Monday 12 December 2011

The Walking Dead, Season 1 - reviewed by Stephen Theaker

Post-apocalyptic programmes don't tend to do very well. Jericho, Jeremiah, The Survivors (both versions), The Tripods, Three Moons Over Milford, etc – not many have made it past or even reached a third series. After all, just how miserable do you want to make yourself just before bedtime? But The Walking Dead is good enough that it might just buck the trend. The six-episode first season certainly looks great. Occasional shots of massed CG zombies are used sparingly, physical make-up being more frequent. The story follows young police officer Rick Grimes as he emerges from hospital and makes contact with other survivors. This Life’s Andrew Lincoln makes an excellent lead and the rest of the cast is just as good. In Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist, the programme has a showrunner to die (and then return from the grave) for.

Unusually, the writer of the comic, Robert Kirkman, is also on the writing team of the adaptation, and thus he gets the chance to do what you can't in a serial comic: have second thoughts, and go back and rewrite things. So interesting characters and relationships previously lost early on are given more time, and the last couple of episodes introduce a situation that wasn't in the comics I read; a good sign that readers won't simply be sitting around waiting for expected events to play out. One less welcome change, in my opinion, is that the series shows a character having premonitions. For once it would be nice to have a fantasy show that didn't rely on prophecies for lazy foreshadowing. One other unfortunate change from the comic is that these zombies sometimes run as well as walk, which makes behaviour that was reckless in the comic perfectly insane in the TV programme.

On TV the influence of (or just structural similarity to) Lost is even more notable than in the comics (of which I've read the first fifty): the adventurers head out on sorties while everyone else makes camp and waits for them to return. What it perhaps lacks in comparison is a bit of mystery and humour, but perhaps when the reasons for the zombie outbreak are investigated that will lead in some interesting directions. I hope the series stays broadly realistic: in the second half of the Compendium the comic veered sharply into OTT Garth Ennis territory; right for Garth Ennis, but wrong I think for a show that has thrived on a realistic approach. But they haven't set a foot wrong so far, so perhaps I should have faith that whichever storylines are followed they'll make good TV out of them. Post-apocalypse shows don't last, but this one feels different. I can't wait to see more.

 This review originally appeared in BFS Journal #4.


  1. My wife and I absolutely loved the first season.
    The second is shaping up to be real event TV for us, certainly eclipsing any other genre show at the moment. I've not read the comic, but must say the show manages to produce moments of sheer, 'For god's sake, RUN!' amid others of superb character development whilst peppering their stories with visual blacker than black humour. I believe these characters, while, as I write this and remember the other end of the world shows that have been cancelled over the past few years, am reminded their ensembles lacked the chemistry and conflict this show manages to convince us with.

  2. I'm really looking forward to season two, though hesitant since watching it always gives me nightmares..! It's building up on the TiVo while we're watching - and, perhaps controversially, enjoying! - Terra Nova.

  3. Ah, excellent - Terra Nova. A gamut of characters there - a mystery as far as the 6ers and the 'missing' son's true objectives.
    My main concern about the whole idea was the dictatorship of the whole settlement - kinda goes against the grain I thought, until this was addressed an episode or two ago. Still seems a little strange. The whole 'gateway into another universe' idea's not explained enough for me so far - had a great pub conversation about this a couple of weeks ago, and I hope this area of the show will be explored more, but alas, I fear it will just concentrate on the established and ultimately be cancelled before (like many shows) any real meat to the back/future story is revealed. I hope I'm wrong!

  4. Yes, at the moment (I'm still a couple of episodes behind) the another universe thing just seems to be a cheap way to avoid time paradoxes. But presumably they're affecting the future of that Earth. Perhaps its future inhabitants will turn up and complain at some point?

    It's a bit like Stargate for me - pleasant to watch without being a knockout, something we tend to watch in bits rather than making it the main event of an evening. It's nice to see a mixed race family as the leads in a US show, especially when it's the same mix as our family. Hope it carries on for a few years.

  5. You've hit the nail on the head - it's popcorn tv so far, a warm and cosy seat by the fire, much in the same way SG1 was.
    The paradox thing has been avoided, true, but it kinda sticks to the current Kaku beliefs which really ruins it for us craving a head scratching cause and effect storyline. Saying that, such ideas would be too much for the non-sf general public viewer.
    I'd certainly love to see the future true inhabitants, the top of the food chain beings from that world come back - various castes of reptiles, complaining the humans presence will prevent their civilization from coming to be - contradicting the Kaku POV. More confilict, then an imminent asteroid forcing them to either work together to prevent the strike - or not, depending on how history is read. There's a lot of scope for many plot threads - I'm hoping it runs for years too!