THE WALKING DEAD Series Premiere Review

     October 29, 2010


The fact that a television series will be on the air focusing on the aftermath and survivors of a zombie apocalypse is an achievement in itself and a testament to the idea that the TV industry is in the middle of another Golden Age for the flickering box. Fortunately for viewers, the simple existence of such a series with AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series The Walking Dead isn’t the only impressive quality of the series. Though the launch of the brand new series from Frank Darabont (The Mist, The Shawshank Redemption) has many familiar elements seen in countless zombie flicks before, it’s our characters, their emotion, and the sheer human tragedy in such a devastating epidemic that hits the hardest. Find out how The Walking Dead injects new life into a recycled plot and genre below!

In the opening moments of the pilot titled “Days Gone By”, the tone and style is set for the entire series. A haunting silence lies in the air as a uniformed police officer, possible a sheriff walks through streets and fields littered with abandoned, burned and wrecked cars. Gradually dead bodies become visible, and the flies that swarm buzz in and out. But this sheriff isn’t concerned with the dead. He’s just looking for some gas. But in his search, the silence in the air is broken by a nearby shuffle. Looking under one of the disheveled automobiles, the officer notices the feet of a young girl in some worn slippers. We can only see her from the back, but her pause to grab a stuffed bear relieves our tension. That is until the officer calls out to her, causing her to turn around and reveal her bloody and torn face. With great regret and remorse, the officer puts one bullet right in the center of her skull with a violent, bloody splatter. This is The Walking Dead.

Aisde from not being shy about blood (though at times the digital smattering of it looks a bit sloppy in the effects department), the series also isn’t shy about retreading some familiar ground. After our title sequence, we find the hero of our opening shot back in a world unaffected by the walking dead. This is a time before the tragedy. Very quickly we learn our main protagonist is Deputy Rick Grimes (British TV actor Andrew Lincoln), but just as swiftly, he finds himself wounded in gunfight gone wrong and suddenly waking up in a hospital with no frame of reference for time. But losing track of the date is the least of his concern as he stumbles weakly out of his hospital bed and discovers the hospital in shambles. The grim sight of blood splatters, decayed, maybe eaten, bodies and no life in sight. That is until he stumbles upon a chained and blocked double-door with haunting and warning text painted, “Don’t open. Dead inside.” But what’s inside doesn’t seem the least but dead as quiet moans and dirty hands reach out from behind the doors.

Perhaps this isn’t the most disturbing revelation upon Grimes waking though. As he finally makes his way outside he’s left to the grisly discovery of the remnants of some sort of military rescue in shambles and truckloads of dead bodies wrapped in white sheets lying behind the hospital’s loading dock. Moments like these will continue to define the rest of the pilot, and likely the series, as Frank Darabont isn’t concerned with only tense chases, rushed escapes and cheap scares. He’s concerned with his characters, their very lives and humanity being uprooted as everyone else’s seems to have crumbled around them. Just before Grimes revelation outside of the hospital, plenty of tension builds as he finds himself walking down a pitch black stairwell with only a few matches lighting the way, leaving small bouts of darkness. In any normal horror director’s hands, this scene would give way to a zombie suddenly appearing between the periods of light and dark only to lunge with an orchestral boom. But the only fear and scares we get are from our own minds anticipating the horror. And that’s exactly how these characters, all the survivors we eventually meet, must feel every damn minute.

From here on out, we’re given the usual run-around of small plot points teaching us about these walking dead. Some sort of fever takes over the body inducing death, but only temporarily as the infected are alive again in the least sense of the word. Grimes learns these brief bits as he encounters a father and son living in another family’s house. They know what they’re doing, and they’ve been doing it for awhile. But one of the biggest questions is just how long? We’re given no timeframe as to how long Grimes was left unattended at the hospital, unconscious in his bed. But time is no matter at this point as Grimes is eager to find his wife Laurie and son Carl who seem to have vacated their house, and are hopefully alive at the usual rumored haven somewhere in downtown Atlanta.

