Should I Check Out: The Walking Dead

By now, any true zombie fan worth his/her salt is familiar with the television series “The Walking Dead.” Debuting on Halloween in 2010, the series began its ninth season last month, showing impressive “staying power” in a world of TV and streaming media where most shows don’t see the opportunity to run as half as long as this.  Many fans have seen every episode, myself included. From the series premiere, it was immediately accepted and widely hailed and discussed – an impressive accomplishment for a show that is an adaptation of a long-running independent comic-book series of the same name.

‘The Walking Dead’ has long been seen as an above-average television series, despite some fans recent complaints that the show has “dropped off” by getting boring and repetitive in recent seasons. Based on the long-running Image Comics series created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard in 2003, “The Walking Dead” has been nominated for several awards, most notably by the Golden Globes as “Best Television Series – Drama” and by the Writers Guild of America for “Best New Series.”  It was also named one of the Top Ten Television Programs of 2010 by the American Film Institute Awards.  Airing on cable channel AMC in the United States (and across the globe on Fox International channels), the series has enjoyed several seasons of being the highest-rated show amongst 18- to 49-year-old viewers of any cable or broadcast television series, a key demographic.

It was a long-gestating TV project in the mid-2000s, originally touted to the four major networks, then slated to be produced by and aired on HBO, before finally landing on AMC. Having the full financial and creative backing of AMC, well-respected and major-award-nominated writer-director Frank Darabont was able to craft a storyline that wasn’t just about zombies; it was about the people in the story, reacting and adjusting to the strange new world they were living in. Honestly, it’s a pretty “standard” zombie story, for all intents and purposes; it’s just constructed really, really well.  Conflicts arose between Darabont and AMC, and he chose to depart the series (some say he was forced out, a claim that is likely backed by the fact that he has since sued AMC).  Showrunners since Darabont’s departure have included Glen Mazzara, Scott M. Gimple, and Angela Kang.

The look and feel of the show are damn near perfect for what most current zombie fans are looking for in their undead-centric stories: hordes of ravenous flesh-eaters back from the dead, mixed with a high element of human drama. While I do have some minor complaints that I’ll voice in the upcoming paragraphs, on the whole, the show simply rocks from a presentation standpoint.

As I mentioned previously, however, ‘The Walking Dead’ really doesn’t bring a terrible amount of unique story elements to the zombie genre on the whole. The same applies for the comic book on which the show was based; I’m not saying this in a negative way, as the show (and comic) takes the very “standard” zombie story and executes the telling of the tale very, very well. I do, however, give high points to the TV series for a couple of major reasons. First, I truly appreciate the fact that the creative team deliberately chose to have their storyline veer off rather distinctly from much of the plot and story elements established by the long-running comic series. To make such a bold choice so early in the show’s run, and have it work so well, is a testament to the distinctive storytelling style that they have and will continue to insert into this series.

Secondly, I absolutely love the fact that the show chose to address some of the “science” behind the zombie plague. This series doesn’t talk, like so many other stories do, about how the plague was manufactured, who created it, and so forth; rather, as in the final episode of the season, “TS-19,” they shed some insight into how the disease actually works inside of the body, reanimating only certain parts of the brain, and stating definitively that the part of the brain that houses “what makes a person who they are” is gone.  Even though this element of the show has been minimized as the narrative has progressed, not many other shows seem overly interested in tackling this subject at all, so extra kudos to ‘The Walking Dead’ crew for this one.

The show easily has one of the most realistic feels to its narrative that you’ll see on your screen, TV, movie, or otherwise. My qualms in this category are minor, but they do exist. At times it feels like there is truly no “bad guy” in the show; you have the zombies, obviously, and you have roving gangs of evil humans, but there is no one singular over-arching thematic villain that runs throughout the entire series.  Way back in the first season, Episode 4, “Vatos,” was the perfect example of this, and the low point of the realism in the series early on, in my opinion; not only did a gang of thugs conveniently turn out to be all young men with hearts of gold, but it just felt like the undead threat took an extreme backseat to the showcasing of human drama, perhaps a little too far in an attempt to help the series earn that “Best Dramatic Series” nod (which the show did indeed get, so what do I know?).

From the first episode of the first season, the show has looked and felt awesome from the standpoint of effects and editing. With every new episode, we get the look and feel of a big-budget movie squeezed onto the small screen, and we should never complain about that. The blood and guts are definitely present, especially in the second episode of the first season, “Guts,” where Rick and Glenn have their memorable and now-iconic scene while sporting their “zombie coats.”

When it’s all said and done, ‘The Walking Dead’ has done exactly what fans of the undead had hoped it would: gave them a high-quality show that is amazingly entertaining, but more importantly, brought credibility to a genre that is often looked down upon by the masses, who just don’t seem to understand what many of us see in these types of stories. With any luck, many opinions have been changed by viewing the show so far, and here’s hoping that future seasons will bring more of the same, for all of us.