Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Walking Dead

Two episodes into The Walking Dead, and I'm still loving it. I thought the first episode was better than the second, but it's compelling -- and, what the hell, it's better than the latest cop/hospital show on every other channel right now. AMC gets points for doing something different.

I don't consider myself a big horror fan, but I do read The Walking Dead comic book. I've also read World War Z and a few of the more recent movies -- 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead, and of course the original Night of the Living Dead. And while purists wouldn't consider it part of the zombie canon, who doesn't love Army of Darkness?

If you're familiar with the genre but not the specifics of Walking Dead, these are your old-school, Romero-style zombies -- walk slow, crave living flesh, can only be killed with a shot to the head, and if you get bit and you become one. (However, although the Walking Dead groan a lot, they don't say "braaaains.") So don't go expecting the 28 Days Later, fast-moving "rave" zombies. That aside, however, the overall tone is more like "28 Days" than "World War Z" in that society seems to have completely broken down, and the world is populated by hordes of flesh-eating zombies and isolated handfuls of human survivors. Also like 28 Days Later, the human survivors can be as much (or even more of a threat) than the zombies are.

Ah... minor spoilers ahead from the first two episodes. If you haven't seen the show yet, go ahead and watch them. I'll wait.

One big difference from most Romero zombies -- even from the original comics -- is that the Walking Dead seem to have some rudimentary intelligence. They turn door knobs, use rocks to smash windows, and climb over fences. Two episodes in, it also appears that zombies remember at least a little of their previous lives? (I'm thinking of the little girl that picks up the teddy bear and the woman who keeps trying to get back into the house where she died.) They also can start moving in a hurry when there's some fresh meat around.

I'm not faulting the show for trying something different from the comics, even if it totally ruins my plan of surviving the zombie apocalypse by hiding in the Marvin Windows and Doors Warehouse. In fact, I think people new to the series are going to complain about two scenes that come straight out of the comics:

Rick waking up in an empty hospital after a coma after zombies have overrun the world: "That's from 28 Days Later!"

Rick and Glenn blending in with the zombies by covering themselves in gore and walking like zombies: "That's from Shaun of the Dead and/or Zombie Land and/or the zombie kid who likes turtles!"*

*(Although The Walking Dead comic with that scene came out before Shaun of the Dead and Zombie Land, it had been done before. But even if Walking Dead did it first, it's been parodied enough times over the last eight years that maybe the TV show should have tried a less mocked tactic.)

Those two complaints sum up my concern for the show -- the zombie concept has been done so many times, and parodied so many times, that it has become hard to take seriously. If you jump into the middle of an episode, you just might start giggling.

But if you watch it from the beginning -- or if you watch the scene with Lennie James trying to pick off his wife -- I think you'll stop laughing pretty quick.

Oh, and while you're waiting for Sunday, you can kill some time (and some zombies) by playing Shattered Colony.

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