Sunday, January 02, 2011

TV: The Walking Dead (Season 1)

Just finished watching Season 1 of The Walking Dead, Frank Darabont's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's comic series about the survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

What immediately struck me is how the TV series, right from the pilot episode, homes in on the thematic heart that took the comics 30 or 40 issues to slowly unveil: the idea that the cost of surviving in a brutal world filled with cannibalistic monsters is that we will eventually become monsters ourselves. One of the strengths of the Walking Dead (TV and comics) is in showing the struggle between 'the urge to be decent and civilised' and the easy but slippery slope of solving problems pragmatically, which leads to characters struggling with callousness and evil.

The whole series has a nice slow pace to it that reflects the comics source material. I watched it a bit critically to begin with, wondering if it would live up to my expectations and fondness for the comics. That was particularly true for Andrew Lincoln, the actor playing lead character Rick Grimes. But a moment about halfway through the pilot - where Rick grieves for the loss of his family - completely sold me on Lincoln's performance, and from then on I completely cared about Rick's quest to find answers and hope (I'm being ambiguous about the plot to avoid spoilers).

To begin with, the TV series eases viewers into the world of zombies. It ends episodes with lighter moments to give viewers a reason to tune back in; it plays out basic zombie-siege scenarios to show how this sort of world works. It also introduces some broadly drawn characters to hate, some characters to care but be suspicious about and delivers some big emotional moments.



And, about halfway through the season it destabilises the status quo, one of the comics' signature moves. It's around this point that the sense of loss of our normal world starts to be felt keenly: the people we'll miss, the luxuries we no longer have, and the absence of authority to solve problems or maintain social norms.

And then, finally, the show demonstrates what being a zombie really means. It shows us essential scenes of characters accepting death and ends with a final episode that feels  little forced but effectively removes hope that 'Authority' will save the day (of course, it takes an hour to do this whereas the opening of Zombieland achieves the same effect in 30 seconds). I agree with elements of Alan Sepinwall's review, that the episode sets up some excellent interpersonal stuff between Rick, Shane and Lori that's going to explode soon, and that:

there is no cure coming, no savior. There is only [the survivors], and their wits and resourcefulness and whatever weapons and shelter they can obtain or build. Their hope can't continue to be that this nightmare goes away one day; now the best they can dream of is finding a way to keep living inside the nightmare. And that's a very tough mindset for these characters to have to embrace, and a fine starting point for the longer second season.
I'm looking forward to watching it.
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