitious dramatic series on AMC, home of hits MAD MEN and BREADING BAD. Kirkman’s story revolves around sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his initial struggle to find his family – not knowing if they’re alive or dead after the recent zombie apocalypse.
Yes, that’s right. Zombie apocalypse. On basic cable’s AMC.
With fully realized characters, Kirkman’s comic has always taken the road less traveled. It has never shied from depicting what can only be guessed as exactly the right amount of gore and violence. More main characters have died in the pages of The Walking Dead than on HBO’s notoriously brutal show OZ. And the survivors have fared only slightly better.
The zombie genre, arguably horror’s most popular, has long allowed the shambling hordes in question to stand for anything from indictments of racism to massive symbols of consumerism run amok. Not always in the most subtle manner, either. Kirkman does his best to avoid preaching at us within the pages of THE WALKING DEAD, although he does make the point that the titular Walking Dead are not necessarily the zombies. It’s the darker, more all-consuming version of the message of FIGHT CLUB – that your possessions and conveniences have made you slothful, mindless, and hungry for the easiest, slowest moving food you can locate.
Executives at cable’s AMC have clearly seen the value of such a multi-dimensional tale. There’s the obvious horror which brings along plenty of action, but also loads of drama and prime opportunities for emotional heft. It was imperative, however, that the job be given to someone who could handle both with aplomb. Enter Academy Award-nominated writer and director (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) Frank Darabont, who worked closely with Kirkman to ensure that the show was as loyal to the comic as possible. Kirkman has even adapted his writing into one of the screenplays for the show’s first season. Heavily promoted by AMC, THE WALKING DEAD premiered late Sunday night, Halloween 2010.
The pacing is similar once Rick wakes up in the hospital after being wounded in the line of duty prior to the apocalypse. After wandering out of the hospital, experiencing a litany of confusing horrors all the way, he finally makes it to his house. After not finding his family present, he is promptly knocked out by a child wielding a shovel. From here, some details veer away from the comic. His meeting with Morgan Jones and his shovel-happy son, Duane, is fraught with paranoia and fear, with only their decency as human beings prompting them to take care of Rick. Exclusive to the show is this emotional bombshell: one of the walkers constantly staking out Morgan’s house is his deceased wife. Now better armed by Rick after their trip to the police station, Morgan’s decision of what to do about the situation is simply devastating to watch.
The last 10 action-packed minutes of the premier leave us with Rick in the middle of downtown Atlanta, in an abandoned military tank, trapped by the living dead. However, there’s a voice on the radio which gives him, and us, hope.
THE WALKING DEAD has garnered strong numbers (5.3 million viewers, the largest AMC premier ever), and already has a built-in cult following. It remains to be seen if non-horror fans can be made to rise up and shamble along after it. With the show having been created, written and directed with such care, it’s possible that THE WALKING DEAD’s popularity will spread faster than whatever virus created these creatures in the first place.