AMC’s new TV series may just make zombies scary again.
We know of zombies as things that we shoot down in wave upon wave upon wave. We are the video game generation. We have guns. We know about mall defense strategy. We grew up on zombie movies and video games, seeing each as a little bit of new information that will one day help use to survive the zombie apocalypse. Hell, some people even look forward to the day when shambling corpses walk the Earth, wiping away all traces of current civilization. The outbreak of the zombie hordes is seen as entertainment. It has been a long, long time since the thought of zombies has actually been scary.
The Walking Dead might just change that.
The show, an adaptation of the comic book series published by Image Comics, focuses on Rick, a southern police officer who is gunned down by fleeing criminals in the first few minutes of the show. Waking up from a coma weeks later, he discovers that the hospital has been deserted, the dead have been left to rot and his family is gone. The pilot sets up the premise of the show quite well. Zombies have overrun the Earth. Rick must make his way across the country in search of his missing family. It does seem like the typical zombie fare, and to be honest, it is. We’ve seen variations of this story before. What makes it stand out is just how effective it is, even on one who is well versed in zombie lore.
The best example of this is a scene that takes place just moments after Rick wakes up. He is wandering the hospital’s dark, devastated corridors. He has no idea what has happened. His muscles are weak from being in a coma. He is helpless, near naked and alone. That is a tense enough situation. Then he finds a set of double doors. Written on them are four words. DON’T OPEN, DEAD INSIDE. As Rick comes near the doors, he sees it has a large steel bar shoved through the handles, keeping them from opening. Then something on the other side tries to open them. Thin, bony fingers snake out of the darkness, grasping for whatever it has heard from the other side. Harsh, rasping noises emerge from the pitch darkness on the other side of that door. Rick runs as I realize something quite astonishing. I’m scared. The scene has effectively creeped me out.
This is the show’s greatest strength. It isn’t screwing around. These zombies aren’t fun. You would not want to be in this world. It is a bleak, depressing world. Families are lost. Nothing is safe. And dead things reach for you from the dark corners of the world. Part of Walking Dead’s great effectiveness in creating this frightening atmosphere are the truly horrifying makeup and visual effects. These zombies are truly the walking dead. They rot. They fall apart. And then they come back. When you see reanimated corpses that are nothing but bony arms and withered legs and skulls with the last few remnants of human features desperately clinging to them, you don’t know how to feel. A mixture of horror and disgust and pity and sadness wash over you.
Of course, this would be nothing more but a creepy diversion if not for the performances of the characters. The pilot really got me into Rick and his journey. Andrew Lincoln really sells me on this guy and what he is going through. His performance convinces you that this is a guy who woke up in a hospital bed and realized that the world he knew no longer existed. Additional props must be given to Lenny James as Morgan, a man who is trying to keep himself and his young son alive. Not to spoil anything, but through them you see just how much the situation with the zombies, or “Walkers,” as Morgan calls them, affects the world and the people in it. Theirs is a heartbreaking tale, and as a man who knows nothing about the comic series this show is adapted from, I really hope that these two characters come back at some point.
I’ve always wanted a zombie TV series. The prospect of watching a group of survivors live out the end of the world at the hands of flesh craving zombies has always been appealing to me. So far, The Walking Dead has surpassed all my expectations. Hopefully, as the weeks pass, the show can keep up the quality it is displaying in this premier episode. I’d hate to see a show with such promise turn into a shambling corpse of its former self.