If this all sounds like very zombie-centric story you’ve seen before, I don’t blame you for maybe rolling your eyes and already expecting the exact opposite of a safe house in Atlanta. It doesn’t matter. To really dig into this series you need to see and feel the quiet moments that have seemingly never been seen in any conventional zombie filled story before. While many zombie ridden films only have 90 minutes to 2 hours for us to care about our characters, gasp at their danger, jump at their fear, and rejoice at their survival, The Walking Dead is a series and has plenty of time to allow us more than a few breaths, and in those breaths we’re given time to truly understand the weight of this tragedy and the decay of humanity on display. Grimes takes the time to marvel, albeit sadly, at a woman, (half of her anyway) crawling mindlessly, and reaching for Grimes just a foot away. When you have a limited time to spend on a story, and you’re supposed to care about the living characters, you don’t have time to care about the people these walking dead were before. But Grimes takes the time to look into her eyes and say, “I’m sorry that this happened to you.” It’s one of the most emotional scenes I’ve ever witnessed on television.

girl zombie The Walking Dead AMC tv show image

Without spoiling the rest of the pilot, just know that there are plenty more heart-wrenching scenes like this along with great moments of triumph, hope, and despite a lack of the usual cheap scares, some genuine moments of shock, suspense and fear. The Walking Dead isn’t just another creature feature with zombies feasting on the living and people running, jumping and climbing trees to get away from them. This is a story about the human race and what happens to us when we have to literally look death in the face.

THE FINAL WORD: While it doesn’t have outlandish mystery at its disposal, The Walking Dead just might be the series that will fill the void left by the conclusion of Lost. Unlike the crippled ensemble series The Event (which is a zombie of a TV series in itself), with Frank Darabont’s opener we’re given a story that is compelling, emotional and full of promise for a great series. Don’t let the title fool you, because The Walking Dead is one of only a handful of new series that is actually full of life.


  • Anonymous

    I’m looking forward to getting engrossed by this series… but I must admit that I’m a little disappointed by the lack of reference to Dead Set???

    This isn’t the first television series revolving around zombies. Dead Set had a wonderful amount of depth and comedy. I highly recommend this British series if you’re yet to enjoy it!

    • Ethan Anderton

      I’ll have to check it out. Unless a British series gets big and has an American remake that follows, you really have to search out great series from the UK. But as an avid fan of plenty of British comedy and drama series, it sounds like a must-see. Thanks for the recommendation!

      • Roachj007

        I believe Dead Set just started broadcasting on IFC recently here in America.

  • Saad Ghafoor Khan

    I love you for saying this “Unlike the crippled ensemble series The Event (which is a zombie of a TV series in itself)”… I can’t wait to see The Walking Dead…
    I watch The Event every week thinking it will get better but every week something happens but nothing make sense… Aliens on earth, in different age groups, 60,50,30,40 or even younger and they stay the same… The only reason i still watch the Event is that Every scene was not longer then 5 minutes, so its fast paced but nothing much happens according to Plot vise.

    I loved Lost – though it never Gave any answers and ending wellll lets not scratch our heads… everyone dies eventually … Duhh .

  • Matt

    Very glad Darabont is reworking so much of Kirkman’s dialogue.

  • Matt

    Very glad Darabont is reworking so much of Kirkman’s dialogue.

  • RickC

    Outstanding review…and the concept that the Walking Dead is going to become the next (if not all out surpass) “Lost” is one that I have shared since I saw the first images of Darabont’s pilot. This story is a character-driven piece, with a large situation going on in the background. Each character’s horror, fear, pain, sadness, lack of hope, etc. is what the stories are about. I can’t wait to tune in every week.

  • sniperx

    I was excited about this series until I realized a dealbreaker… AMC DOES NOT OFFER HD on most venues- att-Uverse, Direct TV! Seriously? A new series like Walking dead was shot in 16:9 and in HD So to watch in in a CROPPED 4:3 standard def would be greatly missing out. For Petes sake AMC, We live in 20010! They don’t even SELL standard Def Tv’s in stores for years not, and HD is required BY law over the air yet on an expensive PAID venue like uverse,comcast you don’t offer HD? Shame on you. Please wake up and get the with the times.

