Vampires are SO noughties.
Yep, after a bitey boom that saw the undead bloodsuckers dominate both the best and worst of pop culture for the last few years, the slower, uglier and undeniably less twinkly undead have heralded their arrival on the scene with AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s breakout comic success The Walking Dead.
And with a big name producer (and pilot episode director) Frank Darabont, a respectable budget and the all important creator input all present and correct, it’s no surprise that its on-air success has proved as violently, bloodily contagious as, well, one of its protagonists.
Thankfully, while the plotlines have taken artistic and medium-relative liberties, the team behind the show stayed strong to the original’s main hook – sure, the zombies are the messy, shocking and geek-baiting draw, but the real story – and horror – comes from the human characters struggling to survive.
The story/nightmare starts with more than a whiff of 28 Days Later about proceedings, as injured and coma-rised Sheriff Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakes to a deserted hospital from hell. As he staggers past corpses, blood-streaked walls and a particularly moany broom cupboard, he quickly realises the world has gone utterly to pot.
A brief horse ride and tank adventure aside, he teams up with a bunch of Atlanta-based survivors in the hope of not only finding his family, but surviving in the first place.
Throw in the odd homicidal redneck, an ex-partner who’s impregnated Rick’s wife (unknowingly to Rick), and pretty much everyone repeatedly pushed to the edge of mental and physical endurance, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
And that’s before the zombies attack.
While the plot and story arc loses steam and its direction towards the end of the six episode miniseries (bar a creator-scripted episode 4 corker of an undead ambush, the zombie-baiting tension slowly ebbs away over the course of the series), these are only really middling complaints for a show that manages to hook you in better and more easily than most full length, bigger budgeted series.
Key amongst its success is the near-perfect cast. Lincoln sheds his British accent and resume of old to encapsulate the heavy emotional and strategic burden as the group’s inadvertent leader, while his Alpha Male partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) and impassioned stranger and one-part sister Andrea (Laurie Holden) are also stand-outs. And even when the acting’s a little dodgy (seriously, out of an entire planet’s-worth of casting calls, why is it so hard to find a non-punchable child actor?), at least there’s the guilty pleasure of willing their (all too likely) demise.
But that’s not all – the action is handled capably (when it’s nervy, it’s truly underwear-soiling), the make-up is cracking (that pilot episode ‘dragger’ will haunt us for a long time to come), and there are enough plot twists to keep you on your toes throughout.
DVD Extras-wise, there’s the six episodes to relive, an interesting series of ‘Making Of’ and ‘The Make Up Of’ featurettes, a convention panel with the producers and an intriguing (if not exactly enlightening) sit down with the comic’s creator Robert Kirkman. There are also a decent selection of clips for fans to scout through, although nothing particularly revelatory.
So, teething problems to be sure, but given all those things its characters so richly deserve – more time, structure and a guaranteed future – here’s hoping its not just the dead that returns in force for the second season.
TV Series (4/5)
The Walking Dead – Season 1 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from today! 2011. Order your copy here.