The Walking Dead – a DVD review

It is strange how absolutely everyone (with the lone exception of my editor) knows what a “zombie apocalypse” is. The term is simply part of our culture. Even for those unfamiliar with classical zombie films like Night of the Living Dead, there have been enough other references in recent times to familiarize everyone with the concept. From comedy movies like Zombieland, to books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, to Sears doing a zombie site for Halloween, and to websites like zombiesarecoming.com and theinevitablezombieapocalypse.com, zombies seem to be as in vogue as vampires  ever were.

The Walking Dead, a TV series from the network that brought you Mad Men and Breaking Bad, is based on the long running Eisner award winning comic book series by writer Robert Kirkland and artist Tony Moore, adapted for television by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption). This is so much more than a monster mash “and then there were ten, and then there were nine,” survivor countdown. This is an intense, character-driven piece about survivors, about the breakdown of civilization, about what makes us human, and what makes us a society.

Oh, the traditional zombie story points are all there – zombies are intent on feeding on any living flesh, are grotesque to look upon, and are not intelligent but instinctual beings. There is no remnant of who the person who became that zombie is, and it is only in their sheer numbers that zombies are a threat, as any zombie bite will “turn” a living person over time. Only a head wound will permanently stop a zombie. (It is of note that in this story, the term “zombie” is never uttered. They are referred to as “walkers” or as “geeks,” referring to carnival acts who amazed by eating anything.)

The first episode focuses exclusively on sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). He is shot while on duty in a small Southern town, goes to the hospital, and when he awakens from his coma, the world as he knows it is gone. The hospital is eerily deserted, and Lincoln expertly and silently communicates Rick’s disorientation, disbelief, and horror as he tries to find another person.

We then follow Rick as he sets out for Atlanta in an attempt to reconnect with his wife and son. (The scene of him entering the abandoned Atlanta is at once chilling and awesome.) Lori and Carl are alive, the viewer soon learns, but they are not where Rick is heading. Rick does connect with a handful of survivors. Standouts include Andrea, a lawyer who was on vacation with her coed sister; Merle, whose main characteristic seems to be bigotry against the non-white members of the group ; and my favorite, Glenn (Steven Yuen), a rather wimpy looking man-boy, who nevertheless has not lost his sense of humor, and has a very canny ability to get by.

Plot and action scenes only serve as backdrop to the more character-driven points of jealousy, survivor guilt, and jockeying for power within the group. The story also touches on several moral dilemmas, such as is it ethical to let a blatant racist die rather than risk the group, or does doing so compromise the fragile hold on civilization and humanity the survivors still have? It is soon apparent that some people are more dangerous than any walker.

While this may change as the series continues (AMC has renewed The Walking Dead for a 13 episode second season), one thing I liked about it is that Rick is a genuinely good person. So many of our heroes are closer to antiheroes now, or at least people with a strong edge of violence, but Rick is actually of very strong moral fiber, courteous, with an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong. While situations have moral ambiguity, Rick remains true blue.

Filmed in and around Atlanta, the state of Georgia here is beautiful, stark, deserted, and unnaturally quiet , as loud noises are a beacon to the walkers. Creator/director Daramont gives the series a mood of somber desperation, but all is not without hope.

DVD extras include the Comic Con panel, extended scenes, and several “making of” featurettes. The Walking Dead is available for purchase and rental.

by Heather Craig

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