For several years, colleagues and friends have been trying to get me to watch AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead. My pat answer has been that I’m not much of a zombie fan. Sure, I loved Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, and I even got into World War Z. And full disclosure, I’ve written a published short story about love amongst the living dead in a post apocalyptic Chicago. But a television series about…zombies? Not so much.
On the other hand, I am a fan of dystopic, post-apocalyptic fiction (and film). I’d watched the pilot of The Walking Dead when it aired back in 2010, and although I was intrigued, I wasn’t pulled into the story. So I gave up. Instead, I cast my lot with the disappointing Revolution, and long-dead (but not forgotten) Jericho (which I caught on Netflix).
But I was bored late last week, and, at the urging of my co-conspirators on Blogcritics’ Let’s Talk TV Live radio show, decided to give the show another go. Two days and three seasons later (thank you Netflix!), I’m completely hooked. And truthfully, it ain’t really the zombies (I still close my eyes when the gore gets to intense!). Watching The Walking Dead is like reading a page-turner of a novel. You just can’t put it down. Literally, since many of the episodes I’ve screened on my iPad mini!
Created by Robert Kirkman, and based on his series of eponymous graphic novels, The Walking Dead follows a band of survivors in the wake of the Zombie Apocalypse. A virus of unknown origin has afflicted the planet, re-animating the dead, and turning them into mindless monsters with only the instinct of survival driving them on. Re-reading the previous sentence, I have to wonder if that description is of the zombies or the survivors. And I think it’s both. And the series plays on that them in both expected–and unexpected ways.
The Walking Dead isn’t about zombies; it’s not about survival or great and cool effects and makeup. This series is profoundly about us–the living and our humanity. It poses the question (yet, never entirely answers): is it possible to hang on to our humanity–what really makes us…us in the face of a horrific plague and danger at every corner.
As the series goes on from season one, to two, to three (I’ve not gotten to four quite yet), a small group of survivors find that with each new test a little bit more of their humanity erodes. And at what point do the living and the dead intersect–that the living are as dead inside as the are the “walking” dead. In fact, the series title itself must refer to the survivors, not the “walkers,” the “biters,” or whatever else small communities of survivors call the zombified.
People lose their minds; they want to hang to hang on loved ones, even after they’re dead and reanimated with nothing but the instinct to eat driving them. Sane, good people are driven to kill children, parents, lovers, husbands, wives for their own survival and the survival of their tiny, barely-hanging-on communities.
And the series doesn’t pull its punches. Major character deaths are a way of life in Kirkman’s zombie-laden world (so don’t get too attached to anyone!). But, each character is so deftly drawn, so flawed–sometimes dangerously so–and so beautifully, you are pulled along if only to find out whether, on the brink of their own dehumanization, they can find that glimmer of nobility, the sliver of humanity (perhaps not until moments before their own demise) that will keep them as more than a shell. It’s the very thin and moveable line between the “walking dead” and the “walking un-dead.”
I have my favorite characters and storylines; some have already come to dead ends (literally), and several have and continue to bring tears to my eyes. But, in my opinion, the most interesting character journeys, include those of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Glen Rhee (Steven Yeun), Andrea (Laurie Holden), Hershel Green (Scott Wilson), and the series lead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). But the other characters (major and minor) have roles to play and sometimes nobility–and ruthless cruelty–peek out from the least expected places and people.
It’s a brilliant series, and at time breathtaking, and I’m definitely in. I’m going to catch up to the current season by week’s end and by next Sunday will be current. Starting next Sunday, I will be offering weekly commentaries on each new episode. As well, I’ll be doing some character sketches for the newbies amongst us–almost as much for myself as for other new Walking Dead converts. And we’ll be talking in detail about the series, now in its fifth season, on this week’s Let’s Talk TV Live.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sunday nights. You can, like me, binge on the first four seasons at Netflix or on Amazon.com.
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