By Art Schmidt
“This program contains violent content which may be too intense for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.” I look forward to those words every Sunday evening. Violent content? Very. Too intense? Sure, for some viewers. Discretion is advised? Yes, very well advised.
Season 2 of AMC’s adaptation of the long-running independent comic book series started on October 16th, in time to present us with the first three episodes prior to Halloween, and what a fine All Hallow’s Eve treat it has been! AMC’s initial season of six episodes whetted viewer’s appetites (and broke cable network records in the coveted 18-49 male demographic) with a small group of people struggling to survive amidst a world devastated by a Zombie Apocalypse of unknown origin. Most of them are strangers, thrown together by circumstance and luck (good or bad). And the word ‘zombie’ is never used; George Romero never existed in the world of The Walking Dead, the undead are called ‘Walkers’ by the few living people who remain.
The group’s reluctant leader is Rick Grimes, a small town sheriff played by Andrew Lincoln (Strike Back television series, Moonshot, Love Actually) who was shot by a burglar in the pre-walker world and woke up weeks later in an empty hospital surrounded by both the dead and the undead. He fights his way through walkers, sickness, and near starvation to find his family still alive and on the road to Atlanta to try to find answers at the Centers for Disease Control there.
Rick’s family consists of his wife Lori Grimes, played by Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break, The Celestine Prophecy, Tarzan television series) and their son Carl. Rick’s deputy Shane Walsh (Ron Bernthal–The Pacific, World Trade Center) is another member of the group, who possibly left Rick for dead in the hospital, had an affair with his wife Lori, and resents his friend Rick for returning and taking his family back. In the comics, Shane is killed off very early on while attempting to move Rick back out of the way. In the television series, however, Shane doesn’t try such a bold move and instead survives with the group until at least the current episode. Which makes for some extremely compelling television, walkers or no.
Among the other members of their group are Andrea, a woman who loses her sister to a walker’s bite in the first season, which results in the return of the victim to a state of undeath as a walker; Dale, a middle-aged man in a Winnebago who treats Andrea like a daughter at times, and at other times like a dear friend, neither of which Andrea is receptive to. Then there’s Daryl, the redneck racist with a crossbow whose brother Rick left handcuffed to a pipe atop a building in downtown Atlanta; Daryl doesn’t hold a grudge, though, and actually turns out to be one of the most able, dependable people around. Especially when it comes time to perform an autopsy on a walker who they suspect of eating someone’s daughter.
Yeah, folks, this show is serious.
Writer, director and developer Frank Darabount (Shawshank Redemption, The Mist (2007), The Green Mile) joked that the show was about killing zombies, and boy was he right. From Daryl’s crossbow and its dwindling supply of arrows to a cache of large bladed tools that Carl finds in a dead farmer’s truck to the various rifles, pistols, and rocks the group has at hand (yep, rocks), this show doesn’t hold back. The walkers of The Walking Dead aren’t slow, shambling zombies from the black-and-white days of the original Dawn of the Dead, nor are they the super-fast raging nightmares from 28 Days Later. They fall somewhere in between, fast enough to catch you if you trip, but not fast enough to over-run you in a sprint. And boy, do they look real. And really, really creepy.
The Walking Dead, which won the 2011 Saturn Award for ‘Best Television Presentation’ from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and the 2010 AFI Awards trophy for ‘TV Program of the Year’, doesn’t skimp on special effects when it comes to the walkers. Great detail is put into each and every undead monster who crosses the screen, and there are plenty of them. The walkers apparently move in herds, or large groups, and migrate from place to place when the food supply (both people and animals) dwindles. The walkers will apparently eat each other, as well, though they only crave living (i.e. moving) flesh, and do not eat the truly, really dead.
The series is just getting better and better, and the writers have thus far shown a flair for the dramatic and unexpected, for pushing the envelope on the genre, and for using the walkers as metaphors and drilling down into the lives of the living people on the screen. Even in a group so small, against so much adversity, and in such dire circumstances, there is in-fighting, jealously, betrayal, and, sometimes, even a little bit of justice.
The comic on which the series is based (but by no means follows), began in 2003 and is written by Robert Kirkman who is also on the writing staff for the television series. Currently moving its way toward Issue #90, the series is published by Image Comics. Issues 1-48 have been compiled together in a massive volume The Walking Dead: Compendium One which weighs in at almost eleven-hundred pages of raw Zombie Apocalypse mayhem. Excuse me, Walker Apocalypse. 🙂
AMC just renewed The Walking Dead for a third season, which will hopefully expand it beyond the current expected second season run of only twelve episodes.