We've seen the first two episodes of AMC's Walking Dead series, and here's a spoiler-free description of our gut reaction.
First and foremost, let's talk about the blood.
You cannot make a television show about zombies without images of blood, rotting flesh and newly ripped-apart flesh. The show is centered around Rick Grimes, a police officer that wakes up from a coma to find his whole world has gone to zombie hell. So how can someone make Walking Dead without the very real, very oppressive feeling of dead meat that lingers on each page of the comic-book source material like flies? It's what makes the undead seem so very real, and the decaying world seem so lost. Let me put your minds at ease, and tell you that this show does not blush at the sight of gore.
The Walking Dead hits the ground running, as far as violence goes. I'm not actually sure how they got away with as much as they did, but it's glorious to behold. Not to mention, the violence is highly entertaining. If the sound and sight of one pissed-off police officer taking his axe to the skull of a wandering undead citizen doesn't get you excited, then... this may not be the series for you. Because even though Walking Dead is layered with rich character drama, it still knows how to kick ass.
And as I stated before, it's not just about getting the gore right that matters — it's using it, to the depressing degree that writer Robert Kirkman experiments with in his comic book series. Flies cover the sets, the land (even though it's green) is barren and devoid of life, Atlanta just looks like it's frying up flesh on the hot pavement. The first zombie that the main character Rick Grimes stumbles upon is a fantastic example of combining the grotesque with the dramatically important. She's known as the bicycle girl, and half of her torso is missing, most of her face has fallen off and she flails about pathetically towards Rick, exposing him to what has happened to society. On screen, it's mesmerizing and incredibly depressing — precisely what the main character was experiencing. Just about every other exceptionally violent or graphic moment, like the bicycle girl, has a deeper purpose.
As for the characters, it's like they walked right out of the pages. Director Frank Darabont has truly fleshed out the core group of survivors and made them real. Getting-to-know-you time happens pretty quickly, but then again this first season only has a mere six episodes to introduce some of the most important characters — and it never feels rushed. Quite the opposite, we get to see what Rick was like (even though it's a glimpse) before the fall of civilization, and Shane as well. It felt natural, almost deserved, as if I was uncovering a special edition of a Walking Dead origin comic. To be sure, you will have a quicker gut reactions to some of the characters — for example, my distaste for Lori was much stronger than I remembered from reading the comic, but it was mostly brought out by the faster pace set by the series.
The only stumbling block this series may have trouble with (and I've only seen two episodes so I can't be certain) is the new characters. While I can't specifically talk about these characters without getting into spoiler territory, a few of them seemed aimed at causing a lot of blatant emotional audience manipulation.
Still, every time Darabont strays from the basic story line of the comic book his plot decisions are backed 99% by common sense and very real consequences. Case in point: the character Glen looks for an escape route through a sewer pipe. A handful of the survivors are right on Glen's back, readying themselves to scurry down the dark tunnel after him. Glen stops the group before going any farther and throws down some rules. Only one person can go down with the dark tunnel with him at a time. Why? Because if there's something down there, he doesn't want a frightened, human pile-up that results in his death. Glen wants a quick escape route at the ready. Yes. This makes perfect sense. Just about every single moment that veers off of Kirkman's original path works this way. And it's great to watch — in fact, you'll have to watch it twice, because too many times the first time around, you'll find yourself nudging the person next to you exclaiming, "Exactly, that's just what I would do!"
But there's that 1% of new material that sometimes doesn't work. Specifically with a few new characters. Often times the plot strings seemed to pull a little too hard on these newly introduced survivors' actions. Some decisions are made that don't quite fit the painstaking attention to detail all the other characters seem to follow. These instances feel pretty foolish and out of sorts for the series. For example, no matter how racist one character may be, I don't really think their issues would come up while they're about to be eaten by a pack of zombies. And if this really is the way this character acts, why has the group allowed this person in their presence for so long? This is a small, minor complaint. And I'm chalking it up to needing to fill each episode with tiny character dilemmas within the greater character story arc. But, if the new people continue to be a drag on what is otherwise totally relatable collection of survivors (be it flawed logic or not, their intentions are usually sound character-wise), then these people will stick out like a blue zombie.
And that's the only negative thing I can think of to say about this show at this point. And it didn't even bother me that much, to be honest. Andrew Lincoln aces the role of Rick Grimes, and we haven't even begun to plunge down the dark rabbit hole that is this character's journey. I'm ready to see what he's going to bring to the table. All in all, I was perched at the edge of my couch the entire time. The only time I looked away from the television was to see if everyone else was enjoying this series as much as I was — which they were.
For those of you who haven't read the comics, I'm almost a little jealous. Even though the series is certainly full of new twists and turns, I almost wish I could experience it all over again for the first time. Yes, this show stands on it's own without the help of the black-and-white monthlies. The series uses the characters to explain any holes, and in doing so gives a few minor roles bigger parts. You're going to like this show whether you read the comic or not, or whether you're a horror-hound or not. From what I've seen Walking Dead is taking the time to build each character first, then play with the gore. But both are very well done.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Halloween.