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Dissecting

The Walking Dead

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Andrew Lincoln, who portrays Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead television series. Image by pinguino and used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
The First (And Best) Zombie Television Series Delivers Thrills, Chills And Introspective Looks Inside Mankind

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By Brad Hamilton
Modern Times Magazine

March 19, 2012 — When George A. Romero made the first modern zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, in 1968, it was clear that something about the dead coming back to stalk the living — and how mankind adapts — was something that enthralled people.

The film was an instant cult classic that eventually grossed more than $18 million, inspiring the horror and splatter revolution of the 1970s. What followed was some well-done works — especially those that Romero himself made — but gore mostly consumed the stage. Of course, the brightest lights among the many films that followed were the Romero string of “successor” films that began to explore the long-term ramifications of the undead walking the earth.

But what made Night of The Living Dead and the rest of Romero’s work such a classic set of films is that they use the plot point that Zombies are everywhere, seeking to eat the living. That is an ingenious way for a writer to thrust rational, civilized human beings into survival mode. Operating on that premise, good writers are provided a canvas with which they can delve past what humans are in their “civilized” masks, and provide glimpses into both the darkest and grandest spirits of mankind.

It also provides for an ever-present level of tension since zombies could be lurking any-which-where.

It is on such a canvas that Robert Kirkman created The Walking Dead comic series in 2003. Zombie comics had been on a steady rise for years and Kirkman’s homage to the Romero lineage and spirit made his vision an instant success. The difference between the Romero canon and the Kirkman canon, though, is Kirkman has been able to tell the ongoing story of survival in a living dead world as a continuous and evolving work. That is a big part of the appeal of all series in the comics genre. Romero struggled for more than three decades to freely make his zombie films with an evolving storyline. Yet Kirkman got paid to write monthly dramas about an evolving group of survivors, centered around Rick Grimes as they struggle to survive.

There have been 94 issues of The Walking Dead (the “dead” are the survivors for those not in the know) in almost nine years.

The result is the first post-apocalyptic zombie world that is almost a mix of the Night of The Living Dead and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Thankfully, someone in television — see Darabont, Frank — had the vision to bring this world to the masses.

Using the masterpiece that Kirkman and his collaborators on the comic series had created, Darabont wrote and directed the pilot and the first three episodes all by himself. The tone was set — the zombies were slow and plodding, akin to waves washing away at a shoreline, not the fast, animated super-zombies of the Zack Snyder modern fiasco. The story of the Grimes and the survival of mankind were to be the featured stars.

Although the television series strays from the comic series in ways that are designed to keep those who have read all of the issues guessing, the basic plot points have been the same. Some characters have died earlier, others later, but so far at least, the basic progression has been there.

The finale of the second season ended with a vision of the prison, a place of refuge designed by Rick’s group, and Michonne made her first appearance, but who really knows what will happen?

The Governor — a major nemesis in the comics — has already reportedly been cast, according to IMDB. The second season showed that even though Darabont had left the series for whatever reason, Robert Kirkman was still there and the drama series is still the best show on television. Who cares about the on-set dramas of millionaires as long as why they create is entertaining.

Some critics lamented the “slowness” of the second season, but those folks just don’t get it.

Nate Rawlings of Time Magazine's online entertainment section noted that "the pace during the first half of this season has been brutally slow. Changes in pace would be fine if the writers had used that time well, which they have not. They've tried to develop individual characters, but each subplot meant to add a layer to a character has been quickly resolved."

Sorry, big-time media critic, but you just don't get it. The Walking Dead is a comic-book television series. It is not just about action, it is about the drama. Plot-lines take several issues to come to a conclusion and the interim is filed with minor battles and just enough to make you buy the next issue. The Walking Dead moves as fast as TNT’s Saving Grace or David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. This is not just moving pictures, its introspective and it is instantly classic.

The comic-book series approach has also worked on the television side as is evidenced by steadily growing ratings. There is just enough action to keep the television audience enthralled while making every death akin to the passing of a part of your family, not just a moment of gore.

Unfortunately, it will be a long wait until season three. Anyone want to share a ride in a time machine to October?

Brad Hamilton lives in Tempe, Ariz.
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