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The rise of The Walking Dead: recapping the first season of AMC’s zombie epic

By in Culture

To my surprise, most people I talk to haven’t heard of The Walking Dead. Even worse, when I explain that it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie show, most people get turned off and are not interested in anything else I have to say.

The Walking Dead is about so much more than just zombies. It is a show about a family, nearly torn apart by unforeseen events and forced to protect themselves against the (in)human monsters of the night after civilization has collapsed.

The Walking Dead began as a graphic novel by Robert Kirkman and centres on the leader of some survivors, Rick Grimes, who was sheriff of a small southern town before the zombies appeared. When the apocalypse hits, Rick is in a coma from a bullet wound during a police shootout. His best friend and fellow cop Shane makes sure to get Rick’s wife Lori and son Carl to safety. Rick is left behind in the hospital to die while Shane and Rick’s family escape to Atlanta, hoping for protection from the army. Rick wakes up a month later, having slept through the apocalypse. He spends many days wandering down the road to the nearest city. Eventually he is reunited with his family in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in graphic novel history.

That’s the graphic novel. The television show, created and directed by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Mist), makes several creative changes to the narrative. The writers claim that if the show and the graphic novels differ slightly, then the audience of one form of The Walking Dead wouldn’t know all of the twists and turns of the other form. This is an ingenious and creative way to make sure that there aren’t any spoilers. After all, what is the point of watching a television show if you already know what’s going to happen?

The first season was only six episodes long. This was done as a trial to see if The Walking Dead would actually succeed on television despite its graphic nature; after all, in the first scene a six year old girl-turned-zombie is shot in the head, making it a difficult show for anyone to watch. Luckily for cable channel AMC, The Walking Dead was a runaway hit, with around five million viewers for its premiere. Like the graphic novel, the show centres on Rick Grimes and his family, featuring many of the same characters from the graphic novel.

After traveling to the outskirts of Atlanta, Ga., Rick finds his family alive and well. They have joined up with a group of survivors who fled the zombie infested streets of Atlanta and are waiting for the help of the military. Shane and Lori, believing Rick to be dead, have fallen in love. Upon Rick’s return the affair is promptly broken off, leaving Shane jealous of Rick. Tensions are high as supplies dwindle and the undead surround them each night.

After a zombie attack that thins the number of survivors, the remnants of the group head into the heart of Atlanta to try and make contact with the Center of Disease Control in hopes that a cure for the zombie virus has been found. The one remaining doctor living there informs them that there is no hope of a cure, and that the only thing that the survivors can do is wait and hope that humanity can rise again. Depressed with his failure to help them, the doctor kills himself by detonating the entire facility, thus destroying every dangerous disease stored within the CDC itself as well.

Season One ends with the survivors heading out into the Georgia countryside, horrified and traumatized at the hopelessness of the situation, yet never giving up.

The show may take place in a zombie apocalypse, but it is not about the zombie apocalypse. The show is about people from all walks of life coming and working together as a community to survive a traumatic event from which humanity might never recover.

It’s amazingly written, beautifully shot and makes for an incredible cinematic experience. The Walking Dead does the zombie genre a favour and turns it into a character driven-story, unlike some zombie movies that rely solely on the gore factor to generate a fanbase.

The first season is very short, making it easily watchable in a couple of sittings. If you haven’t watched already, spend the next few days catching up before the second season starts and excellent zombie entertainment returns to your television screens.

Season Two of The Walking Dead premieres at 8:00 p.m. on Oct. 16 on AMC.

Photo: AMC

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