The Walking Dead, part one: Season One

Spring break, 2011. I’m in Ashtabula, Ohio, visiting my mother, and The Walking Dead are everywhere.

Or so it seems. American Movie Classics, AMC, is about to release season one of The Walking Dead on DVD, so the cable channel is promoting it heavily. I watch virtually no TV, but it plays almost constantly at my mother’s, and she’s an especially big fan of old movies. It makes the Walking Dead commercials seem all the more ubiquitous.

I’ve heard about the cult-fave show. Entertainment Weekly, in particular, has had the magazine equivalent of a man-crush on the series. Since I watch no TV, and since zombie movies gross me out, the show has had no allure.

But the commercials…. Oh, those commercials…. They do something to me….

I find myself wanting to watch them every time they come on—which is often. I can’t not watch. For days. I’m hooked. I’m infected.

When release day rolls around, Tuesday, March 8, I find myself making a special trip to Big Box Mart to pick up the complete first season of The Walking Dead, sight unseen. The cover alone—a mounted officer, back to the camera, riding a horse down a deserted five-lane highway toward a looming skyline, all cast in sepia tones—is enough to grab me.

The first episode unveils itself slowly: A sheriff’s car comes down a lonely state road and finds an overturned car in an intersection. The traffic light is out. There are other overturned cars, evidence of a car fire long extinguished. The deputy puts on his cowboy-style hat, grabs a plastic gas can out of his trunk, begins to look around. He picks his way through more deserted cars, which give way to the abandoned remains of a refugee camp. Birds caw, flies buzz, all else is quiet. The deputy discovers bodies. He checks them, keeps searching, discovers “no gas” on a sign near exhausted pumps. He looks around more, sees a little girl in bunny slippers walking among the cars. He calls to her: “Little girl. I’m a policeman. Little girl, don’t be afraid.” She turns. Half her face has been chewed off. She starts after the policeman, slow at first, then walking faster, ready to do some face-chewing of her own. He puts her down. Close-up of horrified but unsurprised deputy. Cut to opening credits.

I watch, nonstop, four episodes; I watch the other two the following night. I want more, but there’s no more to be had. Picked up by AMC on spec, the network commissioned only six episodes for the first season. Execs quickly discovered they had a hit, though: 5.35 million viewers tuned in to watch the first episode, making it the highest-rated premiere in the network’s history. By week six, the number of viewers had swelled to 6 million.

By the end of season two, in March of 2012, the show had 9 million fans tuning in.

The series follows the exploits of Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln, a Georgia sheriff’s deputy who awakes from a coma in a hospital to discover the world in ruin: a zombie apocalypse has somehow swept over the land.

Once he gets acclimated to the new status quo, Rick sets out on a search for his missing wife, Lori, and son, Carl, who, it turns out, have fled the town with Rick’s partner, Shane. Rick finds himself embroiled in several misadventures, eventually falling in with a group of survivors who try to make their way into Atlanta to the CDC. There’s a hefty body count among the survivors, always played for drama and not just shocks.

Each episode tries to outdo those that have come before it with cringe-inducing zombie grossness. The make-up is fantastic, and the designers’ imaginations are brilliant and squirm-inducing. In fact, the show keeps me wound tight, fidgeting in my seat, barely able to watch, not wanting to stop. The acting is great and the directing is fantastic.

Best of all, the show is amazingly well written. Executive producer Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption) had a hand in four of the scripts, and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman scripted a fifth.

(Want a taste of the tension? Check out these exclusive webisodes from season one.)

I watch, then rewatch the six episodes. The second time through is easier since I know where the gotchas are, but the show still creeps me out. I don’t like being creeped out. I don’t like zombie stuff. I love The Walking Dead.

I begin to wonder how close the series follows Kirkman’s graphic novels. Since season two isn’t slated to come out until the fall of 2011 (I’ll end up watching the season premiere while soaking in a hotel hot tub while on a business trip), I realize that the next place to turn for a Walking Dead fix is to the original source material.

Like a zombie drawn to the flesh of the living, I feel the inexorable pull….

One comment on “The Walking Dead, part one: Season One

  1. The graphic novels are very different than the AMC show. I like that about them though. Rick in the graphic novels is a combination of Shane and Rick from the show. The graphic novels are brutal! I don’t think show can mimic the violence of the graphic novels. I guess I’ll find out in October.

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