AMC's latest series The Walking Dead opens with lead protagonist deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) shooting an undead pre-teen girl point-blank in the head. In many ways, this act of cold necessity adequately sets the tone for this six-episode adaptation of the popular, ongoing graphic novel of the same title. Breaking the trend of zombie outbreaks only infecting the big screen, three-time Academy Award-nominee Frank Darapont brings us this story of a group of American survivors thrown together amidst a nightmarish modern day apocalypse, facing a world with no television, no internet, and no government.
The walking dead in question are what some would call the classic variety, in that they generally move slowly and purposefully, rather than the more athletic and pacey variations of late. The same could also be said about the show as a whole; Exhilarating action and cheap shocks are not the main focus here, which should reassure those who were dreading a zombie horror in which several good-looking young people are gradually killed off in a variety of clichéd manners. Instead, the role of the zombies is largely to shine a spotlight on the nature of humanity, as the characters that drive the show forward find that they themselves might just be the main threat to each others survival.
That is not to say that the show is without any high-octane moments, and it holds no punches in delivering some extremely graphic and gore-drenched scenes – one or two in particular may be tough for some to stomach, but it's cleverly worked into the story and doesn't feel out of place or forced in for the sheer shock value. Conflict obviously has a place in this setting, and the gunshots and explosions are frequent enough to break up the more emotional moments and remind us that this, after all, is still a supernatural zombie apocalypse.
However, it's the prolonged moments spent with the survivors and the very real themes of family, parenthood and responsibility that will provide long-term interest to viewers, and a decision to flesh out the characters from their comic book counterparts has paid off extremely well. Lincoln manages to pull off both the lead role and the American accent, and is supported by an all round strong cast, which mixes the familiar (Prison Break's Sarah Wayne Callies as Rick's wife Lori) with the less so – Jon Bernthal's being a stand-out performance as the increasingly troubled colleague and best friend to Rick. Special mention has to go to Jeffrey DeMunn as Dale, who could not be more true to his comic book counterpart without him becoming two-dimensional and monochrome.
Credit must also go to the overall look and presentation of the series, and in particular the make-up and costume work. The zombies, created using the artwork of the original comics as a basis, look frighteningly realistic. It is always a joy to witness the talented use of make-up and prosthetics to such a good end rather than reliance on CG effects, and the work here is easily on par with anything seen in a blockbuster cinematic release. Any doubts as to whether a serious drama featuring the undead could be accomplished on television are comprehensively put to rest. Attention to detail and realism in creating the setting certainly reinforces the serious nature of the show.
If there is anything negative to be said, it is that six episodes were not enough. The pacing suffers to some extent, with the bulk of the events occurring towards the latter half of the series. Fans of the comic may also protest significant changes to the plot, but with original co-creator Robert Kirkman in the executive producer role, the chance to enjoy a fresh story should ultimately win them over, as should the inclusion of numerous iconic scenes. Indeed, with the prospect of a world without television, The Walking Dead is a series everyone should catch, whilst we still have the chance.
The Walking Dead airs on FX, and is released on DVD & Blu-ray on March 8th. Season 2 is scheduled to première on October 31st 2011.