First thoughts of THE WALKING DEAD.

Horror-dude Bryan Smith has been kind enough to share his thoughts on the new AMC series THE WALKING DEAD:

So I watched the premier of AMC’s new series The Walking Dead on Halloween night. It was good. Before I expound any further on the merits of the show, I should note that when it comes to zombies, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve been a horror geek since I was a teenager in the early 80’s. I’ve watched George Romero’s original version of Dawn of the Dead somewhere in the neighborhood of six trillion and six times. That may only be a slight exaggeration. I have an equal level of familiarity with Romero’s many imitators. Point being, when it comes to the living dead, there’s little to no chance that any filmmaker or author is going to show me anything wholly new or original. The basic setup for most zombie apocalypse tales is so familiar by now that practically anyone reading this could devise their own variation on the typical scenario with very little thought. You start out with scenes of normal life, perhaps punctuated with shots of emergency workers on TV news reports or ominous newspaper headlines hinting at something unusual unfolding. There’s been an outbreak of some kind. It quickly spreads and we are soon treated to scenes of bloody carnage. Then you get to the bit where a ragtag group of survivors hole up somewhere and await their inevitable end.

In lesser hands, AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s long-running comic book might have been yet another dreary regurgitation of that same old zombie formula. Indeed, there is a lot about the story that is familiar. Many of the living dead tropes we’ve come to expect are on display. The scenes of devastation. The shambling corpses. But the difference here is in the execution. Frank Darabont and his cohorts wisely elect to focus on an exploration of the characters with a depth that is well beyond the norm for this genre. We therefore become invested in their predicaments and are concerned for what the future holds for them. There is also a deeper sense of the practical day-to-day consequences of continuing to exist in a world in which all that we have taken for granted has gone away. We feel a palpable sense of genuine loss. This is no small part thanks to very good performances from all the primary cast members, most notably series lead Andrew Lincoln as sheriff Rick Grimes.

This is not to say that the adaptation is some mere melodrama masquerading as a tale of terror. It brings the horror for real and does so in spades at times. Sure, it does so in more measured doses than in the typical reanimated corpses silver screen extravaganza, but that’s only a by-product of its nature as a continuing series. The concluding scene of the premier is perhaps the tensest thing I’ve seen on television all year, right up there with the shootout scene in the ‘One Minute’ episode of that other stellar AMC series Breaking Bad.

The Walking Dead shows a great deal of promise. If you’re a horror fanatic like me, it’s a no-brainer. You damn well ought to be watching. And even if blood and guts isn’t your usual thing, I’d still advise you to give it a chance. I’ll bet the human aspects of the story will win you over. And if not, I don’t know what to tell you. Go watch Hannah Montana or something.

Bryan Smith is the author of several mass market horror novels, including The Killing Kind, Depraved, and the zombie tale Deathbringer. His latest release is the novella Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies from Deadite Press. You can read more of his thoughts on his blog.