Reviewed by Andrew Kasch
Starring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun
Created by Robert Kirkman
Directed by Frank Darabont
These days it seems that all the best stories have moved to television. Shows like “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men”, “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” have kicked the shit out of everything at the multiplexes for several reasons: As Hollywood grows more bland and commercial, all the great filmmakers have run to the small screen, where they’re given more time and creative freedom to tell stories. Hell, even Martin Scorsese has a show now!
When it was announced that Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd would tackle an adaptation of “The Walking Dead” for AMC, hopes couldn’t get any higher. Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels have joined the ranks of Romero and Max Brooks as the very best in zombie fiction, and a series on TV’s best and ballsiest network seemed like the perfect home. It was almost too good to be true. So how does the final product measure up? If the first two episodes are any indication, this series is already a home run! “The Walking Dead” isn’t just a killer show, it’s the best horror offering we’ve seen all year, period.
Both the graphic novels and the series belong to the George A. Romero school of thought and could easily take place in the same universe. It all starts in the middle of Georgia, where officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) takes a bullet during an intense police stand-off. But poor Rick faces something worse than death: He wakes up in the hospital after an unknown period to discover that the world around him has been destroyed by a zombie plague (and before another moron screams 28 Days Later, remember that Day of the Triffids did it first. Moving on…). The first act of this epic survival tale finds Rick on the road through the wastelands as he tries to find his family, while encountering fellow survivors and battling through the undead hordes that have claimed Atlanta.
As it stands, the extended first episode (written and directed by Darabont) is arguably the single greatest television pilot since “Twin Peaks”, not to mention the best zombie “movie” in almost a decade. With sweeping and stylish direction, Darabont captures the oppressive atmosphere of an honest-to-God apocalypse and, for the first time in a long time, makes zombies scary again. Kirkman’s world explodes in breathtaking detail thanks to lavish cinematography, KNB’s make-up effects and a beautifully understated score by Bear McCreary. The scope feels as large as a big-budget Hollywood film, and if any expense was spared, it certainly doesn’t show it. And all you cynical horror fans who screamed about television censorship, fear not; this show has serious bite! In fact, the first two episodes alone are gorier than Romero’s last three Dead films combined.
But the show has soul, too. Amid the splatter there lurks the real emotion and tough moral decisions that define the very best of horror. This is in no small part due to the rock solid cast led by Andrew Lincoln, who perfectly embodies Rick Grimes. He’s edgy and intense, and series readers will be thrilled knowing what dark paths this character will eventually take. Particularly good are Rick’s early scenes with best friend and rival, Shane, played by the equally great Jon Bernthal, who fleshes out and elevates his character far beyond the comic pages. And while these first two episodes are very Rick-centric, first impressions of other series regulars (Lori, Dale, Carl, etc.) are generally strong.
The series takes several detours from the source material but stays true to the characters and overall arc of the book. Without diving into spoilers, Darabont throws in a lot of extra characters, plotlines and set pieces into the first two episodes, but nothing feels superfluous. These additions only serve to expand the universe and help pacing while giving die-hard fans something new to chew on. There are even several welcome moments of gruesome black humor, which is extremely welcome given the overall humorless nature of the books.
Hats off to Darabont, Hurd, Kirkman and AMC for creating another winner! “The Walking Dead” is a milestone in television and, in many ways, the first A-level horror series. It’s classy, epic and old school in the best ways and makes you realize why you originally fell in love with this genre.
5 out of 5
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