    • Ethan Anderton

      That’s likely not AMC’s fault, but rather the fault of those providers. For example, Comedy Central HD has been around for awhile, but my cable provider didn’t add it into our line-up until a month ago. I would talk to whoever your provider is and find out what the hell is going on.

    • Randomkansas

      AMC does have HD I watched it last night in HD. You need to shell out the cash to get it. And if your going to make a strong point about getting with the times make sure you write 2010 as 2010 not 20010, it does cause for a good laugh instead of a serious inquiry.

    • Fmondana

      AMC offers HD, just like most other channels. It’s the providers who decide if they are going to broadcast a channel in HD. Most do but you either have to pay to get it or, in many cases, you simply go way high in number to get it.
      My service the HD versions from channel 302 and up.
      Maybe you should actually look into the veracity of a rant before committing. It will make you sound less arrogant and uniformed.

      • Livin’ In an SD World

        To back up my boy sniperx, I have DirecTV in SF with the HD For Life package and I’m only getting the SD version of The Walking Dead. Even though this season’s Mad Men was always in HD. But nice use of of the word veracity. Don’t get that in your everyday, run-of-the-mill comment thread.

      • Livin’ In an SD World

        To back up my boy sniperx, I have DirecTV in SF with the HD For Life package and I’m only getting the SD version of The Walking Dead. Even though this season’s Mad Men was always in HD. But nice use of of the word veracity. Don’t get that in your everyday, run-of-the-mill comment thread.

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  • Tom

    Ima watch dis now!

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  • tets

    Yeah, what kind of zombie is interested in a teddy bear? Stupid, probably not worth watching. Read the comic instead ;-)

  • mickeed

    Funny you should suggest that this series might fill the void left by Lost…

    Did you notice that the scene you mention “I’m sorry that this happened to you.” is right out of Lost, when Jacob says almost the same thing, word for word to Locke as he lay on the grass after being pushed out of the window by his father. The start of a difficult journey for Locke.

    Of course, on Lost, it appears that Locke is brought back from death and set on a path of misery and pain, and in The Walking Dead, the ex sheriff Grimes puts the walking dead woman to final death, and out of her misery and pain.

    I can’t help but think that this was very deliberate, a kind of nod to Lost.

    Oh, I do soooo miss Lost, and the ‘travelling through the jungle music’…

  • mickeed

    I watch the show in HD, its well shot. I wish I had bought the set earlier and watched Lost in HD.

    Lets face it though, there are so many problems with zombie movies… If its a blood born illness, wouldn’t other animals get it? Or at least some animals? Wouldn’t you walk around with a full face mask and eye protection all day if it just took a spot of blood in your mouth, or eye? And good quality gloves that go all the way up to your elbows?

    Do you trust lake water? Because maybe there is a zombie walking around in the bottom of the lake, eating fish brains and leaking zombie juices into the water, which you drink, making you a zombie.

    Would crows become zombified? Or dogs or cats or rats or goldfish? Do you get zombified if you get bit by a zombified mosquito?

    Caution: SPOILER second episode SPOILER:

    But most of all, the shows writers messed up big time. I wanted to see sheriff Grimes in the tank turn it on and squishify all the zombies! Never been done before. Perhaps use the cannon to take a few potshots, turn the zombies into a grey mist.

  • Sunflowergirlntx

    I hate gore and guts shows, but I got desperate the other night for something to watch, and watched The Walking Dead on Hulu. It *was* good. I was surprised to be dying to know what happens in the next episode after seeing the TANK at the end of the Pilot episode. That’s all I’m gonna say, but those that saw it already will know what I’m talking about when I mentioned the “TANK”.

  • Anonymous

    Aswesome TV show period!