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5.0 out of 5 stars A Landmark Horror Apocalypse, Dec 7 2011
This review is from: The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (DVD)
The Walking Dead has the absolute distinction of being the best live-action adaptation of a zombie apocalypse ever filmed. It takes its cues from George Romero's 'Living Dead' film series and updates it for a post-9/11 audience without falling into the trap of trying to be more than it is. The series centers around a group of people who are inextricably caught in the middle of an apparent viral outbreak that brings the dead back to life to feast on the living. As loved ones turn into corpses and slay their own family members and friends, the zombie plague spreads until the Atlanta area has been completely overrun. Now the group must use their wits to survive in a hostile new world where the dead are constantly prowling for human flesh to consume.

At its heart, The Walking Dead is a zombie series, but it would be unwise to label it purely as such. There is a high emphasis on dramatic elements and progression of story that centers firmly around the characters and their personal interactions. At the heart of the chaos is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) who awakens from a hospital coma after being shot on duty as a police officer to discover that the world around him has gone literally to hell. He soon comes upon the aforementioned group which includes his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies)young son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and best friend/partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) whose witness to Rick's return begins to spark mixed emotions. It soon becomes apparent that each of the characters in the group are harboring their own personal demons which, given the circumstances, threaten their very survival if unleashed.

The first season was short, clocking in at only 6 one hour episodes to test the waters of reception. Plenty enough happens, however. The audience learns of a secret shared between Lori and Shane, and bears witness to some very close calls which culminate in a catastrophic attack by their zombie pursuers. It all climaxes with a visit to the CDC in Atlanta, where the mysterious nature of the zombie outbreak is partially explained. It's quite enough to whet anyone's appetite for Season 2 which, although starting off slow, seems to be picking up some serious steam at the culmination of its first winter break.

The best aspect of The Walking Dead is its incredible sense of danger and nihilism. George Romero's initial 'Night of the Living Dead' kicked off a film series which allowed the director to make social commentary about the human race by putting them in an extremely stressful situation and watching them implode. The Walking Dead takes a similar approach without letting mayhem consume the group. Instead, they suffer slowly through personal loss, anxiety, paranoia, jealousy and anger. The writers put the characters in a pot that is slowly brought to a boil before it explodes and causes serious repercussions that affect everyone around them. The characters themselves are wonderfully different in nature from each other. Andrea (Laurie Holden) is a woman looking out for her younger sister only to suffer a terrible tragedy and become stone-hearted and recklessly suicidal. Glenn (Steven Yeun) is frustratedly passive to the point of bottling up his opinions for fear of upsetting others. Daryl (Norman Reedus) is the younger brother of Merle, an unhinged, aggressive and bigoted redneck who raised his brother to be the same way. Daryl's gritty, rebellious nature comes into conflict with new feelings of acceptance and companionship when he joins the group. And finally there is Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), a straight shooting and overprotective father figure who tries his hardest to keep his "family" together, especially the fragile Andrea. Together, this group of characters is what makes the show such a fascinating watch.

Zombie effects are, quite honestly, the best I have ever seen. Nobody has nailed the zombie apocalypse so well before, even Romero himself. Makeup and prosthetic effects are absolutely blood curdling, as are special effects including zombies severed in half at the waist and missing limbs. The creators of the show wisely decided upon a mix of traditionally slow zombies and "fast" zombies like the ones seen in such films as the 'Dawn of the Dead' remake and '28 Days Later.' Depending on the time of death, certain zombies may shuffle along at a snail's pace, or half-sprint just enough to make them a threat that can't be outrun forever. This approach satisfies both diehard traditional zombie fans, and those who are always wondering why you can't just run away all the time. As for the gore, it's in abundant supply! AMC hasn't shied away from massive amounts of graphic horror violence. Chunks are bitten out of limbs and necks, blood spews from the mouth, and stomachs are torn open for buckets of intestines to spill out in a disgusting mess. It's every zombie fan's dream, and certainly not for the squeamish, but the violence does not exist purely so satiate horror movie fans. It is also used as a proper narrative device that is meant to inject a feeling of intense horror and shock when the moment demands it, and ONLY when. It is this sense of integrity that sets the show apart from a violence-fest designed to push the envelope as far as it can go.

The recommendations are already there, and the accolades are well deserved. It is based on the comic series of the same name, but several changes have been made to the overall story and characters. Those who have read the comics in depth will see similarity, but there are plenty of surprises in store as well. It is worth noting that the comic moves much, much faster than the TV show, as well. Certain plot elements in the comic that were wrapped up within the space of the first 4 issues have still not been resolved in the TV series. 'The Walking Dead' is serious stuff. It's a bleak, unforgiving world where anyone, and I mean ANYONE can die horribly with no apology. What better way to draw the audience closer to these characters than by keeping them on the edge of a knife? It's a boldly written show and one that should definitely change the face of the TV series for a long, long time.
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