A zombie drama with brains

Zombies! Everywhere! Shambling, fly-ridden corpses ravenous for the rich taste of human flesh. Fuck yes. Like anybody with even a passing interest in the end of the world as we know it, there is a certain place in my juicy, still-beating heart for the zombie-genre. I’m not sure if it’s the zombies themselves, who admittedly make a pretty rubbish monster, or rather the overall idea of the human race being rendered impotent by a global breakout of hideous, brain-yearning cadavers from beyond the grave. I presume it’s something to do with my utter hatred for my fellow man. As such I have been looking forward to the release of AMC’s The Walking Dead and thankfully, as of the third episode, I have yet to be disappointed. We may as well get it out of the way; I have read the comic it is based on, quelle surprise. Much like its characters (living or otherwise), the comic is imperfect. Robert Kirkman tends to write dialogue which is either clumsily melodramatic or simply bland, whilst Charlie Adlard’s art often looks unfinished. Still. It is a good comic, and compulsively readable. Its central tagline, ‘a continuing tale of survival horror’, also neatly explains why it is best suited for television, the big screen being absolutely bloated with zombie/post-apocalyptic scenarios. In fact television makes perfect sense for a post-apocalyptic story. Whilst the Apocalypse denotes an ending, indeed a full-stop, the idea behind The Walking Dead is that human kind endures even after the fall of society. The story is open-ended, the future as uncertain as ever.

We are introduced in the first scene to Rick Grimes, supercop. A man of compassion, honour and solicitude, like Atticus Finch armed with a 12-bore shotgun. Rick is played by Andrew Lincoln, best known to a certain generation of Brits as Egg from This Life and to everyone else as the soppy one from Love, Actually who attempts to win over the love of his life by recreating the promotional video to Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. Oh wait he was also one of the many douche bags in Human Traffic, I forgot about that. Christ, that was an annoying film, best not to dwell though, eurgh. Anyway, zombies, I mean Andrew Lincoln. Yes, Lincoln’s involvement came as a surprise to both Sharpie and I considering the numerous trials and vicissitudes he will come to face, but Lincoln has so far proven our doubts unfounded, bringing a warmth and air of taciturn humanity to this most crucial of roles. That Lincoln bears the fortunes of the entire series on his shoulders does not seem to have affected his performance, he is great. So, The Walking Dead begins with a bang, literally, as Grimes is forced to gun down a zombified little girl, but the series is anything but loud or brash. We then cut back to an incident where Grimes receives a bad case of The Bullets, and ends up comatose in a deserted hospital. This may remind some of the excellent opening to 28 Days Later, which itself was heavily influenced by John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (one of the best zombie stories ever, considering that the zombies curiously resemble giant asparagus), this is one oft-used plot device I don’t mind, giving us the opportunity to jump right into the action as opposed to the mechanical and systematic downfall of society we would be forced to watch otherwise. Zombie stories rarely bother with the whys and wherefores of the actual outbreak, and when they do the origins are usually tedious and mundane, be they caused by a virus terrestrial or terran, nuclear disaster or simply lack of space in Hell. I like to stick with the explanation in Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead, wherein the outbreak is caused by the bite of a Sumatran Rat-Monkey.

Anyway, Grimes, feeling understandably out of sorts, soon joins up with a man and his son, who are able to describe the situation in a convenient info dump. The production is exemplary for a television series, giving a very convincing depiction of the End Times. Some of the shots are simply awe-inspiring, particularly the sight of Grimes on horseback riding down a silent, empty highway. Silence itself plays a huge part. Director Frank Darabont wisely eschews the normal conventions of zombie violence for an eerier, claustrophobically tense atmosphere. The first few scenes of Grime’s dazed escape from the hospital are shot with an effectively subdued sensibility of sound and aesthetic design which many similar films (and most big-budget American drama series) completely lack. This is not to say that the series is bereft of shocks or gore, for there is plenty. The makeup and special effects are also first class, with each zombie having its own personality and inner (former) life. The sets are momentous and the entire package is pungent with quality. I have mainly talked about the first episode ‘Days Gone By’ because I am never sure how much you may have seen/heard about the series, whether you have read the comic or even know it exists. Incidentally as I am talking to a hypothetical reader who may or may not exist does it even matter? I could spend my time thinking of new racist epithets or making a list of every public figure I think is a cunt and I doubt the world will care. The next two episodes introduce characters not seen in the comic, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just weird considering how many characters the comic needs you to keep track of. The pace of these episodes is glacial, and I’m afraid if it keeps up at this rate I can’t see the plot getting anywhere near where it is in the comics series until at least season 43. Of course we should see the comics and the television series as separate entities, for I am convinced that no fan is ever happy with whatever new rendition of their beloved source material they have seen/read/smelled. If, for instance, the plot delineates in any way then fanboys are wont to decry it as heresy and create the geek’s version of a papal bull calling for the immediate delivery of the culprit’s head and still-beating heart. If, on the other hand, the adaptation sticks to its source with all the slavish devotion of well, a fanboy, then critics will deride it for not bringing anything new to the table. There is no pleasing anybody when it comes to this kind of thing. That said however, the series does appear to be hitting a stand-still, with hardly anything of great note occurring in the third episode. If it was a longer season then this would be fine, but we’re half way through and surely every season should end with some kind of denouement, well maybe not, The Walking Dead having already been picked up for a further season of thirteen episodes and probably more after that. Vague gripes aside though, The Walking Dead is still excellent, and has set a new standard of scope, characterisation and sheer bloody violence that other series will have to meet.

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