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November 1, 2010

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First Thoughts on AMC’s The Walking Dead

Posted by on Nov 1, 2010

In what I am certain was not accidental timing, AMC deployed The Walking Dead, it’s latest attempt at a killer TV show, last night on Halloween.  Now AMC has been pretty awesome since they started really working the TV show circuit, with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.   With luck, this new addition will be no exception.  Plus, as a TV show about zombies based on a comic book, it neatly fits into our subject matter here at NNAR, so I thought I’d write up some first impressions (a review based on the first episode would be extrapolating a little far).

Also, a warning: I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but if you’re a purist, you may not want to read on.

The opening scene made me happy.  A man trudged carefully into a gas station, the remains of abandoned and destroyed cars littered around him, looking to fill a can with gas.  It was the quintessential zombie apocalypse situation, in which cars always have no gas and gas stations are the local zombie hangout.  That opening scene perfectly set the tone and feel for the show, although I must say it was a bit strange that it never reappeared in the episode, since the rest of the episode occurs almost entirely before the first scene chronologically.

It’s also a TV show that firmly believes that trying to make zombies family friendly is an unrealistic and fairly stupid endeavor.  When the zombies die (classic “destroy the brain” techniques are preferred), it’s pretty graphic.

Believe it or not, you actually feel for this zombie. Somehow there's a little glimpse of humanity there.

There’s a warning about graphic images every time you return from a commercial break.  At the same time, while Walking Dead isn’t afraid of violence, it’s not gratuitous – the characters have a respect for the humanity that once was there.  There’s a scene in this first episode where the lead character kills a zombie that might be one of the most emotional and respectful killings on TV.  There’s a little bit more going on here than simple zombie hack and slash.

It’s also got more going for it.  For one, this show might have some of the best cinematography I have ever seen in a TV show.  As you often find with things based on comic books, the scenes are brilliantly composed, but unlike some comic book adaptations The Walking Dead isn’t stylized.  It does some things with light and shadow in the early scenes that film noir would be proud of – and some of those things are downright terrifying.  When you couple the cinematography with the quality of the soundtrack/score, you get an incredible artistic backdrop against which the story is set.  I think sometimes people underestimate the power of sound, or as in a world where 90% of the people are dead, the importance of silence. The Walking Dead doesn’t make that mistake and artistically it’s well worth it.

My one hope is that the show is willing to let people die.  It’s a pet peeve of mine when none of the characters can die, and as a result you largely know what’s going to happen.  That said, it’s the first episode, and if it’s any indication they will handle it well going forward. I highly recommend adding The Walking Dead to the list of TV shows you watch.

  • Third

    If you thought the cinematography was good in this, you have to check out Rubicon (also AMC, unsurprisingly). The first season just ended, but the show is basically beautiful, a film student’s dream in terms of using wide shots and angles to give impressions of both beauty and paranoia, the latter being appropriate for a show about conspiracy theories.