AMC's The Walking Dead Gives New Life to Zombies

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This past Sunday--Halloween--the pilot episode of The Walking Dead aired on AMC. Based on a comic book series written by Robert Kirkman, the new series concerns a Southern sheriff, played by Andrew Lincoln, who wakes from a coma to find the world overrun with flesh-eating zombies. Critics have praised Sunday's pilot, the first of six episodes this season, for its strong technical aspects--particularly scoring and directing--and for its willingness to take a different approach to the familiar zombie story.

  • Definitely Has Potential, writes James Poniewozik at Time. "The more intriguing aspect of the series is the survivors and whether they can maintain a society worth surviving in," he writes. "Which makes zombies an ideal metaphor, as Godzilla was in the nuclear age, for our nightmares du jour: pandemics; decentralized terrorism; the collapse of social, financial and ecological systems. Zombies are viruses, really — leaderless networks, organized on no other principle than destruction, multiplying exponentially until they burn themselves out, taking us with them. If The Walking Dead can build on its promise and run with these ideas, along with unflinching gross-out thrills, it can tell a doomsday story with all the things zombies crave: brains, guts and heart."

  • Departs From the Comic, and Thank God  For New York Magazine's Logan Hill, the show dodged a bullet by not "trying to stick to the comic's story bible chapter and verse. They're looking at books for inspiration, not bringing the comic back from the dead, frame-by-frame." Hill writes that "the comic--which, sorry, fans, is hamstrung by overly literal exposition in the form of zombified, tone-deaf dialogue--has some pretty major flaws. So far, thankfully, The Walking Dead the show feels like its own monster."

  • Let's Hear It for the Human Element  At Vanity Fair, Mike Ryan writes that "it's impossible to take any show or movie seriously when the characters do not act like rational human beings. I'm willing to accept that an extraordinary event happened--a virus that causes a fever, which then changes the victim into a zombie--because we wouldn't be watching a show about the residents of a small Georgia town otherwise. But I also expect that the characters will respond to this one extraordinary event like any real human beings would respond ... Rick Grimes--a small-town Georgia police officer who is one of the few survivors of a zombie outbreak--acts like a real human being."

  • A Zombie Is a Zombie Is a Zombie  Slate's Tim Cavanaugh rejects the idea that zombie-apocalypse stories say anything about the times we live in. "At this point it should be clear that there are no larger sociological truths in zombie trends," Cavanaugh writes. "Zombie holocausts are popular during booms, during busts, in peacetime and wartime, before, during, and after natural disasters, and at all other times."

  • Are Zombie Stories Well-Suited to Television? wonders Alan Sepinwall at HitFix. "When you ask the creative team behind AMC's 'The Walking Dead,' which debuts Sunday night at 10,  what differentiates their series from every other filmed zombie story, they'll point to the fact that it is a series - that... it is an ongoing, never-ending nightmare, as opposed to two hours of scares and out," writes Sepinwall. "But... maybe the zombie apocalypse is a horror that's better off in brief glimpses than as a story with no end in sight." Sepinwall does offer praise to writer/director Frank Darabont, calling the pilot "a master class in suspense filmmaking, of dread and atmosphere and grief."

  • More Formal Problems With TV Zombies  "Zombies lack the soulful, seductive appeal of the tween-friendly vampires in the CW's The Vampire Diairies and the Twilight series," writes Scott Meslow at The Atlantic. "With a vocabulary that consists mainly of groans (and, occasionally, 'braiiiiiins'), zombies don't tend to make particularly nuanced characters. And the favored method of killing a zombie—a hard blow or gunshot to the head—is far too graphic for primetime television." Yet despite these obstacles, says Meslow, "The Walking Dead is as dark, intelligent, and uncompromising as any of AMC's other dramas."

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