I haven’t quite decided yet if I like AMC’s new Sunday night drama The Walking Dead enough to write about it weekly (or even watch it beyond the first few episodes). I know that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but I have my reasons. To wit (and in the name of full disclosure): I am not a zombie fan. OK, I confess; I liked Shaun of the Dead, but of all the horror sub-genres, I’m probably least enamored of zombie-anything. I’m actually not even a horror fan.
It’s actually taken me several days to decide whether to watch it again this Sunday night, if only because the zombies that roam (well, mostly they sort of amble) a post-apocalyptic United States are pretty darn creepy. And yes, I am a wimp.
So, you may wonder, what compels me to watch at all? I do like science fiction, especially sci-fi that tends towards post-apocalyptic dystopias. And this series seems to have that vibe. I have to say I was intrigued by the hype.
The series is being cast as less a horror show than a character drama wrapped in a sci-fi thriller, wrapped in a horror-suspense story, wrapped in a comic book. A rural cop wakes up in a hospital after being shot while chasing bad guys. He’s been out of it for a month and when he comes to, he finds a world completely altered. The hospital has been trashed and abandoned: everyone is either gone or dead.
There’s no electricity, no water (no IV drip—so the guy’s been without fluids for a month, and we won’t even talk about that logic). Behind a chained door a rumble is heard and sickly fingers try to work the chain as our hero Rick Grimes (British actor Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually) reads the ominous warning painted in blood. “Do Not Open. Dead Inside.”
So starts The Walking Dead. What the hell has happened over the course of a month to cause this level of utter destruction in a normal town? Is it nuclear devastation as in the defunct CBS series Jericho (which died after a season and a half)? Is it an environmental disaster? Terrorism?
Evidently, there has been some sort of fatal illness—something that’s caused a high fever. This illness has decimated the population to the point of near annihilation. Those who succumb to the illness do not stay dead for long; they soon rise—as zombies. The illness isn’t airborn or transmitted by contact; you have to get bitten. If that happens (and you’re not actually eaten), you get sick, die and are reborn as a really disgusting, slow moving creature (mostly) of the night.
Apparently the zombies have pretty much destroyed everything from communications systems to the power grid. Leaving the hospital, Rick encounters what was probably a refugee camp, complete with helicopter. But this, too, is abandoned. And so he takes a bicycle from near a half-eaten zombie woman and goes home to try locating his wife and child; but they are nowhere to be seen.
What he does find is a man with a gun (British actor Lennie James, Jericho), who puts a bullet into the head of a wandering zombie. Turns out his wife got the “fever” and became a zombie, but he wasn’t able to bring himself to shoot her in the head (the only way to kill them, we learn).
Rick heads toward Atlanta where there is supposed to be a refugee camp, and where the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is believed to be working out a way to treat the illness and save the remnants of humanity. But the road is fraught with obstacles and Atlanta isn’t all it’s cracked up to be since it became a zombie hang out.
There are clearly other survivors cowering in clusters, trying to avoid being eaten for lunch. The zombies, also called “walkers” aren’t too hard to avoid individually; they are slow of foot and grow easily disinterested of their quarry. However, when they’re in groups—they become an unruly (and quite dangerous) mob. They seem only to desire being left alone, but are sensitive to sound, which disturbs them and draws them like moths to a light; they are more active at night—all things that must be learned by newbie Rick.
So where is this show going? Based on a popular comic book series of the same name, we know the series will follow Rick and his fellow travelers as they seek a safe haven and those who are trying to identify a cure.
To me, the most interesting part of the series (that is, if you’re not into the zombie thing) will be to see how long the characters, and especially Rick, can hold on to their humanity in a world where it’s a liability. Cormack McCarthy’s novel and subsequent film The Road are all about the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in the face of impossibly hostile conditions: a world so drastically changed that humanity is the last thing you probably need.
The Walking Dead is unlikely to be quite so relentlessly oppressive (it would never last as an American television series). But set in the eerie, scary world complete with monsters…er…zombies, The Walking Dead has a lot of potential to explore some equally interesting themes. Even the title suggests a double meaning. Who are real “walking dead,” the zombies or the human remnant that wander place to place simply surviving?
So, I’ll continue watching; I’m intrigued by the premise and possibilities. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC TV. You can catch up with the first episode right here: