I don’t watch TV or read comic books, so I’d never heard of “The Walking Dead” until my sister mentioned it to me a few weeks ago. The lead actor in the AMC series, Andrew Lincoln, had played a role in one of our favorite movies, “Love, Actually.” And lest you think feminists don’t enjoy a little eye candy, I admit up front Lincoln’s good looks are mostly what motivated me to seek out the series. It wasn’t available online, so for a while I gave up on being able to see it. Then my boss gave me a coupon for a free month of Netflix, and after I signed up I searched for “The Walking Dead.” The first DVD arrived, and I settled in to watch. (The rest is behind a cut to avoid spoilers for the first season.)
The show is a tale of a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, although that word is never used in the show. Instead, the undead are called “walkers” or “geeks.” Lincoln’s character, Southern sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, is shot in the line of duty, and wakes up to find himself the only live person in the hospital because the world as he knows it has ended. He is bewildered by the changes that have come to his town, and makes his way to his house, looking for his wife and son. They have fled in a hurry, by the looks of things, and Rick sets off toward Atlanta, determined to find them.
Let me just say it’s a good thing Lincoln is talented as well as handsome, because I wouldn’t have kept watching otherwise. This is one of the goriest, bloodiest, most violent shows I have ever seen, and that’s saying something, because I’ve also watched “Bones,” “Supernatural,” and “The X-Files.” So it’s not a show for the faint of heart, but in addition to being gross, it’s also suspenseful and heartfelt. The few people left who haven’t been infected by the virus, which is transmitted through bites, have to find ways to band together in a world where rules don’t exist anymore.
The characters are also likeable, for the most part. Rick stumbles upon a group of survivors who eventually lead him to his wife and son. I thought the search was going to be dragged out for the whole season, but luckily they were reunited within the first three episodes. However, a lot has changed since Rick was shot, like his wife sleeping with Rick’s best friend, Shane. Shane has declared himself the leader of the survivors, a group of 20-30 people, and he has a very “Lord of the Flies” vibe to me. He seems to like power a little too much. Aside from Rick, one of my favorite characters is Glenn, a young man who is great at sneaking into the city and foraging. He’s also a good strategist, prompting another character to ask what Glenn did before the walkers took over. Glenn says, “Pizza delivery.” Definitely a waste of his talents.
I have two big quibbles with the show that might be explained if I had read the comics on which the show is based. First of all, from the look of decay and destruction he finds, Rick wakes up from a months-long coma. But he wouldn’t have survived more than a few days without medical care and/or water. So was the hospital abandoned shortly before he woke up? Or are we supposed to believe he somehow survived on his own without medical care, water and food? Just from the way his family acted later, it seemed like they had thought Rick was dead for weeks. The timeline doesn’t quite come together for me.
Second, the only thing that finally kills the walkers is a direct blow to the brain. They can survive having their heads cut off, being impaled, cut in half — but for some reason they’re the most bloodthirsty things you’ve ever seen. Human or animal, they’ll eat it. (There’s a rather gruesome scene where the horse that has carried Rick to Atlanta is dragged down and made dinner.) But they can’t need the meat to survive. Maybe it’s just a convenient plot device to make the walkers scarier.
The season finale was very well done. It was great to watch the characters, who have reached what’s left of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, take hot showers, share some wine and relax without fear of having walkers set upon them. But unfortunately the happiness is short-lived. The building is set to self-destruct when the generators run out, and they’re rapidly running out of time. And the group of survivors can’t just leave; the one doctor left at the CDC has locked them in the lower levels. The computer controls the locks on the ground floor.
The five minutes between when the doctor finally opens the lower door and when the building is set to implode (“decontaminate” is their word) were nail-biting and heart-breaking. One character, in addition to the CDC doctor, decided to stay behind and have a quick death instead of risking becoming a walker. And when the characters who do want to leave reach the ground floor and can see freedom in front of them, they find the doors are electronically locked, and nothing can break the class of the windows. Nothing, that is, except a grenade that first appeared in episode one. I was glad to see it again, but it was rather convenient Carol had been carrying it around in her purse all that time. Of course all of the characters who wanted to leave made it out of the building and to safety just seconds before goes went sky-high. And that’s where the first season ends. It could have ended in a terrific cliffhanger, but for now the group of survivors are as safe as they can be.
For a series that had just six episodes in its first season, “The Walking Dead” DVDs contain a lot of behind-the-scenes interviews. We get to look at the special effects, zombie makeup, actors’ tents and more. I was fascinated to learn that they filmed the last episode in and in front of the actual CDC building. I can’t imagine what it must have taken to get permission to do that.
One character who really touched me in the last two episodes was Andrea, played by veteran TV actress Laurie Holden. (She also had significant roles in two of my favorite shows, “The X-Files” and “The Magnificent Seven.”) Andrea’s younger sister Amy is bitten and killed by a walker. Andrea refuses to let anyone near her sister’s body to do the ugly task of “killing” her again before she comes back as a walker. Andrea holds Amy as her body begins to reanimate from the virus, and I was afraid Andrea was going to be bitten herself because her grief was so deep. Just as the others rush to do what it seems like Andrea can’t, she pulls out a gun and puts her sister to rest. Later, she temporarily refuses to leave the CDC compound because she doesn’t think life is worth living without Amy. As an older sister myself, I found those scenes very poignant.
The first season has only six episodes, and the second has recently started airing on AMC. “The Walking Dead” certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of horror or enjoyed “Battlestar Galactica,” you might give it a chance. And the two shows have more than post-apocalyptic story lines connecting them; Bear McCreary did the music for both. I think the BSG soundtrack is the best I’ve ever heard for a TV show. The music so far in “The Walking Dead” is also pretty good.